Branwen Jeffreys asks the question ‘Is memory needed in a digital age? in this BBC article. We are increasing relying on digital devices to remember information and to answer questions we have. Because devices are now ubiquitous, students can learn things ‘horizontally’ through instant access to the internet rather than having to rely on a teacher with a ‘vertical’ transfer of knowledge. There has been a suggestion that access to the internet should be allowed during an exam. The theory is, because of the immediate access to the world wide web at our fingertips, students require a different set of skills than having to rote learn a bulk of facts. I agree with this to a certain extent, students do require to be able to know how to research effectively, and have an understanding of reliability of online sources for example. However, I do think that students need to know things. If they have a base of knowledge and are taught threshold concepts, these can open the door to deeper learning and what to find out about in the maze of online research. Students need to know the fundamentals of a discipline at the same time as conducting their own enquiry.
I have built a blended learning course for our Geography curriculum, that allows assessment for students to complete anytime, anyhow, anywhere. In a few weeks we have an ‘assessment week’ at school, this is powerful in the pragmatic rehearsal of exams for all of our students. Giving students access to their ipads, they will be given 2 hours to complete an assessment. For example, year 9 will complete an assignment that assesses their ability to research the recent earthquake in Nepal. Students do have prior knowledge on plate tectonics from studying a unit on supervolcanoes. So both their research skills and their prior knowledge are being practiced. They are also permitted to submit their answer in a media of their own choice. Students have plenty of opportunity to practice writing in our curriculum, writing press releases, essays and stories. I think knowledge and understanding can be demonstrated using audio and video expression for example not just in writing. Allowing students to express themselves creatively and giving choice can be powerful.
Planning a blended GCSE course has led me to consider how I can assess students and students can assess their own progress. Essentially, using the online platforms allows assessment to become the learning with a constant approach by students to reflect on what they can and can’t do and where to go next. The blended aspect of the course obviously allows the anytime, anyhow, anywhere aspect of the course. Built into each RealSmart module is the ability for students to very much work at their own pace. Indeed, students could effectively complete each GCSE Geography module entirely independently. Built into the RealSmart example below are a range of methods for students to assess their progress. They are able to insert evidence towards ‘I can’ statements, the assessment system that we are continuing to develop.
Google forms are built into flipped learning activities, so that I as a teacher can fully assess their understanding of such activities. Access to google forms multiple choice tests are also given through RealSmart, that allow students to practice for a final knowledge test. These can be completed at entirely their own pace and time, the expectation that eventaully they should be getting 100%. GCSE practice assessments are also put on RealSmart to allow students to complete when they are ready. Instead of giving students a demoralising past paper when they are not ready, they will take this having pracitced assessments in their own time and within specific formative assessment lessons. There will be timed class based assessments to give me a clearer picture of student mastery. I guess this access to technology gives students a huge opportunity to be successful but also no excuses for underperformance.