Using technology to assess 21st century skills

Recently the US Department of Education shared their recommendations for improved learning through the use of technology in their report, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology. One section of the report I found interesting was on assessing learning.

Fueled by a statement from President Obama in 2009, the Office of Educational Technology took to task the need to assess 21st century skills in diagnostic and summative ways using technology. Note, they intentionally  moved away from computerized adaptive testing to have students learn, perform and be assessed on more complex skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

Here are some of their suggestions:

  1. Using simulated environments to assess problem solving, understanding sequence of events, and modelling complex reasoning skills (author’s note: while highly desirable, finding copyright-free products is difficult, and creating or buying such simulations is quite expensive; however, more is being developed in this area).
  2. Use virtual environments to present student designs, graphing of results, running of tests, and recording data.
  3. Assess and reward learning outside of class. The report gives an example of a competition where students must collect and synthesize information and apply knowledge all the while assessed through feedback delivered through technology.
  4. Diagnose learning often during a course through survey questions, response devices, and then peer instruction. As well, have groups add handwritten notes or illustrations from tablets to a e-whiteboard and explain about their work. Another interesting technology idea is an assessment tool that provides support through hints and tutoring where the amount of support used shows areas of difficulty for the student. Last collecting student’s results, activities and how they learn can be compiled into a ‘playlist’ of customized learning activities
  5. Valuable feedback on student understanding and ideas can be provided through social networks and online learning communities. Posting their work online, such as poems or videos, could solicit feedback from viewers and experts. A rubric would be needed to outline to reviewers what criteria are important.
  6. Develop an assessment framework that assesses the following learning outcomes across collective work by students: collaboration, critical thinking, oral and written communication, technology use, and citizenship. E-portfolios and self-assessments could provide works to assess on this broader scale.
  7. Last, gather the assessment data into aggregated and accessible forms by all, including the student. As well, link assessment data to needed teaching and learning resources.
Author’s note: this report helped me determine ways to use technology to assess higher learning skills. While some can be performed without technology, using tools can provide more complex learning environments as well as connections to a larger learning community and allow more diverse presentations, thus catering to different learning styles.
I usually develop curriculum to ask students to perform more complex skills. I am known to deter from creating quizzes and tests as I find them less effective to assess learning, but I do see the value of self-assessment of concepts and problem solving.
Rather I develop curriculum to include assignments and projects that show student’s thinking, development and new ideas. However, the marking of  essays, blogs, e-portfolios, presentations etc. is laborious for teachers and instructors. One suggestion given above is to assess 21st century skills across a diversity of student work rather than one piece at a time. This is something to consider.
Any input from my readers would be appreciated. How do you assess higher order thinking skills in efficient and effective ways?

Grading blogs

I listened to a short but informative talk (recording link at bottom) on developing blog activities by a