Friday, 27 September 2013

Out of the Mouths of Babes - Assessment for Learning

Assessment for learning (what used to be called Formative Assessment) seems to be growing in popularity as a teaching intervention that helps to greatly improve student understanding and achievement.

This post looks at some of the digital tools that your learners can use to share with you their growing mastery of what they are learning and what you are trying to teach (not always are these the same thing!).

At its heart, formative assessment, is about asking students what they know, what they can do and what their understanding of an idea is. We teachers are so wrapped up in what we do as teachers, we often forget to do the most simple of things - just ask the students.

The trick to effective assessment for learning is to ask questions or set tasks that will reliably provide you with evidence of how the student's learning is developing and to then provide feedback and guidance on how the student can improve. This information should also impact upon the teaching you did and plan to do on the topic in question.

Self and peer assessment also have an important part in the formative process and you will need to spend some time making sure that students have the skills to self or peer assess.

Successful formative assessment includes:
  • The student and teacher share a common understanding of what constitutes quality work.
  • Students have, or are developing, the skills for self and peer assessment and see that they have ownership of their learning.
  • Teacher provides questions and tasks that encourage students to show their understanding.
  • The assessor (teacher, peer or self) provide feedback on what was done well and what needs improvement.
  • The teacher provides guidance on how to make improvements and what needs to be learned next. 

Hallmarks of strong formative assessments are:
  • High quality feedback that assesses the work, not the student.
  • Regular and descriptive feedback to students on how to improve.
  • It involves extensive self and peer assessment.
  • Teachers adjust their teaching based on the information gleaned from the assessment.
  • This type of assessment should not play much, if any role in determining the students final grade, because it is about the process of learning, not an assessment of learning.
  • Students should be assessed in a variety of ways: oral, written, and through performance assessments.

Although aimed at younger learners, Kathy Dyer has written a number of useful posts:
Digital Technology Tools for Implementing Formative Assessment – Post One, Post Two, Post Three.

To help with the techniques of Formative Assessment, the 54 ideas by David Wees is a good start (it also includes some suggestions on technologies too) - see the Google Doc.

Stacy Stevens has provided a neat summary of the types of technology that adopts a balanced approach (Web 2 sites and mobile apps) for different formative assessment tasks. It is important also to provide students with a variety of techniques that allow for differentiation in their response.
See the Google doc in PDF format.

With all this focus on mobile devices and apps, don't forget the platform that many of us have - MOODLE.
The MOODLE Tool Guide for teachers, based on Bloom's cognitive domain, is also very good for suggesting tasks we can provide to uncover a snapshot of the student's learning as it develops.
I'm sure there will be much more to come on effective assessment for learning - stay tuned. But for now


Friday, 20 September 2013

TED Ed - Because You're Worth It .....

TED ( has been around for a while; Ideas Worth Sharing (in 20 minute videos).

This week I wanted to focus on TED Ed (; Lessons Worth Sharing (in short video clips with extra content).

A lesson is built around a video clip, or animation, with the scaffolding ( components:
  • Let's Begin - the hook to motivate student engagegment.
  • Watch - the subject matter in video format.
  • Think - up to 15 multiple choice and short answer questions.
  • Dig Deeper - resources for discovering more about the topic.
  • Discuss - a forum for students to respond to a posted question/comment .
  • And Finally - what to do next.
 The site contains around 300 TED Ed Original Lessons - those created by renowned educators or subject experts and the TED Ed team whos mission is to capture and amplify the voice of the worlds greatest teachers.

The really cool bit:
  1. You can simply re-use the existing lessons.
  2. Each lesson can be customised by you - see the red 'Flip This Lesson' button.
  3. You can create your own lessons using Youtube video clips.
The site contains another 40,000 user generated 'Best Flip' lessons that you can search for and many more lessons that you can only access if you know the web address.

TED Ed is therfore both a learning resource bank and a tool for creating new resources!

And there's more....
When logged in, you can share a lesson's web link with your students (an individual or a group) and if they are logged in too, you can keep track of their responses to the lesson questions and discussion topics and provide feedback.
NB: Students under 13 are not allowed to create an account (due to US legislation). They can still use the lessons but as an anonymous user their answers won't be tracked.

The observant amongst you will have realised that TED Ed is a perfect companion for anyone wanting to try out Flipped Teaching where classroom-based teaching time and traditional "homework" time are reversed (flipped). You provide lesson recources to be reviewed outside of class, which in turn gives you more time in class to focus on higher-order learning skills.

Create an account and give it a go.
See the FAQ for further information -
Enjoy the weekend .....


PS One part of the FAQ might be worth keeping in mind as you create your own lessons:

What are the criteria for Best Flips?
  • To be selected as a Best Flip and featured on TED-Ed's lesson list, your lesson should start with a great video that people can learn from. Generally speaking, the video you select should be under 10 minutes, however there are a few exceptions. The videos can be serious (as in something from the History Channel's YouTube or National Geographic's YouTube).  They can also be silly (like a cat video uploaded by an individual). Videos should never include content that's inappropriate for a typical high school classroom.
  • Lessons that are nominated as Best Flips should have a creative introduction written in the Let's Begin section that alludes to the objectives that are learned in the lesson. The best introductions are a couple sentences long and serve to intrigue or hook the learner into watching the video and completing the lesson. 
  • A Best Flip should contextualize the video using the Let's Begin, Think, Dig Deeper, and Discussion modules. A lesson does not necessarily need to include all of these sections to be selected as a Best Flip, but it should use several of them to present engaging material.
  • The Think section is pretty straightforward -- multiple choice questions should gauge understanding using information gained directly from the video (include the time code that points to the video hint), and open answer questions should challenge a learner to think critically about the lesson. As a general rule, for a 5 minute video, Best Flips should contain 5 multiple choice questions and 3 open answer questions, though this is only a loose guideline.
  • The Dig Deeper section should be robust and challenging. This is not simply a place to spoon feed resources to the learner. It is a place to provide avenues for the learner to explore further. You can share links to other videos, links to magazine articles, links to blogs or op-eds. You can also further explain difficult topics here. The point of the dig deeper is to help the learner understand as much as possible about the topic at hand. Generally speaking, five resources for a five minute video seems to be a good start. This is where the learner has the potential to spend most of his or her time.
  • Lastly, the Discussion section should provide a prompt that encourages meaningful, healthy debate and/or conversation. The questions often skew a little more personal. They may solicit opinions, but they are rarely looking for a single fact. For example, it's better to say, "What do you think is..." rather than, "According to the video, what is..." Hopefully, this measures an entirely new kind of understanding. Learners will share original abstract thoughts and challenge each other to think more interestingly about the lesson.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Who's Afraid of Friday 12a ?

Nope, me neither but it doesn't do any harm to be cautious!

Looking for the origins of why 'this day' is seen as unlucky on the web gives reports of all sorts of unlucky things happening throughout history on Friday the 13th.

There! I've typed it!!
I suppose I thought doing that was like mentioning the proper name of 'The Scottish Play'.

Considering there are only between 1 and 3 such days a year (the next one is December 13 2013) there are plenty of other days for bad things to happen too. But, in many parts of the world, Friday is thought of as an unlucky day and the number 13 is also often thought of as unlucky.

Combine the two and you get friggatriskaidekaphobia or paraskavedekatriaphobia (for those of a really sensitive disposition).

I prefer the Old English version where Friday comes from frigedæg or Freya’s day (a Norse goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, sorcery, war, and death) and the Greek words tris (or treis) for 3, kai for 'and' and deka for 10.

In the UK at least, if there is a strange custom or belief that doesn't seem to have clear origins, you can bet it has something to do with the pagans and the subsequent Christianising of their beliefs and practices.

Amuse yourself by looking up the origin stories and let me know your favourite.....

Assuming I survive the day, I'll post again next frigedæg.


Friday, 6 September 2013

BYOD - Nice or Nasty?

Sometimes it is good to look again at things that are commonly accepted norms. Many educational organisations are moving toward, or have already implemented, a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) approach. This post looks again at the advantages and disadvantages of asking/allowing students to use their own technologies.

This BYOD discussion is closely related to, although quite different from, discussions around the suitability of mobile learning, mobile devices and social networks in education. The issue with BYOD is the ‘Your Own’ bit.

BYOD arose in the corporate business world in early 2010 where bringing ‘your own devices’ to work was promoted to reduce corporate costs and increase personal productivity. The business success has seen a diffusion of the approach into the world of education. This can be seen as part of the growing trend for staff and students to be able to choose their own digital tools. Traditionally, digital technologies are provided and controlled by central IT Services but the rise of web based ‘applications’ is shifting ‘ownership’ towards the user. BYOD goes a step beyond the software and focuses on the physical devices themselves.

For some, the BYOD approach means a ‘free-for-all’ in the classroom or around the campus where there are no limits imposed on what students bring and use. A recent document from Microsoft (Bring your own device to school - briefing paper K-12.pdf) says a BYOD approach should provide “equity to ensure that all students have equal access to technology-rich experiences, and simplicity to ensure that it is easy to manage and sustain”. They suggest 5 models of decreasing centralised control:
  1. School-defined single platform laptop
  2. School-defined single platform laptop, plus another device
  3. School-defined multi-platform laptops
  4. Student-choice of laptop or tablet
  5. Bring your own whatever connects to the Internet
However, the Microsoft document looks primarily at devices and doesn’t really consider what will be accessed; organisational networks, the web, both or how the content may or may not be processed once transferred to a mobile device.

There is a large body of work on the web, much of it from the USA secondary school context, considering every aspect of BYOD but the following article gives a concise presentation of the “Questions to Consider” (the blog also has a number of other good posts on BYOD).

Despite the obvious benefits for the learner, there are still concerns and some reluctance to engage from both managers and IT system specialists in schools for children up to age 16. University and Further Education institutions seem more likely to embrace BYOD but many of the issues discussed below are relevant. A good summary, following a #ukedchat session, of the pros and cons has been created by IaninSheffield ( where you can login and influence the balance of opinion (currently the Pros outweigh the Cons by 204 to 89).

I don’t want to over emphasise one person’s contribution to the debate but in all that I’ve read, IaninSheffield is the only one to have posted the thoughts of the students:

Without performing a numerical analysis of how positive or negative the responses to this question were, I got the impression that they were largely favourably inclined to the possibility of BYOD. Some students provided positive responses; some negative and many produced balanced returns. However, whilst the general feeling was positive, it was nowhere nearly as focused and specific as the concerns they expressed:
  • Batteries often go flat.
  • You could lose them or have them stolen.
  • Not everyone has their own device.
  • Might be problems connecting to the WiFi.
  • Can sometimes get distracted and go off task.
  • I wouldn’t want someone else to borrow my phone.
  • My mum wouldn’t let me bring it.
  • Some people would text rather than doing what they should be.
  • Where would be able to store them?
  • I wouldn’t want it to cost me money.
  • I prefer not to use mobile devices for learning, although laptops are OK.
  • What programmes students use wouldn’t be controllable.
  • With everyone using it, it might slow up the Internet.
  • If it breaks, you wouldn’t be able to do any work.
  • Although a good thing, we should still be allowed to use pen and paper if we want.
  • Different students might have different programmes.

A quick poll of some of our FE students, 53 Level 2 & 3 Tourism students aged 18 and 19, showed that at home 91% had WiFi, 68% had a tablet, 73% a smart phone and 36% had a laptop/PC. Only 46% said that they used these devices for college work when at home! While almost all students bring their phones to college, 59% would not use it for learning activities because of the small screen size. Only 30% of those with a tablet would bring it to college because of loss, damage or theft. Almost all students however would use tablet devices if provided by the college. It seems that this sample mostly use mobile devices at home for social activities and are wary of bringing their technology to college even though they are keen to use mobile devices if available.

The main advantages of BYOD seem to be:
  1. Promotes participation in class and heightens interest.
  2. More immediate and engaging especially when media rich resources are used / created.
  3. Students more likely to take ownership of/responsibility for their own learning when they use technologies THEY have chosen.
  4. Students can choose from a variety ways to produce and present their work.
  5. Greatly extends the digital tools and resources available for support, assessment, learning and teaching.
  6. With institution wide WiFi access, any location can become a digital classroom.
  7. Easier to share/collaborate online wherever and whenever.
  8. Reduces the barrier to school/home learning (extending the classroom).
  9. Develops digital literacy practices and skills.
  10. Fully managed access to WiFi can reduce some of the problems.
  11. Free (or very cheap) apps available for anything you want to do (enthusiasts can easily create custom apps).
  12. Students with disabilities often have customised devices that could be used in mainstream classes.
  13. Many students already use devices that are more powerful, up-to-date and flexible than current classroom computers.
  14. Reduces organisational costs (but cannot abdicate responsibility and force students to purchase own - this may come in time when devices are cheap and ALL students have them eg pen/biro, calculators).
Weighed against this are the disadvantages:
  1. Status issues (equity divide) amongst students and financial pressure on parents.
  2. Increasing the chances of problems from damage, theft, bullying etc.
  3. Pupils may get distracted form educational task by social apps, gaming etc.
  4. Charging of devices during the day for poor battery life.
  5. Difficulty of filtering out inappropriate material (not if managed WiFi is provided).
  6. Inappropriate material from home is easier to bring into school.
  7. Security issues of confidential information going to/from home (data security).
  8. Many teachers don't have the confidence or competence to use or troubleshoot mobile devices.
  9. Wide range of devices and models and software within the classroom.
  10. Cost to schools to provide WiFi infrastructure and devices for student loan.
  11. No economies of scale if bought individually on the high street (consumerisation of IT).
  12. Increase of non-standard IT kit and software and security issues for devices accessing organisations network.
  13. Wireless and bandwidth issues needing the attention of IT support staff along with potential shift in emphasis from Network to User.
Many disadvantages can be overcome by the BYOD approach chosen and the way it is implemented and the resources provided (it is also true that many advantages can be lost without careful planning and implementation). Decisions on BYOD usually don’t rely on a simple weighing of pros and cons. It seems that it is the social implications that cause greatest concern. The effect of BYOD on children and their families where buying ‘the latest device’ is not possible is undesirable for some teachers especially for pupils at the ages where peer pressure is felt most strongly.

We work now in a more enlightened and compassionate era than when I was a school when we had to find our own way through the injustices of life. Currently, some states in North America don’t operate a BYOD policy for younger students but I can’t help feeling that that is not the answer.

Despite some reluctance shown by students themselves, learners are missing out on the benefits of mobile web access and mobile apps and could also be being given the message that learning in school is different and separate from home.

In the secondary school context, if this debate were about providing a hot meal for pupils at lunch time there would be little doubt that lunch would be provided and all steps taken to minimise the social impact of disadvantage. Similarly, we don’t ban students from bringing in their own lunch on the grounds that this might create undesirable peer-pressure due to financial/social inequality.

I don’t want to minimise the pressures that disadvantage can bring but why should digital devices be any different from other social pressures in schools? Do we really want Bring Your Own Dinner to be OK but Bring Your Own Device to be avoided?

And from the student voice mentioned earlier, perhaps the lesson to learn is that mobile learning using tablet devices with WiFi connectivity is popular and shows potential benefits but institutions need to make these resources available centrally rather than rely on students/parents to do the job for them.

This debate could run and run so TGIF ....