Assessment is any method used to appraise the knowledge, skills or understanding that a student possesses. By providing constructive feedback to students on their work, assessment is fundamental to the teaching and learning process because it can show teachers (and their students) what areas of students’ performance needs to be improved.
Unfortunately, assessment of ICT, the predecessor to computing, has not been effective at achieving this end for most schools. One of the main criticisms made by Ofsted about ICT in England for example, has been in the area of assessment. In 2011 it was judged as no better than satisfactory in 61% of their sample. In my view, there are three systemic challenges to the assessment of computing:
- Until recently, the assessment framework itself has been based on ‘levels’, which have been fairly abstract and not always easy to interpret.
- Many schools do not have an organised system of digital portfolios set up in which students’ work in ICT/computing can be consistently recorded and easily accessible.
- Traditionally, schools have applied an assessment model based on the learners’ grasp of discrete bits of information rather than how they use that information in context to solve complex problems. This is particularly true of the former ICT curriculum, which focussed more on students acquiring a set of skills rather than on knowledge and understanding.
The shake up provided by the new computing curriculum offers an opportunity to put this right. In the process of adapting to this new curriculum, I have been developing an integrated assessment, digital portfolio and digital badge model using Google Apps for Education to help address these systemic challenges.
- The Assessment Framework
The expert panel, commissioned to review the national curriculum stated that all assessment should be linked directly to the content of the programmes of study. This means that the computing programme of study should be broken down into a series of statements in which to inform the learning objectives of lessons.
The text below, which is derived directly from the 2014 national curriculum programme of study for computing, shows these statements. Its organisation makes it easier to form judgements about students’ achievement of and progress towards the statutory attainment targets. And it’s this assessment framework, which forms the basis of everything else that follows.National Curriculum Assessment Framework for Computing
This is a framework for assessing attainment in computing based on the work by senior computing lecturers, Miles Berry and Pete Kemp at the University of Roehampton. Taking a pragmatic approach, they’ve grouped the statements into ‘bands’ from 1 to 8: this numbering could be used in place of the old levels, if schools are committed to using the old system of tracking progress. I’ve also included in this framework relevant standards (in purple) provided by The International Society for Technology in Education.
- Digital Portfolios
The next step is to ensure that a system of digital portfolios is in place. A portfolio is just a purposeful collection of student work, which can provide direct indicators of a student’s learning experiences. Digital portfolios are particularly useful because they can serve as an administrative tool to manage and organise work created with different applications, which can then be shared on the web for the whole community to see.
As Woodward (2000) points out, the value of portfolios is thoroughly researched and their use in education is well documented. By demonstrating the development of knowledge, skills and understanding over time, digital portfolios make valuable assessment and learning tools. To ensure deep learning though, it’s not enough for students to simply showcase a series of digital artefacts they have created. It’s also important that students reflect on the work they have produced, and this can be done by simply getting them to write about what they have learnt. This helps to reinforce students’ knowledge and understanding, which complement the skills they demonstrate through the creation of digital artefacts. In order to get students into the habit of developing decent digital portfolios, I’d recommend that the process is started early – the last couple of years of primary school is a good time to start.
Project work lends itself particularly well to this process of building up a digital portfolio. A link to a game created in Scratch for example, with some commentary and reflection about the process of making the game, would provide evidence of a number of attainment targets. Over the course of the key stage, a diverse portfolio of evidence of student learning should emerge, which meets all the curriculum requirements. At any time, it also provides teachers with a snapshot of which attainment targets a student has met, and which still require more evidence. I therefore recommend that a list of links to students’ digital portfolios be placed on the same spreadsheet as that used for assessment of students’ attainment.
- Assessment of knowledge, skills and understanding
In order to motivate students and at the same time provide assessment for learning opportunities, digital badges should be linked to the system of digital portfolios. A digital badge (embedded into the digital portfolio) is just a mini-credential, providing students with a validated indicator of accomplishment in a particular area.
Students earn digital badges according to the areas of learning they demonstrate across the statutory attainment targets of the computing curriculum. Below are the badge designs and descriptions, which I have adapted from the ones provided by makewav.es. Different digital badges are awarded across the three themes of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. Within each of the themes I have ordered the badges according to the level of achievement they represent.Badge Information
It’s important from the outset that this badge information is shared with students in a straightforward language that can be easily understood . I would even say that the badge information itself should be embedded into the students’ digital portfolios, so that students can clearly identify what knowledge, skills and understanding they need to demonstrate in order to earn a particular badge.
Linking Assessment with Digital Portfolios & Badges
Assessment of students’ attainment feeds into the digital badge system quite easily, with badges for each of the attainment targets linked to relevant evidence on a student’s digital portfolio. If a school already has Google Apps for Education, which is free, it makes sense to make full use of this google ecosystem to integrate the assessment of students’ attainment with digital badges and digital portfolios. I have created this integrated assessment model in order to automatically issue digital badges to students upon having had their attainment graded by the teacher. It means that students do not need another set of login information to access their digital badges and portfolios, and schools do not need to pay for premium services.
Below is an example of an assessment template that I would use to archive links to students’ digital portfolios, grade students’ work and issue students with digital badges. As the video explains underneath, this template is linked to a student badge assesment template, which is shared with students via Google Classroom for them to embed into their digital portfolios. When the assessment template is filled out, I use the Google Add-on, autoCrat, to merge the ‘Comments & Badge Display’ sheet of this assessment template with a “Badge code email template”. In this way, students automatically receive an email with the badge codes that they have been assigned. They then enter these badge codes onto their student badge templates, which automatically populate digital badge images onto their digital portfolios.
As well as addressing the systemic challenges of assessment, my intention with this has been to make the process of assessment easier for teachers to do and more effective in its outcomes for teaching and learning. This assessment model is highly automated, freeing up time for teachers to focus on properly appraising students’ knowledge, skills and understanding across the curriculum. For students, the digital portfolio and badge system allows them to reflect on and keep track of what they’ve learnt, informing targets for what comes next. It gives parents a much more meaningful picture of what a child has learnt, and what they still need to study. Finally, it allows school leadership and the inspectorate to more accurately track year on year progress of students.
First and foremost, assessment should be directly linked to the content of the curriculum. The statements that make up the assessment framework can then feed into digital badge information, which is best shared with students. Students should then keep up a digital portfolio of evidence to showcase and reflect on their learning. These digital portfolios need to be easily accessible by teachers, so that accurate assessments of students’ knowledge, skills and understanding is made possible.
Woodward, H. (2000). Portfolios: Narratives for learning. Journal of In-Service Education Vol 26 No 2 p. 329 -347.