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The most effective technology for online assessment

Assessment when teaching online - one tool, loads of options

From my experience in researching and testing educational technology over the past 20 years, there are still challenges that online learning presents that need to be specifically addressed. Aside from looking for ways to help our students believe they can learn, even when they are working from home and feel disconnected (see past blogs on the Growth Mindset), we have discovered that technology also makes assessing their work complicated. In online learning environments, many of the ways we assess students in face-to-face classes are suddenly non-existent. 

Most teachers find that even in the best of circumstances, accurately assessing their students is challenging. Those working in plurilingual environments have even more variables to consider: Do we assess the language? Content? Effort? Abilities? One thing is clear: we cannot base a final mark solely on summative examples of their work - exams, projects, or presentations, for instance. More than ever before, we need to recognise that having an accurate overview of our students' progress is an ongoing process that includes input which is lost the minute we are all sent home to give lessons online. 

In the physical classroom, we see the faces of our students in ways a camera cannot capture. The facial expressions and body language of our students provide us with critical information we (ideally) use to adjust the direction of our lessons: Are they paying attention?  Are they interested? Are they working appropriately in their groups? Are they following their roles? Are they confused? Do I need to repeat information or move forward? Teachers attuned to their students' energy can glean important information from just being in the same space with them.

This is lost in a digital learning environment. In small groups, we may not have the technology to be able to let all of them have their cameras on during the entire class. With large groups, even if they have their cameras on, it's difficult to register all the expressions in any constructive way, especially since most of the time there is a time lag in what we say and how they react, so we may be processing an expression of one of our students that is actually connected to another comment, image or text. We have also lost input from body language, as that is all but non-existent in online classes.   

So what do we do? Don't worry - there's hope! We fill in the gaps with the help of digital programs. Here are some ideas:

The chat window

Most of us don’t make enough use of the chat window. My advice is to try and establish it as part of your ‘tool kit’ right from the beginning of the lesson. Because it's often more difficult than one would think to encourage our students to use the chat window, here are some tricks you can use to help them transition into this type of interaction: begin with fun questions they might be more willing to answer. Questions I like to begin with are:

- What room are you sitting in?
- How many windows/chairs/pictures/ are there in the room?
- What can you see in front of you?
- What was the last thing you did before you sat down to today’s lesson?

If your students are still reticent to use this function, you can make it obligatory by telling them that you will be saving the contents to track their participation and that will go towards their final marks. (Whether you actually do that in the end, is up to you!)

The microphone 

Encourage participation and have more information to make formative assessments through the microphone. Ask questions and if students don't volunteer answers, you can ‘name’ them and ask them to respond. Remember that it usually takes a few seconds for the audio to reach each student, so give them time to respond. Their answers will also likely take a few seconds to return to you, so it's a great time to practice patience.

Mentimeter: an excellent online assessment program

There are a number of excellent websites that allow you to set up quick ‘formative assessment’ activities. One outstanding one is Mentimeter.

Mentimeter is a free tool that offers a variety of quickly planned activities that immediately checks the understanding of your students. Mentimeter is one of the simpler digital assessment programs. Below you can watch an introduction video  of me explaining the free version.

In Mentimeter you create ‘presentations’, and in each presentation, you can include up to three activities. There are a whole range of these, including word clouds, streams of ideas, true or false questions, multiple choice questions, ranking questions and even voting questions.

I suggest you begin with one activity in each presentation and use that to assess what the students have understood. You can set up a new presentation, add the question and then share the link with the students, who then click on the link and complete the activity. Again, one of the best features of this program is that you get instant feedback: all the answers are immediately sent back to you, and you can then decide to display the answers, or analyse these results without making them public to your students. 

Here is example of how you might use the program to get instant feedback:

Let’s say you have given a scaffolding activity for a video before class. You then show the video during the online lesson. Now you want to see how much the students have understood, so you send the students the link for a Mentimeter presentation you have created, in which you have included three multiple choice questions about the video. You give your students time to respond, and according to their answers, you decide whether to show the video again, or move on to build on the knowledge of the video.

Other important features of Mentimeter 

There are certain key features of Mentimeter that really make it a useful tool when it comes to formative assessments. Let’s say it is the start of the lesson and you want to brainstorm a certain topic with your students. Most word cloud applications allow students to input only one word or one word at a time, but with Mentimeter, you can set up the word cloud so that students can include more than one word. 

The data from the activities can be instantly shared with the students. I have observed a number of online lessons recently where the students were reluctant to participate. We can change this dynamic by including their names on the screen. They are much more likely to pay attention if they see that they are expected to engage and interact during the lesson.

These activities are so simple to set up, you can create them either beforehand or in the moment. Here's an example of a series of 'presentations' you can plan out for one online lesson: 

Activity 1) Your students vote on their favourite character in a story. You receive the results immediately and then show them on the screen.

Activity 2) Students describe personality traits of the character they have chosen from that story.

Activity 3) They correct any misspellings of their classmates on the personality traits, look up any words they don't understand, and clarify them on the screen.

We hope that the program explored above helps to facilitate the assessment of your students. Richmond is dedicated to finding and sharing key ideas that will help you to move forward towards innovation. Please send your comments. In the meantime, see you soon for the next blog and even more resources to help you be prepared for the most effective lessons either online or in the physical classroom! 

Extra resources

Russell Stannard currently works as an Educational Consultant helping organisations to build online learning/blended learning courses as well as training staff in the use of technology all over the world. A website dedicated to providing dynamic and innovative activities that will help student to transition into new information.

Teacher training videos that teach how to use the most useful educational software available today.



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