How might one use the interactive features of a wiki for assessment purposes?






"The quality of an artist can be measured by the quality of his influences" (Botero, 1980).





Many teachers explain that the current goals, content, and format of local, state, and national assessments pressure teachers to continue with traditional approaches to language teaching and learning. They also note that the philosophies inherent in such approaches to assessment (which typically emphasize discrete knowledge and skills) create tensions for those attempting to move toward proficiency-oriented approaches to language instruction, and raise significant barriers for those who wish to devote time to a deeper exploration of the ways in which technology might support language teaching and learning.

One of the many problems with many current approaches to assessment is that they often assess the wrong things, at the wrong times, and for the wrong reasons. In order to make sound instructional decisions about what to do next in the classroom, teachers need continuous information about what students are thinking and the meaning they are making of classroom activities. Yet, many standardized assessments assess individual grammar points and vocabulary words. These assessments only provide information about what students can and cannot do with their language when confronted with a very decontextualized task, rather than offering any meaningful information about how students use their language skills to create and interpret meaning, or the thinking processes they are drawing on during such interactions.

Even at the classroom level, similar difficulties are in evidence. Many world language teachers assess student learning primarily at the end of a lesson or unit of study, generally for the purpose of making an evaluative judgment about student progress that can be captured by a single label (i.e. a grade). These assessments often take the form of multiple choice or fill in the blank grammar and vocabulary quizzes that offer little insight into students' misconceptions, the development of students' understanding, or the ways in which students are interpreting course content. Such practices obscure (or, perhaps more accurately stated, divert attention from) the information that has the potential to be most helpful in supporting student learning.

By contrast, Elliot Eisner (2002) suggests that both "what a student creates in a class and the ways in which her or his work has changed over time are data sources for determining what a student has learned" (p. 186). He indicates the importance of considering process, as well as product when assessing students, and encourages teachers to adopt assessment practices that allow them to secure multiple views into students' thinking. He also advocates that teachers involve students directly in assessment, so that students develop "judgment in the absence of rules" (p. 77)--the ability to read and revise their own work by listening and responding to it.

The dynamic, self-archiving nature of wikis has the potential to refocus teachers' attention from the creation of static products and stable texts toward the deeper processes involved in developing students' conceptual understanding and technical skill over time. The presence of the edit button, one of the most prominent features of a wiki, underscores the idea that knowledge is not a static object. It highlights the evolving nature of understanding by giving students the power to continually revise both the structure and the content of their work. That message is reinforced by the revert function, which allows students to restore a document to the state in which it appeared at an earlier time, and the history feature, which enables teachers to literally observe these iterative changes in students' thinking over time. Conjoined with the other multimedia elements of wikis, these features offer students a powerful pallet of tools for representing their learning, while providing teachers with multiple views of students' understanding. In emphasizing process over content, these features also subtly encourage a shift in teachers' patterns of engaging with students, reframing their primary purpose from one of passing final judgment on finished products toward engaging students in ongoing, learning-focused conversations (Lipton, Wellman, & Humbard, 2003) about their work that provide substantive feedback and scaffold future performance.

Wikis can be especially useful tools for facilitating both formative and summative assessment on a more practical level as well. Teachers can keep students informed by posting up-to-the minute schedules of project due dates, quizzes, and tests using the embed calendar feature. Interactive sub-calendars can also be set up that allow students to sign up for class presentations.



Wikis also make it possible for teachers to collaboratively design assessments, and to involve students in creating motivating learning environments for others that can simultaneously be used to evaluate progress. The Foreign Language Teaching Wiki (Arnold, Ducate, Lomicka, & Lord, 2006) provides a solid example of what this might look like in higher education. Professors from the University of Florida, the University of South Carolina and the University of Tennessee engaged world language methods students in collaboratively exploring several essential questions regarding the teaching and learning of world languages. Students were then asked to work together to synthesize what they were learning, using it to develop a wiki that could serve as a resource for other teachers. Students used the discussion forum of the wiki to introduce themselves to one another, to negotiate the details of readings and assignments, to exchange information about progress on the development of their pages, and to provide feedback to one another about their pages. These discussions offer those who visit the wiki information about the problems these students confronted during the development process, as well as insight into the ways in which conversations with their peers shaped the content they ultimately included on their pages. Thus, the final product reflects not only what these students understand about language teaching and learning, but also the perspectives that have shaped their understanding.

Although not language-related, Code Blue (Cofino, 2006) is an interesting example of an elementary science teacher who is using a similar, project-based approach in which teams of students work together on "real world" problems. The Japanese Club wiki (Arielyn & A., 2007) serves as a good example of an authentic purpose for which K-12 students might engage in a similar activity. In this instance, high school students initiated and are maintaining a wiki as a means of facilitating club activities and encouraging peers in their study of the Japanese language and culture. Of particular note are the prompts and examples that club members have included in an attempt to scaffold their peers' language development and contributions, the technical support they are offering via the discussion forums, and the social "instructions" they are providing in order to establish the norms of acceptable behavior in their community. Each of these elements yields a wealth of information for the teacher about depth and breadth of understanding these students possess in terms of language, cultural awareness, technical skills, and social competence. The items students have chosen to include on (and exclude from) these pages provides a glimpse into what pieces of course content have captured their attention, what they consider relevant and useful, and the ways in which it connects with their personal interests. The teacher can use this information to gain a deeper understanding of what students need next in order to further the growth of their language and literacy skills, as well as to consider how best to engage these students within the classroom.

The interactive, multimedia features that wikis support provide additional windows through which teachers can gain greater insight into students' language development and understanding. Audio, bookmarks, chat, discussion forums, map mashups, and survey tools can all be used to evaluate both students' receptive and productive skills in the target language. Evaluate the potential of these tools for supporting assessment by using some of them to provide your feedback on this paper/wiki. Take the survey, post a review below, or begin a discussion by clicking on the discussion tab above and typing in the blank boxes that will appear.


Audio


Course instructors can evaluate students' listening and speaking skills by asking half of the class to post questions to the wiki as mp3 files (recorded using free tools like Audacity), then having the other half of the class post answers to the questions that were asked. Both groups can sign their posts with their avatars. This can serve as a building block that moves students toward the ability to engage in spontaneous communication, and may serve as one entry in a cyberportfolio that demonstrates the development of students' language skills.

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Bookmarks


The bookmark feature can be used to import a current list of the websites teachers have recently bookmarked on a particular topic. Students can choose a website to explore, then prepare an audio, video, or written response and post it to the wiki. Students and course instructors can then provide one another with feedback on those responses through audio or video responses, chat, discussion forums, or other media embedded directly on the wiki page.





Chat


Students can demonstrate their writing skills by participating in online chats with the course instructor and other students in the target language using an embedded chat window like this one. They can also use chat to evaluate one another's work, or to engage in ongoing conversations about each other's projects.





Discussion Forums


The discussion forum feature of the wiki can also be used to evaluate students' writing skills as they discuss cultural topics, current events, multimedia content, or readings.

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Images


Images can be used as prompts for various assessment tasks, to provide feedback, or for any number of other purposes. This image happens to be a screenshot from a conversation held in GoogleTalk, a free instant messaging program that allows users to chat, share files, and talk with one another orally. Because it makes it possible for users to archive their chat conversations in the form of transcripts, students can easily engage in conversations in the target language during or outside of class and then submit transcripts for evaluative purposes.

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Map Mashups


Help students visualize their audience using tools like these so that they see who is reading their work. Students can also create their own mashups that contain relevant photos and information in the target language about particular places from the target countries they are studying as a means of demonstrating their converging understandings about the target cultures they are studying.



Locations of visitors to this page




Survey Tools


Assess students' understanding and provide them with opportunities to give feedback about an activity or lesson using the wiki's survey tools. (Be sure to consult your school's policies regarding the use of such tools when doing so.)





Video


Consider using video to evaluate students' ability to use the language for their own creative purposes. As this video demonstrates, there is a lot they can do with even a limited knowledge of grammatical structures and a restricted base of vocabulary.


Conversely, the video also demonstrates the failure of the traditional language course to equip students with the skills they need to communicate in meaningful ways with audiences of interest to them. Engaging preservice teachers with wikis (and the associated social technologies they support) during their teacher preparation programs can assist teacher candidates in reshaping their notions of assessment and evaluation in ways that enable them to better serve students while simultaneously pushing the profession toward more proficiency-oriented language instruction.



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Scholarly References

Botero, Fernando. (1980). In Ratcliff, Carter. Botero. NY: Abbeville Press, Inc.

Eisner, Elliot W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lipton, Laura, Wellman, Bruce, & Humbard, Carlette. (2003). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships. Sherman, CT: MiraVia, LLC.



Multimedia References

Arnold, Nike, Ducate, Lara, Lomicka, Lara, & Lord, Gillian. (2006, June 15). Foreign language teaching wiki. Foreign Language Teaching Wiki - Wikispaces. Retrieved October 10, 2007, from http://flteaching.wikispaces.com/

Cofino, Ms. (2006, October 20). Code blue. Code Blue - Wikispaces. Retrieved November 17, 2007, from http://codeblue.wikispaces.com/

Free Buttons. (n.d.). Blur metal. Freebuttons.com. Retrieved March 17, 2008, from http://www.freebuttons.com/index.php?page=freebuttons&buttonName=BlurMetal&color=3

Fritzen, Anny. (2008, March 12). Feedback. Retrieved March 12, 2008, from Google Talk. Used with permission.

Runawaybox. (2007, September 10). One semester of Spanish love song. Retrieved November 18, 2007, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngRq82c8Baw