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Rewarding risk: how e-scape changes learning
Devising a project that combines handheld learning with electronic assessment and electronic portfolios sounds like a tall order, but this is exactly what Professor Richard Kimbell and his colleagues at the Technology Education Research Unit (TERU) at Goldsmiths have been working on for the last three years.
Project e-scape launched in 2005, and will run until 2009. The Goldsmiths researchers were concerned that the current methods of assessment in Design & Technology (DT) rewarded a narrow set of approaches, and wanted to find ways of rewarding students for innovation and teamwork. They also wanted to explore the ways in which e-portfolios could be used to capture students’ work, and combine this with a fairer, more consensual method of assessment.
The researchers devised an approach that enabled students to draw up their initial design ideas on a PDA, record the progress of their design and then take photographs of their finished work, before uploading their projects to a central website where they could be assessed by moderators. In phase one of the project, funded by the DfES (as it then was) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), Goldsmiths developed a proof of concept.
In phase two, using a prototype developed by Goldsmiths in association with Handheld Learning and TAG Learning, students undertook coursework activity using PDAs, at the same time creating an e-portfolio of their work that was then uploaded onto a website. Unlike a traditional paper-based portfolio, each e-portfolio would be ‘dynamic’: that is, the portfolio was created automatically as students worked.
Alexandra Park School in North London was one of the schools to take part in phase three, which is still underway. In this phase, teachers use the software to develop their own projects, which students then carry out using the PDAs.
Ross McGill, Head of DT and ICT at the school, decided to use the 20 T-mobile Ameo PDAs with his Year 9 DT students. By using a stylus, students were able to draw their designs onto the PDA screen, but they could also use the other features of the PDA: a voice recorder, a camera, a video camera, MS Word, MS Excel, mind-mapping software for brainstorming, and paint software.
The ability to share work between students is particularly valuable, says Ross: “There’s a useful link called ‘collaboration’, which means that if I draw a design on my PDA, it can then be transferred to someone else’s PDA. They can add their notes, and that can go on a cycle of three students, so on my e-portfolio, it will not only have my drawing, but the next window on the website will have my peers’ comments on my design, and the third window would have two student comments on my design. We use that method on paper in the department. We can get a child to draw and share ideas and improve each other’s work: this is just a digital way of doing it.”
Ross’s job was to design a project for students and give them a set of steps to follow on their PDAs: “The software has boxes, so if I want my students to design something like a clock, you click and drag and choose different activities. So in Box 1, I might introduce the brief, and it doesn’t require any input. Then I’d activate Box 2, and it might say ‘Click here to open the brainstorming tool’ and students can brainstorm questions like: ‘What is time? What are watches? What are clocks?’” From there, students could go on to take photographs of clocks before creating their design.
The task Ross set his students was to produce an item of body adornment. They were asked to take “as much risk as possible” and to be “whacky and creative”. The idea was to relate the item to the students’ own personal identity, so they were advised to take inspiration from the clothes they wear, the languages they speak, or their own profiles on MSN or Facebook. The students responded with enthusiasm, says Ross, and after making the initial sketches on the PDAs, went on to create some imaginative and colourful products, such as hats, bracelets and wristbands.
The work was completed more quickly than usual. “Students seem to respond better when they’re doing something practical straightaway, whether it’s taking a voice recording or a photograph, or doing something on paper and making a quick model,” says Ross.
The students’ only complaint was that the activity depended too much on guidance from the teacher: Ross activated each box from his laptop, so the students were restricted by the sequence and timings he had chosen. They are keen to try a more independent approach: “They felt that with less teacher input, they could have followed the on-screen instructions more, and had a lot more time to be creative and have more time to do hands-on activities and use their PDAs to take photographs, take videos, do some sound files and evaluate each other’s work.”
Once a piece of work is completed, it is automatically entered into an e-portfolio, using a system known as Managed Assessment Portfolio System (MAPS). This work can then be looked at by a moderator anywhere in the country: “That won’t just rely on me marking my work for the kids, it will rely on someone else as well, and it makes it a bit more bullet-proof – there are fewer opportunities for error, and more collaboration.”
Perhaps the most innovative part of the e-scape project is the method Goldsmiths has devised for assessing the portfolios which, says Ross, is “changing the face of how teachers mark”.
Each assessor will see two example portfolios on their screen and make a judgement about which one is better: “So one will be selected online, and then the software will randomly select another project, and eventually you’ll have ranked the projects from top to bottom, and another person somewhere else in the country will look at the same sample, again completely randomly.”
Once all the assessors have ranked the projects, an overall ranking of the projects emerges. In the pilot, each e-portfolio was judged at least 17 times by seven different judges, which makes for a highly reliable set of results.
The Goldsmiths team hopes that the results of phase three will show whether e-scape can be extended successfully to other subjects, and whether it can be scaled up to operate as a system of assessment, run by the awarding bodies, at national level. Ross believes the software offers a lot of potential for enabling students to collaborate, to plan, to innovate, and to review their own work: “The scope is huge.”