By Mary George, IGCSE and IB Educator, Consultant in International Education
Educators love to design lessons that are engaging, and students love to be part of these fun lessons.
With the scenarios around the pandemic compelling the average educator to find creative solutions to make online teaching as engaging (if not better) than physical classes, teachers often hit a roadblock when they want to administer authentic assessments.
The litmus test for learning has always been assessment and it continues to be so in hybrid, blended or online lessons. However, what are the challenges and limitations of conducting online assessments?
Are the students really learning?
Students are seemingly happy, engaged and learning what is being taught. However, how does the teacher know if real learning is happening, there is no outside help, no access to the web etcetera, in short, are the answers authored by the students themselves?
Tip: Do a spot check – share a Padlet or use the chat function on Zoom or MS Teams to get students to respond right under your nose!
Warning: Give a very short turn-around time and insist that all respond. Give instant rewards using emoticons or give them quick verbal feedback.
Can scores of high stakes online assessments be trusted?
Why not? Is that not what we do anyway with physical invigilation in normal school examinations?
Tip: Give students settling in time and let them know the rules loud and clear, including the fact they cannot leave their seats in the middle of the assessment.
Warning: The odd student may tell you their camera is not functioning, their scan is taking too long to upload, they have spotty internet and so on, so let students and parents know in advance what is expected.
Support and administrative help is not always possible!
How can I still ensure authenticity? Some of the assessments could be designed and administered online using a variety of tools such as MS Forms or provided by Ed-tech companies, and the test would even be self-marking, giving instant feedback to the student and teacher.
Tip: Be prudent in designing the assessments to cover assessment objectives and make sure you provide enough challenge. Using assessments designed for the taught curriculum including the use of question banks is highly recommended.
Warning: Use these tools for only a small percentage of summative assessments.
The challenge of a mixed ability class and supporting students of diverse learning needs.
Know your learners! This is a big one… In the physical school, time outside lessons, differentiation by task or outcome, multiple and varied approaches, in class support for SEN and EAL students is easier.
However, with some creative approaches, the same is possible in an online class. Even more so if you have data from baseline assessments done early in the school year. Using such data most teachers can not only deliver bespoke lessons but also bespoke assessments.
Tip: Collaborative learning through small group projects go a long way in helping students learn remotely. Clever planning and a tight timeline, the use of rubrics, providing a set of varied and interesting resources from online libraries and web links can support students at home in the teacher’s absence.
Warning: Some students will still slip through the cracks! Student feedback and reflection as well as target-setting as often as possible is highly recommended.
Syllabus completion for exam classes: How can you juggle it all online?
When do you teach skills? How do you mark and give feedback? What does one do for subjects that require practical work or performance? The solutions have to be extremely artful.
Tip: A flipped classroom approach is highly recommended to save time. Explicit teaching of skills should be a whole school focus making transition smooth. Feedback even for larger assessments need not be always written. An online feedback form can be designed and used to suit a subject’s needs. A teacher can even record their feedback as an audio recording.
Sciences, Drama, Art and Music to name a few have their own challenges as these are practical-based subjects! Virtual galleries, getting students to record and share their performance, data banks and simulations to make the practical component possible can all work well. Teachers can train students to use improvised apparatus and conduct few simple home experiments. Students can then analyse data using traditional IT tools and even use graph plotting software!
Warning: Be aware of student well-being. Allow students to do offline work, get them to move around after every lesson and also a few seconds during an online lesson. Try to encourage them to draw, sketch, handwrite, scan and upload their work.
Tip: Not all lessons need to be about learning the subject; encourage the students to have fun, talk, sing and even dance!
Research shows that students work best and display their learning with confidence when they are given multiple ways of learning and displaying their learning. While the challenges with online teaching and assessments are many, there are also ample opportunities as well, and this generation of tech savvy students still need, and enjoy, the support of their teachers in online lessons.
About the author:
Mary has been teaching international curricula – Cambridge GCE A levels, IGCSE and IBDP Biology for 25 years. She has worked as a Biology Teacher, IBDP Examiner, Assessment Recording and Reporting Coordinator and has recently retired as the Science Curriculum Leader from The British School, New Delhi. An advocate of student voice in learning and bespoke assessments, Mary continues to guide schools and teachers in their journey.
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