Technology - Monitor progress

5th March 2010 at 00:00
Get the most from assessment for learning with e-portfolios and collaborative writing tools, which help you to capture and review pupils' work

There is no shortage of discussion about the demands placed on teachers to assess their pupils, and the extent to which current assessment approaches shape teaching practices. Summative assessment - the typical "end of stage"-type - has long been a staple of education practice.

However, there is growing interest in formative assessment, or assessment for learning (AFL), as a means for teachers to monitor and act on progress.

The key challenge in AFL is not necessarily using new assessment approaches, but in using the outcome of the assessment to shape teaching practice. There are a variety of web tools to support and speed up this process, offering opportunities to incorporate alternative ways to capture and assess pupils' work.

One area in which these tools can be useful is in allowing pupils to document their work online. This can provide a way for them to reflect on their development over time, and to engage them in the process by creating e-portfolios.

Tools such as Scrapblog or Glogster are free to use, creating online scrapbooks or interactive posters that capture pupils' thoughts and experiences through digital images, video, audio and text, providing a visual record of development.

Collaboration is an important skill for children to develop, but it can be difficult to assess. Looking to the web, collaborative writing tools can help teachers to understand the process that has occurred and note who has contributed. Wallwisher offers a wall that can be filled with virtual Post-it notes, each limited to 160 characters, but including videos or photo images.

Other collaborative tools, such as Google Wave, incorporate multimedia contributions, but also offer a way for pupils to document their developing thoughts in a chat-style conversation. While both of these can support significant amounts of text online, mind-mapping tools such as offer more visual ways to engage. VoiceThread centres on pupil response to a particular stimulus, such as an image or video.

Web tools do not only offer opportunities inside the classroom. Pupils can use web 2.0 tools to connect with the wider world. This could mean engaging with parents, subject experts, or professionals in the field. For an increasing number of courses, engagement with real-world professionals is part of the curriculum. Blogging, using tools such as Posterous, can create an easily accessible and permanent way to demonstrate the development of an idea or project, or to showcase a final product to a global audience.

Most of these tools now have privacy settings, meaning that only selected users can view updates or posts, so teachers can use these products while being mindful of safeguarding.

Linking these free web tools with mobile phones or audio and video recorders can bring children's experiences into class and offer the chance to document and assess their work. Foreign language pupils, for example, have recorded a tour of their house in their chosen language, using audio recorders on their mobile phones. Most mobiles have video cameras allowing pupils to create short films illustrating their abilities and competencies outside of class.

Using assessment formatively for ongoing development frequently requires pupils and teachers to engage in peer - or self - assessment. While digital video can be a useful way to capture these moments, actually providing documented feedback on film can be difficult. A free tool such as BubblePLY offers the option to annotate videos.

There are many opportunities for teachers and pupils to use web 2.0 tools to support assessment. As free resources they can support teachers and pupils in documenting and communicating their work, and open possibilities to value pupils' contributions.

Kieron Kirkland is a learning researcher and Dan Sutch is a senior researcher at education RD charity Futurelab -

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