Using combined Web 2.0 tools for assessment in an Education subject

In this assignment, postgraduate education students developed a resources database, which they could then use in their professional practice as secondary school IT teachers. Students could choose how they organised and managed their portfolio of resources, using any tools and resources. Every student therefore had a uniquely personal portfolio system, often utilising more than one technology to meet their needs.

The assignment was equivalent to 3000 words and worth 70% of the total grade which was Pass/Fail only.

Web 2.0 tools used: Technologies included wikis (e.g., Wikispaces: www.wikispaces.com), social bookmarking (e.g., Delicious: www.delicious.com), blogging (e.g., Blogger: www.blogger.com), and virtual learning environments (e.g., Moodle).

About the subject

The subject was called "Information, communication technologies and new media" and was offered as part of a Graduate Diploma in Education (1 year).

The subject had been offered since 2008 and was offered to on-campus students, off-campus students, and Open University of Australia students.

The subject was designed according to principles of flexible learning. As such the core curriculum, including discussions, were primarily mediated in a shared online environment such as Blackboard. If issues arose in personal contexts students could communicate with the lecturer via Skype or in face to face lectures; if relevant to the rest of the class these discussions would then be reflected upon in the shared online space. In this way on-campus, off-campus and Open University students had parity of experience. All students were expected to take part in online discussions to reflect and enlarge upon the readings, software, and various materials selected. In addition, on-campus students were expected to attend the regular 3-hour seminars each week, and off-campus students were welcome to attend if they could.

Students were assigned tasks, such as evaluating subject syllabi and debating the merits of teaching strategies as well as critically reflecting on teaching practice. In addition, students were expected to develop a portfolio of technical skills such as programming, website development, and data management. Session topics were generated from the online materials or were fed back into the shared online space, often with videos of the sessions.

Students were mainly based in Victoria and planned to teach in Australia. The class had 18 on-campus and 18 off-campus students, a small number of whom were based in another Australian State (South Australia, New South Wales) or overseas (Singapore, United States).

The subject was taught by two lecturers.

Assignment tasks and timing

In the first week of semester students were encouraged to begin investigating (and sharing) any technology which seemed useful for organising and managing a portfolio of teaching resources. During the semester students were expected to develop and maintain a portfolio of teaching aids, lesson plans, software, multimedia artefacts and other resources which support the teaching of IT, or the uses of IT in teaching other subjects. Students were expected to develop many of the resources themselves while planning and preparing lessons during their practicum placements.

This material could be organised in many ways, but it was expected that the portfolio would contain collected documents employing many different media, and be in a presentable and accessible form. How the material was organised and made adaptable and expandable was more important than a large collection of materials whose value was unknown. Each student negotiated the manner in which their portfolio was organised and presented. Issues such as sustainability, maintenance, ongoing growth, usability and reusability needed to be addressed both implicitly in the portfolio and explicitly through a written explanation of the portfolio system which students submitted at the end of semester.

In meeting a complex set of needs most students started to combine technologies into a portfolio system (e.g., Delicious to manage and share annotated URLs and Wikispaces to host student generated files).

Intended learning outcomes

The assignment was designed as an opportunity for students to collect and create resources they would be able to use in their professional practice and even share with their own students.

Students needed to develop an experiential understanding of their database over time to appreciate how to build one that would be sustainable. Students had to think about their practices as teachers: "How do you develop re-usable resources and keep track of them all; how do you use the database with your students - and with your colleagues?"

This assignment also addressed the overall learning objectives of the unit, which were stated in the Subject Outline as follows:

Upon successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:
1. understand and appreciate the various applications of technology in learning and teaching;
2. critically evaluate the impacts of information and communication technologies in education and society;
3. apply their skills in using suitable technologies to manage teaching and learning;
4. understand and appreciate practical issues in implementing information technology programs into school settings
5. develop competence in planning and implementing lessons and units of work
6. recognise the centrality of literacy and numeracy for effective use of ICT; and explore and develop strategies for collegial cross-curriculum teaching using information and communication technologies.

Why Web 2.0?

In previous versions of this assignment, students submitted folders of print materials and/or a CD-ROM. These were often completed by students in a typical end-of-semester-frenzy which undermined the intent of the assignment. In addition, the documents that students produced were generally static, and did not easily allow re-usability, sharing (with students or colleagues) and ongoing development. In contrast Web 2.0 technologies encouraged students to develop their portfolios from week 1, and allowed lecturers to observe and comment on the ongoing development (when students shared access with the lecturers).

Setting up the assignment

The lecturers did not need to prepare any technologies to set up the assignment. They prepared information for the Unit Guide, which stipulated that students enrolled in this subject needed to have access to a fast internet connection, and be able to play video and audio files. The Unit Guide also stated that it would be useful, though not essential, for students to have access to a webcamera, scanner and digital camera.

Introducing the assignment to students

Lecturers introduced the assignment, with online and face to face discussion, in the first week of semester, brainstorming and demonstrating a variety of technologies with students. Lecturers discussed with students issues relating to professional identities, and the consequences of leaving an "online footprint" using Web 2.0 technologies. Students were reminded that they had to not only manage the technology and design a coherent portfolio, but also manage their online professional identity. Consequently some students chose relatively private (password protected) online systems, or developed their own databases. The lecturers felt that students needed to be empowered (in knowledge, ability and experience) to make these decisions in preparation for their entry into the teaching profession.

At the beginning of semester, students were shown elements of exemplar models of previous years’ assignments (they were not provided as a whole in order to encourage students to be inventive rather than reproduce previous students’ work). Students were then encouraged to investigate potentially useful technologies and begin their own portfolio, knowing that the system would further evolve during the semester.

Supporting students through the assignment

Students were encouraged to talk with their lecturer during the semester so that they were fully aware of what would be considered a high quality submission in the context of their task. Wherever possible, students were encouraged to give lecturers and other students access to their online portfolios during the semester. Improvements and other feedback could then be provided by the lecturer and peers.

Students were given advice on how to acknowledge other sources which was deemed a particularly important scholarly and professional responsibility.
Lecturers provided a general framework for copyright, IP, and managing identity. After that, the responsibility to address these issues was put on the student.

Full student understanding of the task did not peak until Week 6 when students began their practicum and could experience using and managing their resources as a teacher. After their practicum a process of reflection often saw alterations to the organisation and management of students' portfolios. There was some further input/sharing of pedagogies resulting from the lecturer being on the ICT Teachers State Council.

Throughout this unit the lecturers had the opportunity to view students’ work/portfolios as they were produced, and to (a) give feedback to the student, (b) create learning experiences for other students by referring to noteworthy issues raised in various portfolios, (c) potentially take an active role in editing and shaping students' work. All of these options were potentially powerful teaching strategies, although lecturers noted that these approaches could take more time than allowed by the lecturer workload.

Marking the assignment

The lecturers marked the assignments at the end of semester, giving students the opportunity to develop their portfolio over time, before final marking took place.

The assignments were assessed according to:
  • clarity of the explanation of the teaching round folio, including how to use the folio, and explanation of the organisation and sustained management of the folio
  • the breadth and quality of resources collected
  • the way in which the resources are managed for ease of access (including search), manipulation and annotation (eg. tagging)

The Unit Guide stipulated that the criteria would vary in weighting according to the nature of the folio task undertaken by the student. For instance, the folio system would be more heavily weighted for students who had programmed their own database or website application to manage the folio. On the other hand, students who utilised pre-designed software for the folio management would be more heavily assessed according to the choice and utilisation of the system as well as breadth of resources.

Communicating results to students

This assignment could only be awarded a Pass or Fail grade. However, considerable feedback was provided via text, audio or video. The feedback included comments about future improvements and considerations in preparation for entry into the teaching profession.

Evaluating and improving the assignment

Lecturers collected evidence about how well the assignment worked by monitoring students' progress on the assignment. Students were encouraged to share access to all or part of their portfolios with the lecturer and other students. The resulting discussions provided evidence of engagement and usability. Students were also encouraged to complete the University unit and teacher evaluation surveys.

Reflecting on the assignment, the lecturer noted that the most challenging part for students was managing and organising the resources for re-usability over time. For instance students’ schemas were challenged when one resource could be used for multiple classes. Similarly professional language and complexity of meanings were challenged when students realised that categorising resources according to generic terms such as “learning” was of little use. The portfolio represented complex student learning about the profession.

The lecturers noted it was important to consider the consequences of students creating a digital footprint when designing a Web 2.0 assessment task:

"Whatever we get them to do online contributes to their online identity. There is an onus on the lecturer to educate students about the potential risks of the technology as well as monitoring the product."

Many students reported the value of an online portfolio system such as Delicious which allowed the creation of pages of online resources, with direct links to those resources (in the case of Delicious lists of annotated URLs). This meant their secondary school students would not lose handouts; they could just click on the resource/URL without having to type it, and the teacher could constantly update and add to the list.

The assessment was used in Semester 2 by the students who continued to develop the portfolio content and system. This demonstrated the ongoing value of the assessment as both a product and a approach to organising and managing professional knowledge and resources.

Approximately 50% of the students chose to use Web 2.0 tools.

The lecturers felt it was important to recognise that normal conventions in assessment, especially lengthy linear textual constructions such as in academic essays, may not be appropriate when using Web 2 technologies.

In addition, lecturers believed that open publishing may not be desirable for some students who needed opportunities in relatively safe environments to take risks. Forcing them to have online public identities could potentially infringe their learning.

Selected documents from this case study

Extract from Unit Outline describing the assignment: EducationResourceAssignmentDescription.pdf
Example student assignment: Example student assignment.pdf

Page source:
Gray, K., Waycott, J., Thompson, C., Clerehan, R., Sheard, J., Hamilton, M., & Richardson, J. (2011) Using Social Web (Web 2.0) Activities for Student Assessment: Resources for University Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from https://web2assessmentresources.wikispaces.com