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General thoughts on handheld technology and assessment (a boring title, but hopefully a good discussion)

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I have been reading (with great interest) several posts by a variety of noteworthy edubloggers about the use of various handheld technologies in our classrooms - most notably cell phones and iPod Touch kinds of devices. Coincidentally, I also happened to have a wonderful conversation with our district's network consultant about the availability of wireless access in schools, policies regarding students bringing their own equipment for use on district networks, and the like. He shared many people in districts he worked with had serious concerns about students using cell phones and other personal handheld devices to cheat.

We have been worried about cheating since tests were created. Yes, cheating is an issue of moral character and I can't imagine any educator condoning it. However, many progressive educators I know understand our information economy has evolved well past the relevance of having a single correct answer (unless you plan to make large sums of money on Jeopardy.) Higher Order Thinking Skills are more critical than ever. My question is this: if a student can look up or transmit an answer for a test on a cell phone and use that answer for full credit, are we developing the right kinds of assessments?

Don't get me wrong, I understand there are certain truths people should just know. A certain amount of general knowledge is required as a foundation for problem solving and higher order thinking in our society.

This is an issue that is pervasive in our McDonaldized communities. We want a simple answer to a complex question and we want it now. In my opinion, state tests still require mostly lower level thinking skills. Our information systems have a harder time producing data that can truly capture students' higher order thinking and problem solving skills. Many teachers are excellent at developing assessments that require students to reach the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels. Some are not. Test preparation has also provided a hurdle in that significant time is allocated for it.

I am the first to admit I don't have a complete answer to this question. Maybe some of our LeaderTalk readers do. What do you think?

Matt Hillmann

5 Comments

The line of thought in this posting is completely true. Cheating is a moral issue and there will always be "technology" employed to help those who choose to do the wrong thing. There will never be a replacement for teachers walking around to monitor during tests and quizzes. It doesn't matter what the form of cheating is, it is twice as difficult with a teacher in close proximity v. sitting at a desk. I would also like to add that our culture of learning for a grade instead of for the joy of learning has created this problem. Great Post...This topic is being discussed in every school across America.

I am fascinated by the idea of students using cell phones in school, and I wrote a post about it a few months ago:

http://theprincipalandinterest.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/rethinking-cell-phones-in-school/

If we stop giving one answer multiple choice or true/false tests, we can worry less about cheating. Such tests typically assume that the teacher imparts the content to the students all at the same time (e.g.lecture), the students then memorize the information and regurgitate it back to the teacher. If all of the students are given the same exact information, then there are no secrets in the classroom. Some kids can memorize better than others. Let them discuss and use the information to problem solve instead of memorize and then forget. In your daily work, how often do you have to memorize information? Probably not too often. Instead, we all use resources available to us to do our jobs well.

Instead, we should be encouraging students to work together and to use all available resources to find answers to challenging problems and questions. If that means a calculator, a computer, a phone call, or a text message, then that should be allowed. The information is out there - Kids need to learn how to access and use it to solve real, authentic problems, not to memorize and then forget.

As a first grade teacher this issue hasn't trickled down to my level yet so I'm able to be fascinated by it from a distance. That said, I think we need to use this issue as a push to think more deeply about how we assess students, not just on what we assess. It may be time for us to reconsider the tradition tests we've been giving for years and look for better ways to have students show their learning.

I have often wondered why school tests don't mimic work-place requirements. If I can find information or knowledge somewhere in cyberspace, I am expected to do so..and document where I found it. In fact, I get in trouble for "just knowing" anything - without documentation of how I know it, my work has no credibilty. I am also expected to constantly collaborate with my co-workers...it is NOT considered cheating if I find a quick answer from someone seated next to me. What I DO with that answer is the grounds for how I am judged, not how I found it.

This is just another area where we simply cannot fall behind the 8-ball, as we have in other areas (we are still creating factory workers for post WWII with how we approach education!). I believe Anna is right..we have to totally change assessment along with instruction. We need more community involvement with on site and on job trainings. We need to foster the child who wants to take apart everything he/she owns and find them mentors in engineering and construction, for example. We need more hands on, and less books/tests.

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  • Lynn Arnsdorf: This is just another area where we simply cannot fall read more
  • Anna S: I have often wondered why school tests don't mimic work-place read more
  • Jenny: As a first grade teacher this issue hasn't trickled down read more
  • Dave Sherman: I am fascinated by the idea of students using cell read more
  • Dan Funston: The line of thought in this posting is completely true. read more

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