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why do we need assessment for learning

Chair of Learning with Digital Technologies, London Knowledge Lab
Assessment is one of those areas where technology could be most valuable and is probably most underexploited. The great thing about the interactive computer is that it can react to what you're doing as an individual. So in assessment terms, it gives you feedback on what you're doing which can be formative. It can also potentially check whether what you've put in is correct, so potentially it has a role in summative assessment as well. Informative assessment unfortunately and in fact in summative assessment as well, it's been used mainly for multiple choice questions because technology lends itself to that very easily. You can think up four possible answers to a question and easily programme a computer to check whether you've got the right one of those four. The problem is that with multiple choice questions, the learner is forced to consider wrong answers. We are putting into the student's head plausible wrong and they have to be plausible in order to invite them to answer that question wrongly. So you're forcing the student to think through could that be the right answer to the question? Which is the most appalling pedagogy I could think of actually. So I've always been very dubious about the role of multiple choice questions Online assessments allow me to track and understand the learning process in more detail. The type of questions I would normally set in e-Learning context are the type of discussions that have two sides or there's disagreement and there has to be some consensus.

So in some sense you need to have a sort of argumentative situation. Online assessment in my view provides a much better environment for me to understand what students have actually learnt from my course and I do believe enhance the learning experience. I use online assessment because my courses are online, so it's not that the assessment is online particularly but the students that I have on my courses are based all over the world and if I want to offer them a certificate of participation for instance, then I need to have some way of checking that they've taken part in the course. So I don't choose online assessment over paper-based forms of assessment for instance. It's just that's the way the course happens to be. It depends what you mean by online assessments. If you mean tests, then the answer would be 'no'. But if it's taken in a broader sense, formative assessment for example, 'yes' we do. But not tests as such and what we try to encourage students to do is to express themselves more freely online and use tools such as Web 2 technologies, wikis, blogs - those types of tools which allow them to demonstrate what they understand. So quite typically they're asked to actually work collaboratively and demonstrate their understanding of a problem or an issue by creating something, and we would use for instance a wiki. Just recently done a project where students have created a wiki together to demonstrate how they understand a particular topic.

I'm not so keen on tests, multiple choice questions, because in my particular subject I don't think it gives them the opportunity to demonstrate their breadth of understanding. But by using more open-ended techniques such as those I've described, students I think can really genuinely tackle an issue and demonstrate what they really know and understand. I teach a number of modules and I set a range of online assessments specifically to engage students in different ways than they're traditionally used to for the traditional essay. One of the things that's attracted me to online assessments is the greater set of affordances and the ways in which I can encourage students to represent their knowledge. Take the traditional essay for example, students are used to doing those things and they can develop them pretty quickly, they learn patterns for creating these environments. But quite often the feedback for those essays only comes at the very end of a programme when they get summative assessment. There's very little opportunity for them to actually create some assessable items and then receive an iterative form of feedback, a set of formative evaluation and feedback that allows them to think more critically about what they've written and then go back and change things and improve their overall performance. In the previous topic, a distinction was drawn between 'assessment learning' and 'assessment for learning'. (Follow this link if you need to refresh your understanding of the distinction -. ) Formative assessment - or 'assessment for learning' - takes place during not at the end of a course of learning programme and the purpose is to provide information for the learner, or the teacher, so that the learner can use it to improve her/his subsequent learning and performance.

Effective formative assessment is often informal and, if it is to contribute to ongoing learning, the feedback to the learner is immediate. In recent years a better understanding of the ways in which human beings learn has underlined the important role of formative assessment in providing feedback to learners. The key to effective learning is for the 'teacher' to find ways to help the learner restructure their knowledge to build in new and more powerful ideas. Effective learning is not a passive process in which the teacher transmits and the learner receives knowledge. Effective learning requires learners to be active in creating, or 'constructing', their own understanding. Increasingly effective formative assessment is seen to depend on the ways in which the teacher can engage the learner - school student or workbased trainee - in constructing their own meanings. Recently the Assessment is for Learning (AifL) programme has developed strategies and materials to help teachers to extend and enhance their use of formative assessment The programme website has developed a wide range of ideas and resources. Follow this link to the project website for further details. (Opens in a new window)

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