Saturday, 9 January 2010

Embryonic Journey - A two year assessment snap shot

I was asked recently to participate in a meeting with colleagues looking at future models of assessment. The meeting was convened by Gordon Brown, an assessment manager with the SQA . I found the notion quite daunting, as the people present where ones I regarded as true innovators, players in education circles with a degree of experience and expertise that I didn't possess. Furthermore, our presentations were to an audience of interested people from SQA and LTScotland. I was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to the s1 work we have been doing, where we have made a concerted effort to shift the assessment focus from the end of unit test to continuous reflection. Of late, my thoughts have turned towards my current s3 class.

Is the vehicle important?

When I listened to others talk at the meeting, a lot of focus was around the vehicle for collecting the assessment evidence. Neil Winton and Caroline Breyley talked about the work they have been doing involving wikis. I have used wikis in a number of ways in the past, but mainly as a way for students to collaborate on exam style questions. I like the format and the ease of use. Robert Jones talked about moodle and Jaye Richards, while exploring the idea of students setting questions and e-portfolios, spoke of her own experiences in using Glow with classes. I love the idea of Glow, but the roll out has been very slow in my authority and, although I expect it to get better with age, the user experience is quite confusing. Moodle is something a lot of the people in my twitter network swear by, but I have never really had the time to explore it. Ian Stuart talked about one note, which looked absolutely fantastic and something that I personally could think of a plethora of uses for but, sad as it seems to say, because it isn't free, and budgets are tight, I didn't think it was something which would appeal financially to my school. I suppose what I am leading towards here is that, despite the obvious merits in each, I couldn't help thinking that the method of collecting the evidence is less important than the evidence itself. Each of the presenters convincingly sold the merits of the platform, clearly illustrating that there is more than one way to skin a cat. It also reminded me of the work I had been collecting via edmodo.
I started using edmodo almost exactly a year ago with my then s2 class. I love it because it is so uncomplicated, yet provides the scope to do so much with a class. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that students have actually created a convincing record of evidence to suggest they have met both the outcomes of the second year course and, more importantly for future assessment, the outcomes for their certificate course in third year. What's more, they have done this through a variety of different media, which I think is vitally important in terms of skills development and evidence of a flexible learner.

Individual/peer reflection

One of the ways in which the class has used edmodo is as a reflective space for lessons. Students have used traffic lighting to show their understanding of particular lessons. For instance, after a lesson on adptation of plants and animals to the desert, I wasn't sure that the class had grasped the main lesson outcomes- easy to check via edmodo. Students can send a note to the entire group or just to me, so if they had not understood some parts of the lesson, they were not exposing that to the class:This feature also allows students to ask questions discretely, and has been well used for aspects of the work which individuals did not fully understand, removing the stigma of asking in class. We have also experimented with peer assessment on a number of occasions. One example which springs to mind is a recent exercise about coasts, where students had to record a commentary to this clip on posterous. The commentaries were then placed on edmodo and the group were invited to feed back to me on each effort on content and presentation.

Again, as this was anonymous, I felt that students were very honest in their appraisals:
The next stage is for me to collate all of the responses and I have told students that I will wordle the outcome to each of them so that they can see at a glance the strengths of their work, but also the areas for development. What I liked about this was that it concentrated on more than just rote learning the content. Other examples of peer assessment can be found in class voting, where we set criteria for an exercise about Dubai and sustainable development. The students had to design a building and then choose a suitable site, using an exercise created by Noel Jenkins. I offered a small prize for this, but took no initial part in the judging of the work. The students voted on design traits and location and became quite vocal about some of this. Once a shortlist had been established,I asked a colleague in the design and technology department to pick a winner on design merit, while I assessed the location. The winning design was the first picture in the post here.This also embraced cross-curricular working.
The most recent example of peer assessment is taking place right now as the class are working on primary pad to collaborate on typical exam style questions in preparation for a NAB. Students have been encouraged to question statements that they don't agree with, possibly through the chat function, while collaborating to create an answer which will hopefully present them with a good revision template. As they have named themselves and their contribution is by colour, I can see at a glance who has contributed what, so as the teacher, I have the option to use either the pad or private messaging through edmodo to encourage deeper responses/ correction of errors. Here is the early stages of one pad:

I think one of the added benefits of work like this is the development of responsible use of the internet. Where chat is available, it's easy to stray from the task, and I have only recently started using exercises like this outwith the classroom, but have been delighted with the response of the students. It's all too easy sometimes not to take the risk, but when the benefits are palpable, I think we have to trust students a bit more.

Teacher feedback

Most of the activities that I have set through edmodo have been individual assignments. Edmodo allows you to keep a record of these, including the marks. Although I have set past paper style questions and kept the marks record through the platform (something I still think is a useful barometer of student knowledge and certainly a good indicator of competence against current course arrangements), most of the work I have set has been 'marked' via a comment. Initially, students did not like this, but I think some of them now find the comments a very useful measure of their progress but also something which will help them with the next steps. A good example of this would be their recent 'limestory'. Sometimes, teaching the physical environment topic at Intermediate becomes very samey, so I decided to create an exercise based around developing literacy skills . This is going to become even more important in the coming years as students will be assessed in literacy and numeracy as well as their subject choices. I gave each student an individual comment, like the one below:Some students, of course, for whatever reason, sometimes can't access the internet, but I don't think that's a barrier to keeping evidence in this way. I posted a hand written exercise and an audio story to posterous, where students work was deservedly given a wider audience, and this could easily be added to edmodo by the student in class.
I have also been able to assess different skills which appear in the arrangements, such as the abilty to interpret photos and diagrams, and a broad knowledge of physical landscapes (via the students own digital maps courtesy of umapper). Previously, I have used edmodo to challenge students to thinking skills activities, such as diamond 9 exercises, and have given a grade based on how well students have met the assessment criteria we set. Here is an example of feedback from one:
Can the whole class work together?

For assessment purposes, this might not seem that important, but on a social level and for the future development of students, I think it is vital that they are able to work in a group, large or small. I am aware it is a subjective measure that I am employing here, but it was interesting to see the different responses and levels of response when we set a collaborative mindmap as a homework exercise for the class:

This served as a great snapshot of individual understanding, but also enabled the class to learn from each other. We have since used it as the sole revision source for a past paper exercise. When students evaluated how well it had served them, they identified the primary flaw, which was a lack of case study exemplification.

So where is the evidence?

The other thing I like about edmodo is that, if I were to use it with a class from s1 through to s6, the student would have an entire portfolio of their work with grades and comments. I am able to look at a students work in isolation to see their overall progress. I can measure that progress against the rest of the class should I wish, and I can share work through the public timeline, whould I wish to celebrate success. All in all, I think it is purely another way to keep a record, but one where students don't always have to make their mistakes in public, and by public, I include their classmates. My own questions would lead me to ask am I being rigorous enough? Does this kind of assessment adequately replace the need for exams and end of unit tests as a record of evidence? I honestly don't know, but media like this gives teachers the ability to keep the work that might provide that all in the one place for scrutiny.


  1. I am also a fan of Edmodo for the same reasons which you highlight. I tend to use it for submitting and marking homework. Like you I have avoided setting a grade or score, but used formative comments indicating where possible next steps in learning.

    I have been thinking about ways I could use Edmodo with my senior pupils so that they can traffic light areas of the course in order to highlight gaps in their learning in advance of their prelims. Edmodo's poll feature only allows a single question at a time and I think this will restrict what I want to do. I am now considering a dedicated polling resource (e.g. PollDaddy), alongside PrimaryPad for whole class comments and then running the results through Wordle to provide a visual overview.

    One point to consider - do you know if there is a means of exporting data from Edmodo? I can't see a way to do this, and it would be sensible to have any online evidence backed up elsewhere.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Mark. One of the things that I am keen to do is make sure that I am not relying on only the features that edmodo offers, so if I wanted to poll my class, I would probably just link to poll daddy or survey monkey and post that in the s3 group, for instance. I like the 'walled garden' aspect of this, in that the link would only be available to members of that group. Regarding backing up data, I honestly don't know, believe it or not, I'm not that technical :) Probably best to ask Jeff O'Hara, who is @zemote on twitter, he has previously been very helpful when I have asked questions

  3. Hi, Kenny,

    I like your work and feel that I can supply the 'missing link' - that of a real e-Portfolio. I am presently working with a colleague in 'The Northern Isles'. It seems that Scotland is certainly some way in advance of many of the schools in England in actually wrestling with the challenge of e-Portfolios.

    eFolio provides inbuilt polls and surveys within the 'Walled Garden'.

    Am more than happy to talk further but please feel free to browse my blog at:

    Best Wishes,
    Ray T