Educators glimpse the future of assessment

What would assessment look like, if you could reinvent it using 21st-century tools?

The question was posed during a Jan. 25 presentation by Harvard University professor Chris Dede at the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando. And his answer revealed a vision for assessment that is much richer and potentially more useful than what currently exists in schools.

Dede’s vision for the future of assessment relies on two guiding principles: that formative, or diagnostic, assessment provides a much more valuable snapshot of students’ abilities than an end-of-semester exam; and that technology gives schools access to an incredible amount of data that can be used to gauge students’ understanding of key concepts.

Any time students have some kind of mediated interaction involving technology–a video conference, for example, or an online chat session–this interaction can be logged, saved, and analyzed at a later date to reveal important information about students’ thought processes, Dede explained. And this information, in turn, can be used to help guide instruction.

Setting aside the obvious privacy and security concerns this practice would raise, “we’re missing a huge opportunity to capture these data and use them to enhance assessment,” he said.

Dede, who is the Timothy E. Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, used a research project at the university to illustrate his vision.

The project, called River City, is a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) that immerses students in an online scenario in which they are asked to apply scientific inquiry skills to solve a problem.

Students travel back in time to the 19th century, working together in small research teams to help discover why residents of a virtual world called River City are becoming ill. Students use technology to keep track of clues that hint at causes of illnesses, form and test hypotheses, develop controlled experiments to test their hypotheses, and make recommendations based on the data they collect.

Every time students interact with a resident of River City, this interaction is logged in a database, Dede said. This means that, besides formal assessment data, researchers also have access to observational data based on these event logs: information about where students went (and in what sequence), which artifacts they examined, who they talked with, and what they said in these interactions.

The problem now facing researchers is how to make sense of all this information–and how to use it to improve instruction.

Some kinds of analysis are rather simple and can be quite revealing, Dede said. For example, educators can look at the logs and see fairly easily what proportion of scientific data were contributed by a given team member, or how much time students spent gathering information.

More complex types of analysis, such as trying to reconstruct which sequence of events led to a given student becoming more engaged in the lesson, are problematic–but Dede said researchers are working on developing data-mining techniques to help solve these challenges.

Although few schools are using tools as technologically sophisticated as the River City MUVE, Dede said, most are using some form of mediated interaction with students–and such techniques could apply equally well in these cases, too.

And while this vision of how technology can help enhance assessment “isn’t going to happen tomorrow morning,” he acknowledged, it’s something educators should be thinking of as they move forward.


Chris Dede

Florida Educational Technology Conference


Big delays for small laptops: OLPC recipients irate

When Seattle, Washington resident David Ruggiero heard about an opportunity to get his hands on the innovative XO laptop made by the One Laptop Per Child charitable organization, he hopped on it. Within two hours after the promotion began on Nov. 12 he snapped one up.

“It was for a good cause and also I really wanted a cool geeky toy for myself,” Ruggiero says. Two and half months after placing his order, Ruggiero still has no XO, and he–and many others who took advantage of OLPC’s Give One, Get One program–are furious about having to deal with a litany of problems associated with the purchase.

The original aim of OLPC was to develop a $100 laptop for children in poor nations to ensure they don’t miss out on the benefits of computing, and to make sure developing countries don’t fall further and further behind modern nations due to their inability to buy computers. This is a conundrum commonly referred to as the digital divide. A similar OLPC campaign for poor U.S. students was announced this month.

Click here for the full story


eSN video contest brings students to Washington

Having the chance to give talented young people a rich learning experience that expands their horizons with technology while deepening their understanding of how America works is a satisfaction perhaps unique to our profession. When that learning experience can advance the cause of education at the same time, the opportunity becomes sweeter still.

You can participate in just such an experience by introducing budding videographers in your schools to the “Empowered Education” awards, a video program of the eSchool News Network, produced with support from the Pearson Foundation.

Here are some of the program’s highlights for the winners:
• a trip to the nation’s capital for a gala awards ceremony,
• recognition and prizes for winning students and their schools,
• an international showcase for students’ work,
• a chance to meet senators, representatives, and other key officials, and
• news releases to the hometown news media.

To qualify, students make a three-to-five minute original video on the theme of “How Technology Helps Me Learn.” Winning entries will be those produced by students in the best journalistic style, illustrating how their schools or colleges are employing technology to advance learning.

The dynamic process begins with this call for America’s best student video productions from the levels of
• the elementary school,
• the middle school/junior high school,
• high school, and
• college and university.

Each nomination must be endorsed by an education sponsor representing the institution the students attend. Permission to travel must be obtained from a parent or guardian for student winners under 18 years of age. A panel of nationally recognized experts will select 12 finalists (three from each education level) and four Top Winners.

The works of these finalists will be posted at eSchool News Online, where they may be viewed by the site’s 300,000 unique monthly visitors, including 188,000 registered members. The finalists and their video productions also will be covered in the print, PDF, and online editions of eSchool News, which is read and visited by well over 600,000 education leaders, with bonus distribution at major ed-tech conferences.

Winners will be notified and honored at a gala awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. The winning students – and, in the case of those under 18, one educator sponsor – will receive an expenses-paid trip to the nation’s capital.

eSchool News will invite relevant government leaders – Senators, U.S. Representatives, and key administration officials – to attend the awards ceremony and meet with the winning students and their educator sponsors. The awards ceremony and related activities will be covered in eSchool News print, PDF, and online editions and will be the subject of news releases to the winners’ local news media.

As part of its role in the program, the Pearson Foundation – through its Digital Arts Alliance, a consortium of public and private organizations committed to supporting 21st century skills – will help the winning students polish their video communications skills. The foundation also will offer summer camps to the winners’ schools, so more students can learn to express themselves in the model established by this eSN program.

The role of video communications has never been more important in education. We invite you to join these remarkable students on what could be the most important journey of their young lives.

For entry forms and more information on how to participate in eSN’s “Empowered Education” program, please visit our web page.


Student entry information

Sponsorship information


Today’s reading programs also strong on science

Researchers have learned a great deal of information in the last 30 years about how humans acquire knowledge, and this understanding provides important insights for using technology to enhance students’ reading skills.

At the 2008 Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Vanderbilt University professor Ted Hasselbring discussed what researchers have discovered about the science of learning–and how software providers are using this information to create reading programs that work.

Only 38 percent of the students who aren’t reading well by middle school will graduate from high school, Hasselbring warned in a Jan. 24 keynote session. He said there are two key problems that typically hold students back: an inability to decode and read connected text fluently, and an inability to comprehend text.

Hasselbring showed conference attendees a short block of text and asked them to try reading it in 20 seconds. But, by putting capital letters where they didn’t belong, he made the task extremely difficult.

Simply changing the way the text looks “interferes with our neural models for how words should appear–or what our brains have come to expect,” he said.

A functional MRI taken as students are reading shows that the brain activity for struggling readers is different, Hasselbring explained: There is not as much activity in the back of the brain, where we recognize and retrieve words very quickly from our memory.

“When students lack fluency in foundational skills, performance is likely to be painfully slow, difficult, and full of errors,” he said. This leads to comprehension problems, because kids can’t read with enough speed and flow to make sense of the words together.

The automaticity with which skillful readers recognize words is the key to successful reading, Hasselbring said, because the reader’s attention can focus on comprehension only when it is not bogged down with decoding words and letters. “So, the key to successful reading is developing neural models for quick word recognition,” he said.

Developing these neural models requires students to move from using the alphabetic principle to recognizing entire words automatically, Hasselbring said. And the more times students read a word correctly, the stronger their neural pathway becomes to retrieve that word rapidly from their long-term memory.


Deal would save Wisconsin virtual schools

Virtual schools in Wisconsin would remain open under new regulations forged in a compromise announced by state lawmakers Jan. 24.

A court ruling had threatened to close a dozen Wisconsin virtual schools starting as early as next school year.

But lawmakers say those schools would be allowed to stay open with few changes and receive the same level of state aid as they do currently under their bipartisan plan.

Virtual-school teachers would have to be certified in their subject matter and receive at least 30 hours of training in online teaching. Schools would have to offer a certain number of hours of instruction per year.

State Sen. John Lehman of Racine, Wis., says those measures would ensure high-quality instruction and increase accountability.

The schools allow students to learn from home under the guidance of their parents and instructors who teach over the internet. They are growing in size and number.

The state’s largest teacher’s union says lawmakers should analyze whether virtual schools divert money from traditional public schools before passing the bill.

Lawmakers, however, are predicting both houses will soon move to pass the compromise.


Wisconsin State Legislature


MPAA admits mistake on downloading study

Hollywood has laid much of the blame for illegal movie downloading on college students. Now, it says its math was wrong.

Terry Hartle, vice president of the American Council on Education, which represents higher education in Washington, D.C., said the mistakes showed the entertainment industry has unfairly targeted college campuses.

“Illegal peer-to-peer file sharing is a society-wide problem. Some of it occurs at colleges and universities, but it is a small portion of the total,” Hartle said. He said colleges will continue to take the problem seriously, but more regulation isn’t necessary.

A 2005 study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) claimed 44 percent of the industry’s domestic losses came from illegal downloading of movies by college students, who often have access to high-bandwidth networks on campus.

The MPAA has used the study to pressure colleges to take tougher steps to prevent illegal file sharing and to back legislation currently before the House of Representatives that would force them to do so.

But now the MPAA, which represents the U.S. motion picture industry, has told education groups a “human error” in that survey caused it to get the number wrong. It now blames college students for about 15 percent of revenue loss.

The MPAA says that figure is still significant, and justifies a major effort by colleges and universities to crack down on illegal file sharing. But Mark Luker, vice president of the campus IT group Educause, says even the reduced percentage doesn’t account for the fact that more than 80 percent of college students live off campus and aren’t necessarily using college networks. He says 3 percent is a more reasonable estimate for the percentage of revenue that might be at stake on campus computer networks.

“The 44 percent figure was used to show that if college campuses could somehow solve this problem on this campus, then it would make a tremendous difference in the business of the motion picture industry,” Luker said. But the new figures prove that “any solution on campus will have only a small impact on the industry itself.”

The original report, by research firm LEK, claims the U.S. motion picture industry lost $6.1 billion to piracy worldwide, with most of the losses overseas. It identified the typical movie pirate as a male aged 16 to 24. MPAA said in a statement that no errors had been found in the study besides the percentage of revenue losses that could be attributed to college students, but that it would hire a third party to validate the numbers.

“We take this error very seriously and have taken strong and immediate action to both investigate the root cause of this problem as well as substantiate the accuracy of the latest report,” the group said in a statement.


Motion Picture Association of America


American Council on Education


Student’s snow-day plea triggers online storm

Snow days, kids and school officials have always been a delicate mix.

But a phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator’s home last week about a snow day — or lack of one — has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students’ First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

It started with Thursday’s snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj “Dave” S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt’s wife.

“How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody’s house and complain about it,” Candy Tistadt’s minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase “snotty-nosed little brats,” and near the end, she said, “Get over it, kid, and go to school!”

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it — a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students’ online networking, it’s harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori’s call and Tistadt’s response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student’s actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted.

Click here for the full story, from The Washington Post


Corwin to educators: ‘Empower young minds’

Technology can help bring the world to students’ desktops, and it can empower whole communities to come together and make a difference: That was the key message of Emmy award-winner Jeff Corwin, who urged educators to use their position of influence to build students’ sense of compassion and understanding of the world around them.

Speaking at the 2008 Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) in Orlando, Corwin–a wildlife biologist who hosts “Corwin’s Quest” and “The Jeff Corwin Experience” for Discovery Communications’ Animal Planet channel–said it’s important for students to learn how to become environmentally responsible citizens.

Corwin kicked off this year’s FETC on Jan. 23 with a keynote speech in which he outlined a vital challenge facing today’s educators.

“You’ve been charged with this incredible responsibility … to mold future leaders in an environment of incredible uncertainty,” he told conference attendees. “We are at a critical stage when it comes to the conservation of our natural resources.”

He described what he called a “perfect storm” of factors that will challenge future generations on this planet. These factors include habitat loss, global climate change, a fast-growing human population, and “environmental degradation,” or pollution–and they are conspiring to tax the earth’s resources and cause huge problems for its species.

“In the next 24 hours, four or five or 10 species will disappear from the planet forever,” Corwin warned. “Today, we have an unnatural rate of extinction.”

While the environmental challenges facing today’s youth are enormous, technology can help bring people together to solve these common problems. It also provides a platform for raising awareness of these issues, bringing images from around the globe to students’ classrooms.

Corwin’s programs for Discovery are a good example of technology’s potential to shrink the world. Video clips from his television show have been downloaded from Discovery Education Streaming, the company’s video-on-demand service for schools, more than 1.4 million times, Discovery Education said. Online video streaming has helped thousands of teachers incorporate Corwin’s lessons on conservation into their curriculum.

Corwin said having a four-year-old daughter has underscored the importance of his message: “It’s important to pass on a world that is equally healthy, if not more healthy,” than the one we have now, he urged attendees.


Animal Planet

Discovery Education

FETC 2008


Tecnología de detección a distancia transforma la investigación

En un laboratorio de computadoras de la Universidad de Alabama en Birmingham (UAB), la profesora de antropología Sarah Parcak examina unas imágenes satelitales en búsqueda de emplazamientos arqueológicos escondidos en Egipto.

Con la ayuda de una nueva tecnología que está revolucionando la investigación en campos como la arqueología, la salud pública y las ciencias sociales, Parcak y sus colaboradores esperan trazar un mapa de los emplazamientos y explorarlos antes de que la urbanización y el desarrollo los destruyan.

En el nuevo laboratorio, cuyo costo fue $150,000, 10 computadoras están ejecutando una serie de programas de sistemas de información geográfica (GIS) y detección a distancia. Estos programas permiten a Parcak viajar por el mundo desde su terminal y acercarse lo suficiente para notar los contornos de los asentamientos olvidados por el tiempo, algunos de ellos enterrados debajo de ciudades modernas.

Ella ha descubierto más de 100 emplazamientos antiguos previamente desconocidos, incluyendo un templo perdido debajo de un campo de agricultura, una ciudad que era importante en la época de las pirámides situado en el delta del Nilo Oriental, un monasterio grande del año 400 A.C. ubicado en Egipto Medio, y una ciudad masiva datada al año 600 A.C. que está casi completamente enterrada debajo de un campo en el delta del Nilo Oriental.

Esta investigación a larga distancia utiliza satélites que pueden ver no sólo la luz visible que ha sido reflejada de la tierra, sino también detectar otras formas de radiación reflejada, como imaginería infrarroja y de microondas.

Luego, esa vista desde el cielo es corroborada con investigaciones in situ: con el trabajo tradicional de los arqueólogos, en el cual los emplazamientos están excavados, datados y trazados con la ayuda de tecnologías que usan el sistema de posicionamiento global (GPS).

“Esta tecnología está cambiando nuestra forma de hacer el trabajo de arqueología,” dijo Parcak, quien viaja a Egipto dos o tres veces por año para trabajar junto con su esposo, Grez Mumford, otro profesor de antropología en UAB.

Aunque la tecnología que Parcak usa es mucho más avanzada, ella dice que el uso de imágenes satelitales de alta resolución es parecido al programa Google Earth.

Los satélites implementan tecnología infrarroja para “ver” debajo de las ciudades y los asentamientos modernos.

“La manipulación de los datos en varios monitores hace aparecer muchas cosas que uno no se podría ver a simple vista,” dijo ella.

Para probar la eficacia de la tecnología, Parcak la utilizó en un asentamiento moderno debajo del cual ella sabía que había un emplazamiento arqueológico. Aunque es más difícil ver debajo de la tierra en áreas muy cultivadas, la tecnología funciona muy bien en el desierto, ella añadió.

Parcak ha estado trabajando con esta tecnología por casi seis años, y su trabajo será el objeto de un programa especial a ser emitido más tarde este año en el Discovery Channel.

La idea de crear el laboratorio surgió del trabajo que Parcak hizo cuando estaba matriculada en la universidad de Yale, donde utilizaba métodos y tecnología similares. La idea se volvió realidad cuando Parcak fue contratada por UAB y ella habló del concepto con su ex-decano, Tennant McWilliams. McWilliams y Parcak se juntaron con Max Michael, el decano de la Escuela de Salud Pública de UAB, para patrocinar el nuevo Laboratory for Global Health Observation (Laboratorio para la Observación de la Salud Global).

La Escuela de Salud Pública estaba interesada en la potencia de la imaginería satelital para el combate contra las enfermedades modernas, y Parcak está aconsejando a los investigadores en su trabajo en esa área.

Las imágenes satelitales permiten a los investigadores registrar variaciones climáticas para detectar los lugares de cría de los mosquitos portadores de malaria en África Oriental. Buscando ciertas combinaciones químicas en las imágenes les permite detectar contaminación en la tierra y en el agua de Sri Lanka.

Es posible trazar el mapa de los casos de infección con el virus del Nilo Occidental, y los investigadores pueden averiguar su proximidad a los vertederos de llantas, los cuales aparentan ser los lugares de cría preferidos del mosquito portador de ese virus. Además, se pueden registrar, trazar y seguir–y así comprender mejor–las disparidades en salud pública y los brotes de enfermedades.

“Es una idea genial,” dijo Michael. “Para mi, la parte más divertida de todo esto es cuando uno hace conexiones entre [las potencias de] las diferentes tecnologías y las ideas empiezan a brotar. Esto fue lo mejor del espíritu interactivo y colaborador [que tenemos] en UAB.”


University of Alabama at Birmingham