It’s all about learning

Today there are many online and offline tools available for teachers seeking to enhance the quality of their teaching material, didactic methods and approaches to assessment though some of these resources remain untapped or are rarely used. At ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN 2011, Alastair Cameron, Senior Learning Strategist at itslearning, will elaborate on how technology can be integrated into seamless assessment practices for teachers at all levels. Here, he looks at assessment from the student’s perspective: the ins, outs and how the itslearning platform is facilitating learner progress.


Should assessing the learner’s academic progress be primarily the role of the teacher?


It is sometimes suggested that students don’t have what it takes to carry out fruitful self-assessment. The fact is that students in K12 education are more than familiar with self and peer assessment. I want to highlight the possibilities: we need to wake up teaching and tutoring at higher education and further education levels to accommodate students’ current technology adoption when looking at assessment for learning.


Most educators will agree that learner autonomy is important for the learning process. In the case of self-directed learning, should students focus on formative or summative assessment?


I spend all my working life in schools around the world, and in my research, I have seen that both types of assessment hold enormous value for the student although this depends on the learning and teaching culture instilled in each country. For example, students in some Italian schools prefer a more didactic and summative approach, whereas students in some other countries thrive from developing an online portfolio of work, sharing learning experiences through blogs and collaboratively achieving. Self-directed learning approaches also work for developing new teaching practices, where teaching staff are afforded the opportunity to learn how to deliver and support research inquiry styles of learning.


What new developments are there for peer-assessment on the e-learning platform?


I am involved with many Comenius projects spanning the globe, but one of the best examples of student collaboration I’ve seen is the EuroLink Virtual International School (ELvis), a virtual partnership between seven schools in five countries. At OEB 2011, Sarah Jones, the director of Core Education in the UK, will present a paper on her work on this excellent example of peer and self-assessment that uses emerging technologies that support learning.


Do the approaches to self-assessment have to be tailored to age group and subject matter, or do the same principles always apply?


Self-assessment does need to be tailored to the age ranges being reviewed: you’re always going to need the right cues to engage and motivate responses from the target students. That said, I have witnessed incredible teaching at primary level where students reflectively complete multidisciplinary rubrics, but even these learners need guided responses. Add technology with voice and video in the mix, and you further strip out the need to tailor so specifically.


What do you advise learners who struggle to stay motivated?


That’s the Holy Grail question! Working with teachers and students in specific centres where special needs, exclusion and pregnancy in teens are common issues, I have seen greater motivation through channelling the identifiable skills of each student. I’ve worked with Greys Education Centre in Bedfordshire, UK where motivation is a minute by minute struggle for most of the students in each of the classes. Greater use of technology, a wider choice of curricular and non-curricular activities within the environment they are used to can all improve motivation in this challenge. What can also help is challenging the current teaching styles and practice, and adopting a greater use of available technology to encourage group working or perhaps an end game with a monetary gain.


Still on self-directed learning, some students inadvertently plagiarise out of ignorance or from incomplete information on how to cite sources, rather than any pressing desire to cheat. The plagiarism control tool on the itslearning platform seems to have been developed with the teacher in mind. Is this tool something that students also have access to before they submit their assignments?


Many features of itslearning are borne of the desire of teachers, and itslearning always responds to this. The plagiarism control can only be used by the person who sets the assignment. But the plagiarism tool in itslearning is not a dictatorial control. Rather, it alerts the teacher if plagiarism might have taken place. The teacher can then see the two texts side-by-side and decide if it’s a clear-cut case of plagiarism or if the quote has simply been incorrectly attributed. The teacher can then take this forward with the student – and use it as an opportunity to teach about citing sources if needed. We have seen, however, that merely telling students that any submitted work could be checked is enough to deter them from attempting to plagiarise. Is plagiarism such a bad thing? We all do it in various ways, and I’m not convinced that it is such a bad thing; the tougher pedagogical approach is merely to change the way that the questions are formed to ensure knowledge and understanding is gained. itslearning has an incredibly smart feature that enables the student to become the teacher, setting work and marking themselves and others. Reversing the roles like this enables each student to check their own work for plagiarism prior to submitting their final assignment.


What do you envisage for itslearning for the long term future? Five, ten years down the line…


itslearning has been a strong provider of e-learning solutions that support the entire process of teaching and learning since 1999. We see this continuing but ever developing and streamlining our services so that itslearning is even easier to use and becomes synonymous amongst students internationally as a high quality platform for teaching and learning. We also see that there’s increasing demand for integrated content within learning platforms. We already offer an App Library, which includes loads of great teaching and learning applications. More and more of these are including exercises linked to the curriculum, as well as creative tools that students can use to make animations, posters and other great stuff. A further shift towards mobile platforms will happen for us in the short term, and the longer term with adoption of new platforms, technologies and accessibility requirements. We do see something that won’t change, and that’s our commitment to supporting high quality teaching and learning in a rich, engaging and motivating environment.


Alastair Cameron’s Plenary Session presentation is entitled How Technology Can Make Assessment for Learning Work. Catch him on Friday, December 2nd, 2011 at 9.30 – 11.00.

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