Tie And Jeans

NetAccess is to Assessment as…

In a tedious seminar that had *no* net access, I went digging into my old documents and found this angry little gem. Based on the typos that ran through it, I must have typed it onto my iPod very late one night. It’s a far more strident than my public tone at school, and a bit closer to my heart. It’s very much a rant and not a policy paper, but after this week’s #edchat and Shelly’s great discussion about net access as a human right, I was thrilled to find it.

We’ve been looking at this cart of iPods, a bit unsure what we can really do with them in an ed context. So here’s my answer.

Take one batch of kids, however you like (advisory, section, whatever). Give them the iPods, the ability to add apps and unfettered net access – – AT ALL TIMES. During class, yes. For homework, yes. Tests, quizzes, YESYESYES. Do it for a month and track the scores.

If you find tests where iPod kids are, across the board, scoring loads better than their non-iPod classmates, then the test sucks. It’s not doing anything meaningful, because in the *same amount of time* these kids used a $150 chunk of modernity to provide everything the test was asking for. Awesome. Now you can write a new assessment working from assumption that all your students know everything on the first test. All those tricky questions that they couldn’t tackle unless they really knew the first batch of material are now fair game. Have fun!

Any assessments where the iPods doesn’t significantly change performance (pre/post) or break the grade patterns are worth examining. I’d wager those the kids are being asked to think, reason and assess and do the higher orderer processing that we’d like to see everywhere. Bring those assessments to the division and department heads. Use those tests to drive the refinement of assessment across the board.

What could it mean if the iPod users crater when compared to the non-users? Does the assessment look like it’s asking for simple data entry but is actually asking a deeper question? Certainly students are prone to finding the simplest possible interpretation of a problem and providing the first available answer. Rejigger the test, tweak your language. You’ve learned something important about how students read your tests. Don’t waste it.
Is there a supervision/engagement problem, so that a little toy is just a window out of the class? Web enabled classrooms are not friendly to desk jockeys.

With WiFi access the cost of an iPod is vanishingly small. Same for fantastic netbooks. Even an iPhone with data plan costs, at most, $2k/year. A year of private school runs 5 to 15 times that. Even in “free” public schools, the opportunity cost alone would make my economist father weep. What are we doing with these amazing kids, at one of the most adventurous and creative moments of their lives? We love to say that there’s far more to school experience than just a set of facts. Let’s prove it. Lets put the facts in their hands and see what happens to the school day.

No matter how it gets in their hands, net access can be an incredible diagnostic tool. Let them have it. Put it in place for a month and see what’s really going on in your classrooms.


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6 thoughts on “NetAccess is to Assessment as…

  1. This is a study that I would love to see done. My students are yearning for this type of classroom! Anyone have the ability to test this out for a year?

  2. GVSU Emily on said:

    Thanks for sharing this “rant.” It was definitely food for thought for me. I’m currently pursuing teaching certification at the secondary level and student teaching in a high school English classroom.
    As I have only recently begun designing my own assessments for students, I have been keenly aware of the power I have to shape the way my students learn. I want to ask questions during class discussions and quizzes that will spur my students to really engage with the material and get beyond the superficial. I do, however, think there is a place for the types of questions that can easily be answered through a google search or a quick trip to sparknotes.com. I would not say that the goal of reading a piece of literature, such as the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is to be able to give a summary of the plot. Down the road, I don’t think my students will ever be asked in a job interview to accurately identify the age, gender, and favorite activity of Scout Finch. However, they will need to be able to make meaning of something as they read it. High school students are not adults. They sometimes lack the maturity to see how school work develops essential skills. If students know I’m going to ask them picky details from what they have read at home, then they will read carefully enough to be prepared for unexpected questions. If they are prepared, then they are doing what they need to do to build their literacy skills and take the next step in class by engaging more deeply with the text through the higher-order thinking questions. I do think technology can improve the classroom, but I don’t see the need to unravel what still works just for the sake of proving that technology can’t think for you.

    • tieandjeans on said:


      Thanks for stopping by!

      I think the recognition of the huge power, responsibility and freedom that you have as a teacher when creating assessments (and most other aspects of your classroom environment, but that’s a bigger topic). Assessments in particular are a huge tool for communication about what you really care about in class. It’s obviously a focus for students (“will this be on the test?”), but in a traditional non-web classroom they’re the most frequent form of parent communication, and since they’re the part of your class that will probably be most discussed in other places around school, they’re also what other faculty will hear about. (Woah, that sentence got away from me.)

      In short — good for you! They’re worth thinking about. The worst thing you could do a new teacher is try to recreate tests you took as a student without merciless reflection and diagnostics.

      To take your TKAM example a bit further, *why* do students need to demonstrate that they an identify characters and plot details?

      Fact quizzes often serve as a simple “did you actually read this?” filter. As you rightly point out, a quiz like that (the classic post-chapter 5 quiz, full of your “picky details”) falls apart in either an open-book/SparkNotes/Internet environment. But asking instead for a short written response to a prompt that pulls from the same picky details. Students who hadn’t read the material carefully would burn time rereading or researching, and students who read carefully would write. If anything, it’s easier to assess! Have them respond to how Lee establishes the details of her story:

      “Choose 2 important details about Scout that you learn *before* her gender is made explicit in the text. Explain your thoughts on why that order is important in developing the plot/tone of TKAM. Support with details from subsequent chapters.”

      Perhaps some students could skim the first two pages quickly and dash off a response that’s equivalent to the work done by students who had carefully read the text the night before. My thought is that if skimming and searching can produce equivalent results to careful reading, then we should treat them as equally valid modes of learning.

      Your point about high school students still developing their skills is well taken. I just think that it’s timid for us to assume that close-reading, or any intellectual/academic activity for 2020 kids, must follow the models to which we’re accustomed. In the dead-tree 90’s I wrote a very bad MacBeth paper about phallic imagery (hilarious when I was 15), in large part because I had a CD-ROM compilation of Shakespeare plays that I could exhaustively search for “wood, sword, dagger” and so on. New tools let me write as if I had hilighted the text as I went, something I’ve never been willing to do. I think our picture of “reading carefully” should similarly expand to include “tool-assisted” reading and recall. I want to ensure my students use and develop those essential skills, without presupposing what the practice of those skills looks like.

      The upshot is I honestly question how long those forms of simple assessment will “still work,” if you think they do in 2010. If the goal is to have “school work [that] develops essential skills,” then we need to make sure we’re focused on the truly essential, not something that’s an artifact of our information-starved classrooms.

      Thanks so much for reading and posting! I’d love to hear more about your progress through the program and your work with students.

  3. loved the rant, too! is that why this blog is seemingly anon? who ARE you? or are you the guy behind the tie & jeans rack who needs a bit o space to rant? i get that.. i just went transparent this summer….feels chilly but exhilarating – but i do watch what i say.. we in the DC metro area are surrounded by political types who could – if they would bother- pick us apart for our opinions…

    i think the iPod for education is a cool but passing fancy. honestly, i would rather the kids have 1:1 and free access – changing our assessments to something that can’t be Googled but has to be demonstrated. but that’s me.

    also, thanks for your comment on my Toshiba Netbook post..i’m never giving up my MB (wishin for P) but i just need a portable one for ISTE10 Denver.

    enjoyed looking over your blog! would like to follow you on Twitter or see about some kind of collaborative tech stuff with your kids & mine. drop me a line if you get a chance :-)

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Thanks for stopping by!

      One of the things we’ve been looking for at my school is a role for iPods in a 1-1 environment. We’ve already pushed the Big Red Button for a 1-1 Mac program, yet Apple consistently tries to upsell us with iPods. Good for them, but I haven’t seen anything so compelling that I’d choose to use the iPods instead of laptops.
      It would be a different story if our choice was 1-1 and we *give* kids iPods, for their own unmonitored continuous use. That’s another story.
      But the strength of the iPods to me has been they’re a cheap “good enough” web-station and mini-computer. Given the choice, I still push for something that’s capable for more content creation than simply consumption.

  4. Pingback: Refining Assessments « Tie And Jeans

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