Reflections on Assessment and eLearning

Pink cassette tape

​Last week, beginning March 2, was really fun. It was our first week of Assessment for eLearning and I had a good time - mostly because I wasn't a total beginner anymore! What a relief that was - still is, really. In my last (and first) e-learning class I learned a lot about Beginner's Mind, or allowing myself not to know. It was pretty intense because there was so MUCH I didn't know! But in this class I am feeling way more confident about getting into the fun of all this educational technology.

Last week I focused on feedback a lot, and how crucial it is to online learning. One of my classmates before made a point of feedback in her e-portfolio and I thought that was so cool. I had learned a lot about being at the other end of the computer from a whole bunch of other people at the end of theirs, and seeing this classmate's emphasis on feedback made all the sense in the world to me. How do you know you're being heard and hopefully understood in online learning? Feedback! Feedback from your teacher and feedback from your peers is foundational because otherwise you're operating in a vacuum and getting lonely.

So last week was interesting to me because we actually focused a lot on feedback in the lesson - feedback as a tool of assessment. Assessment seems to come in two kinds: one is teacher-centered and the other is student-centered. One believes in standardized testing and the "right" answer and the information comes from the teacher. The other believes in "alternative" assessment which shows what the student can do as well as what s/he knows; it also believes in students making mistakes and learning from them - ! - perfect for my recent state of mind - and in students make meaning from themselves! It's like the students are the tree and they're growing branches and roots all around the information they're learning. They're making it their own, adding it to the information they already have stored in the brain, making relationships between what they have known and what they are adding to that knowledge.

The neural pathways - the real information highway - this relationship between student and information creates are built out of neurons, or brain cells. Neurons group together in the way of like attracts like. The ones that connect stick together. The "like" neurons build up and create patterns that become neural pathways. These pathways build up and eventually become dendrites, connected neurons shaped like - you guessed it - branches of trees or root systems or rivers and tributaries! This connectability is how the brain naturally learns best and why it's easier to learn things with which we already have a connection than to learn something with which we have no relationship at all.

As students learn online, they get to study much more closely that which they really want to learn, just by the very nature of the internet. It's tangential! We look up one thing and see something else interesting - we follow it and find something else that catches our attention, which leads to another fascinating tidbit! This is how the brain actually learns best and so is called brain-based learning. As students are allowed and encouraged to follow their hearts - and brains - while learning, they create personalized meaning around the information they are absorbing. They literally make meaning! I call this pedagogical combination brain-based e-learning.

The cool thing about online learning assessment-wise is that the results speak for themselves. Records are kept of practically everything produced online (which we often know to our detriment). Learning Management Systems (LMS's), or online learning programs, work to educators' advantage because the tools for assessment are right there. If someone joined in a discussion about a subject in school, or wrote in a blog, or created a website, it's all right there - ripe for assessment!

And when students work together with their peers, the self-awareness of learning - or metacognition - is even more self-evident because it's very encouraging to work and learn together when everybody's in the same boat. This feedback loop of putting something out there in internet-land and being responded to and then responding to that connection is a form of collaborative learning, which is especially effective online because individuals in front of the screen need the feedback of their peers behind the screen!

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