I attended a session centred around assessment in K-12 recently and some of the discussions I had with teachers got me thinking about why we make the choices we do in the classroom and who those choices benefit the most. What is the balance between doing what is best for kids and managing the enormity of the work that we do?
One of the conversations I had was about providing students with feedback in digital spaces. Teachers explained how they used different LMS (Learning Management Systems) in their classrooms for assessment and feedback, like Google Classroom, Showbie, Schoology, and Nearpod. Despite the fact that these platforms all function in similar ways, they all have different features and therefore appeal to different people for different reasons.
In turn I shared my beliefs about using a platform like Edublogs instead of an LMS – since Edublogs uses a platform that can function like an LMS for teachers, but offers what I believe to include more benefits for learners. Maybe it isn’t a matter choosing one over the other. Maybe it is simply about finding a balance?
This year I have started to consciously ask myself “What is best for kids?” And you may be thinking – like I do, that everything we do is about the kids – we always do our best for kids. But doing our best for kids, and thinking critically about what is best for kids are two different things.
So here was my first “What is best for kids?” question from the session:
What is it like for students to have to (potentially) learn a new LMS every year? Let’s consider that within a school there may be 4 teachers working alongside one another – each using a different LMS. If students are on rotary that would require learners to learn and use 4 different LMS to submit work and receive feedback. Although I believe an LMS is designed in part with the learner in mind – who really benefits from using the system? Is it beneficial for learners to spend a significant amount of time using a platform they won’t use outside of our system? Should we instead be focusing on teaching learners to use platforms that will have an application for them outside of school? On the flip side, students learn how to work in different spaces and across platforms. LMS mimic the kinds of environments which students may encounter again if they take courses online. LMS provide a platform to manage workflow and share feedback, and document assessment. But again, could we not offer students the same experience of learning a variety of online platforms (that also manage workflow and provide a platform for feedback) that would better serve them on the “outside”? Is this best for kids, or is this something that is best for teachers? Is it mutually beneficial? I don’t know. . . I am also thinking about how teachers need to be able to manage workflow in a way that suits them so they can be effective in other ways. Still thinking . . .
Another topic that was discussed at my table centred around sharing feedback for students publicly. I have talked with a lot of teachers about this topic in particular – as many teachers have expressed concern about why we would want to make feedback public.
What if we considered the following . . . If we value the process of learning – as opposed to the products of learning – and we want to celebrate and reinforce the importance of the learning journey, would it not stand to reason then that students should be documenting and sharing the process of learning for an authentic audience? Imagine the impact on learning if throughout the process more collaborators could potentially weigh in on the conversations? What if we made our feedback public? How might that change the nature of the conversations between students and teachers, students and students, students and parents, teachers and parents? If our feedback is strength-based with embedded next steps, is that not something to celebrate? When we change the audience, we change the nature of the conversation. If we only ever ask students to share their best work on their blogs, there is little for the audience to offer accept a pat on the back – the work is done. What is the message we want to send to kids in terms of what we want them to value?
So you may be thinking. . . what about those kids who are shy – more introverted – who may not want to “blog” = share work publicly. My first question would be do we share a common understanding of what it means to share something online? My understanding of “online”changed dramatically after I started blogging. I believed that putting something online meant that anyone and everyone could see it – possibly forever. And although that may be true, what I didn’t understand is that just because we share something online, and people have the potential to see it, doesn’t mean I have an audience. Take for example “Jessica’s Blog” – Jessica is a grade 6 student who had a blog created for her this year. If I asked you to find Jessica’s blog online, chances are you would try and search for it on Google. What would you find? 410,000 results for “Jessica’s Blog”. So although her blog may be “public” in the sense that it is posted on the internet, who is the audience? Is there an audience? Could you find it if you wanted to?* Sharing something online does not equal an audience – only the potential of an audience. In fact, one of the most challenging aspects of blogging is building and sustaining and engaged audience. So if we look at this as an opportunity for our learners – to choose who they want their audience to be – would they still be opposed to sharing their work? Take for example that shy, quiet intermediate student who is passionate about music. What if she had the opportunity to choose her own audience – family, other musicians, a professional in her community, or her new soon-to-be high school music teacher? What if we focused on the possibilities of sharing our learning online instead? I would also ask you to consider this: would you excuse a student from sharing his/her learning in class because s/he is shy – or would you find ways to encourage participation and collaboration? One might also argue that using technology builds in an “extra” layer of anonymity for some – eliminating the face-to-face in a classroom settings, which could also be a way to encourage certain learners to open up and share.
I believe that the work we do in part is about creating opportunities for learners to discover who they are, and who they want to be. Every time we make a decision to use technology in our classrooms the first question we should ask ourselves is, what is best for kids?
What are your thoughts about sharing work and giving feedback in online environments? I hope you will share your ideas by leaving a comment below. Your ideas continue to help shape my beliefs about the work we do in schools and contribute to the learning of others.
*If you’d to learn more about how Google searches work check out this Infographic!