As a final assignment, a portfolio of my learning on electronic assessment this past semester, fulfilling the assessment trifecta: an assessment as learning (self-assessment), an assessment for learning (formative assessment), and an assessment of learning (summative assessment). What I write here serves as a vehicle for self-reflection on what I have learned, as a way to learn how I would want my own students to construct their own portfolios, and as a demonstration of all that I have learned.
Unit Zero: I Have Doubts
Honestly, I waffled back and forth about whether there was anything in this course I needed to learn, but in the end, my curiosity was piqued by a classmate’s tweets about the course, trust in program designers, and the nagging suspicion there was much that I did not know that I did not know about assessment. Even so, I was a reluctant registrant for the course, and my pride had me believe the course and the instructor had to prove they were worth my time.
Unit One: I Learn How Little I Know
The first assignment was to write about my three beliefs about assessement. I thought of two, and had to make something up for a third. By sheer chance, my three beliefs remain essentially the same, but I now actually understand what I’m espousing.
I loved learning the history of assessment, from social efficiency to behaviorism to social constructivism which explained and challenged the basis for my own assumption about assessments only being tests. Students didn’t merely need more repetition or practice; there were other ways for students to show and develop their understanding. It was at the end of this first week that I sent this message to a former instructor:
I was sold.
Unit 2: I Realize the Need for Fundamental Change in My Practice
This was an especially fruitful unit for me. My tweets during this time showed my discovery of the sore need for formative assessment in my practice as a computer science (CS) instructor. My work on my Assessment Design Checklist also had me come to grips with my lack of understanding of formative assessment, as demonstrated by my initial first belief about assessment.
Belief #1: Assessment can be used to measure not only student understanding, but teacher effectiveness.
This belief, even though very nearly the definition of formative assessment where assessment is used to elicit student understanding to inform practice, represented a twisted understanding in my mind that testing would reveal student understanding to me to help me improve my practice. This was a very teacher-oriented, test-centric understanding of assessment, and oh so misdirected. The purpose of formative assessment is to help students understand the progress of their own learning and to inform instruction. The role of the teacher is to pave the way to student understanding by clarifying learning goals, designing activities that elicit student understanding, and providing opportunities to generate teacher, peer, and student feedback. The primary beneficiary of formative assessment is ultimately the student, not the teacher.
It was during this unit that I also confirmed my second belief about assessment…
Belief #2: Students can get an answer right, but still not understand the underlying concepts.
…and wrote a corresponding analysis of the typical in-class short coding project used in CS classrooms—my best and most inspired work to date in this program, an analysis which may very well become my manifesto as a CS teacher. My hope is that focus on understanding instead of project completion will lead to student-efficacy and retention in CS.
Unit Three: I Immediately Regret My Reflection Tweet From the End of Unit Two Disavowing My Third Belief
Belief #3: Feedback fosters more substantial learning than a grade.
Turns out, feedback is important, and my made-up belief was right on the mark. I tweeted about the need for more than feedback on the task in CS so that students would learn to focus on the process of using and developing their understanding to inform their coding. I also edited my Assessment Design Checklist and Formative Assessment Design to include time to process teacher and student feedback.
It was also at the end of this unit, when I had to look up the differences between assessment as learning, assessment for learning, and assessment of learning to complete a short digital quiz, that I realized I needed to develop a better system to keep track of my learning! After spending way too much time looking at options, I opted to use Simplenote, the simplest and fastest cross-platform way to jot down notes.
Unit Four: I Encounter an Old Nemesis
I complained to the twitterverse about my continued struggles with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), but in a later unit would finally incorporate it into my Assessment Design Checklist. Also, after reading about portfolios as a vehicle for digital formative assessment, I searched for portfolio use in CS Education (CSE) and found a great paper I ended up tweeting about. Portfolios in CSE allow students to communicate their understanding of computational concepts, as opposed to merely using them in projects. Like formative assessment in general in CSE, computational communication is under-practiced in the classroom and students will need scaffolding and time to improve.
Unit Five: I Publicly Criticize My Instructor
In my blog post about instructor and a peer feedback, I ended up criticizing both of them. In retrospect, what I should have learned—and did not until this reflection despite my instructor feedback on my post—is that yes, feedback of any sort is going to be uneven and some days of giving and receiving will be better than others. That is the very nature of feedback and social constructivism. But the feedback process itself, despite its inconsistent results, is valuable either way. Feedback teaches us and reminds us that as individuals, no matter our expertise or how highly we think of ourselves, we do not and cannot know everything; that as individuals with disparate backgrounds and experiences, feedback will always have the potential to show us something of which we were previously unaware. A little humility can go a long way.
Unit Six: As a Vehicle for Equity, I Finally Accept UDL
I tweeted about bias in assessment and critical race theory, and realized that to address inequity in CS, UDL could be utilized to give students other means of representation with which to understand computational concepts and other means of expression to show computational understanding. I made UDL my sixth and final Assessment Design Checklist item and vowed to remember the need for equity on my next encounter with UDL which will hopefully preclude me from becoming overwhelmed by it again.
In an assignment to apply my Assessment Design Checklist to an assessment designed before taking the course, I discovered just how much I have learned. I wrote, “Can one be both ecstatic at progress in learning and horrified that progress needed to be made?”
Unit Seven: Final Thoughts
My final tweet was a recapitulation of my main theme that developed during the course: that CSE needs to focus on student understanding (mastery goal) rather than project completion (performance goal). My Formative Assessment Design ended up being a direct application of this theme, where I hope to teach and assess students on the computational thinking skill of decomposition to understand their code better.
It’s been an exhaustive but far from exhausting semester! This course on electronic assessment has been extremely rewarding and pertinent to my practice as a CS instructor, and I’m eager to get back into the classroom to put into practice everything that I’ve learned. Many thanks to my instructor!