Distance Learning Means Rethinking Assessment

Distance Learning Means Rethinking Assessment

This article is a part of a series of blog posts Adobe sponsored to raise up diverse voices within the Adobe for Education community. As such, this should be considered the opinion of the blog author themselves and not Adobe, and should be considered sponsored content.

If we ever needed to reconsider the efficacy of using multiple-choice questions and fill-in-the-blanks worksheets for assessment, now is the time. Multiple-choice questions often don’t provide us with enough information to truly understand what our students know in deep and helpful ways. Choosing only from provided answers is limiting; in the information it provides and these types of assessments have little information about student understanding over time.

Tools to expand assessment beyond memorization and recall

Up to this point, educators have had very few ways to assess their students, so they relied on memorization and recall. But as Nancy Frey, John Hattie and Douglas Fisher assert in their book Defining Assessment-Capable Visible Learners, “Memorization and recall have their place in the cycle of learning, but rarely at the start, and certainly not at the end of learning.”

So if memorization and recall are inadequate as assessment tools, why do we still rely so heavily on them to give us an understanding of student learning?

With access to online learning devices such as Chromebooks and iPads, assessments can evolve and provide a much richer picture of student learning and growth. Our modern tools give us the ability to shift away from traditional forms of assessment. If we re-examine how we capture true knowledge and understanding from students, we have the ability to get inside every student’s mind to figure out when they know something–and when they don’t–and change instruction in real time to meet their individual needs.

“The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures. In contrast to traditional classroom instruction, this requires that we put students at the center and empower them to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions.” (“Transforming American Education National Education Technology Plan 2010, U.S. Department of Education”)

The multi-dimensional approach to assessment

As educators, we need to promote a more multi-dimensional approach to learning and assessment, where students look at ideas in a variety of ways, looking for patterns, connections and real-life applications.

Alane Starko, author of Creativity in the Classroom, notes that assessment that includes creativity should “provide opportunities to use content in new ways, through examining multiple perspectives, solving problems, and applying ideas in original situations.”

To gain more powerful insight into student learning, we must start by gathering information from many different sources of assessment. Some sources will (and should be) less suited for a spreadsheet and more suited for the authentic and real world, like talking through learning or debating ideas. This way, we focus on cultivating a community of learners who are empowered to make connections with what they have learned in a variety of ways. They experiment, interact and even play with the new information, making mistakes as they go, explaining their thinking as they progress.

A multi-dimensional approach can be further enhanced by layering in different types of media that allow kids to show what they know in a more complex and critical way.

Using Adobe Spark for multi-dimensional assessment — press record!

Using media to make student thinking and learning visible can be the best way to rethink assessment. It also provides students with further insight into their own learning.

Adobe Spark video For gathering authentic learning information

Educator Lisa Highfill, co-author of The HyperDoc Handbook,  shares a  student example of a more traditional written assessment for analysis. As you review the sample, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What grade level do you think this student is?
  2. What grade would you give this assignment?
  3. What does this assessment inform you about what Ofelia needs as a learner?
  4. What do you think it leaves out?

Compare that with this same learning target, but this time done in Adobe Spark Video.

Ofelia is actually a student in grade four with dysgraphia and dyslexia, so she has difficulty expressing herself well in written form. Her written expression falls behind her developmental stage, and that of her peers. As a result, she does not approach writing with any sense of self-efficacy and fears the process of writing as a whole.

When provided with an alternative assessment tool like Adobe Spark Video, it’s easier for her to logically articulate her ideas. Her teacher can see a much richer picture of learning, growth and assessment of the need for further instruction and reinforcement of skills. A multiple-choice test or typical writing assessment would not have revealed this important information.

Ignite brain-based learning activity and assessment with Adobe Spark

Brain research points to the fact that people learn best when the brain combines text and images. Providing students the opportunity to show their learning by creating graphics is a great way to demonstrate and illuminate their understanding.  Creating a graphic using Post can also enable students to critically think about content, as they have to analyze which text and graphics will best help them make their learning come to life. This method of assessment also implements aesthetic elements that increase engagement.

Take a look at this example of a Six Word Summary from the book, The Microsoft Infused Classroom. In this assessment, students come up with just six words to summarize a topic or idea. After searching and narrowing down the clearest and most meaningful way of condensing the ideas into a few succinct words, they add creative graphics to emphasize their point. In this example, a student summarizes William Shakespeare’s play,  Romeo and Juliet.

Here are some great resources from Adobe on Shakespeare to check out!

Tip: You can take this graphic into Adobe Spark Video and have students use the ‘record’ feature to explain the reasoning behind their word choices and then submit the video for an even richer assessment.

Distance learning ushers in a new era

While we have the opportunity to use the tools provided in distance learning, let’s stop thinking about multiple-choice and start to think instead of Pressing Record to enable students to articulate their thinking and learning.

Authentic communication and creative choice give us great insight into what students really understand about a subject or material. They also provide a more complete picture of  possible student learning difficulties. Moving toward a multi-dimensional assessment practice can collect information that reveals a richer understanding of each student, their abilities and their needs.

Related resources

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Follow us on Twitter @AdobeforEdu to stay up to date on resources and content surrounding distance learning + join our #AdobeEduCreative community. 

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