(Digital) Assessment

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Considerations around digital citizenship can have a huge impact on assessment choices both for students and instructors. Whereas in the past materials for assessment were primarily between the instructor and the student (e.g. papers, quizzes, lab write-ups) or sometimes with a larger portion of the class (presentations, group projects). The digital age has increased the variety of ways assessment can be done and also increased the potential for a bigger audience. These changes are both positive and negative, depending on how they are handled.

On the positive side, there are almost infinite ways that students can be assessed and ways for them to share what they have done. It is worth considering the revised Bloom’s taxonomy. The internet has made it significantly easier to engage at the top level of creating. The product could involve remixing, building an eportfolio, making a game, creating a word cloud for text analysis, making an infographic, making blackout poetry, or any of numerous options.

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Even if the original option is not created digitally, it could then be shared digitally. This can produce an authentic audience which is so often missing in university assessment when the audience (the instructor) is assumed to be significantly more knowledgeable than the student.

From authentic audience, it is an easy step to authentic assessment. Having students create or do work that is meaningful to them and to others, that has a real purpose beyond just being assessed, can have a huge impact on the student. Because the internet makes sharing easy, work can quickly become authentic when posted digitally. For example, this graduation project on why a student studies physics has gone from being something shared in a very small group to being an educational tool for others about all the amazing things this student learned about physics.

From there it is possible to get into social pedagogies, the importance of learning in a connected environment. Students can now connect with one another easily in our outside the classroom. They might use forums in UR Courses (or another learning management system), Google Docs, Prezi, Zoom, or any of the other myriad tools out there to communicate and work together. They can jointly construct knowledge much more easily now.

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That said, there are other concerns that need to be taken into account when digital citizenship and assessment intersect. First of all, it is important to consider what information students will have to provide and who it will be provided to. Being knowledgeable about the privacy policy is important. Do they need to sign up for an account? What information is required to sign up for that account? Not everyone wants to share their personal information and, as university students, they can only be required to share personal information with the university itself and only under certain circumstances. It is always good to check Terms of Service; Didn’t Read to see if they list the site or app. If not, read the privacy policy and terms of service yourself to make sure you know what you are asking of students. This applies to publisher websites, social media, professional associations, tutorial sites, or any site you might ask students to sign up on. Giving students the option to use a fake name might work (although some sites prohibit that).

There is also the issue of content. There are many reasons you should carefully consider content when deciding to do digital assessment. First of all, some students may have good reason to want to keep more private. International students are more at risk in certain circumstances, so they may not want their name or face attached to their work, especially if it is of a sensitive or political nature. Other students may be in an at-risk situation which they may or may not want to disclose. Being flexible about whether names or faces are published openly can help protect students most in need of protection.

Then there are issues around what students might share. Some topics are more likely to be problematic than others. Sensitive topics might be more likely to put students at risk for encountering trolls or other unpleasant people on the internet (for example, discussing Gamergate could subject female students to threats and harassment). It is important to avoid putting your students at risk but also to discuss what they can do to mitigate the risk (private accounts, hiding gender, moderating comments). Sensitive topics could also include professionally sensitive topics. In some areas, discussion of professional positions could put students at risk in the future if an employer disagreed. Some discussions are just sensitive for various reasons that you may not know. Talking publicly about rape, abuse, sexuality, terrorism, economic background, homelessness, etc, could all put some students into difficult or problematic situations. It is important to be open with students and either choose carefully what assessment is done publicly or provide students choices about what to make public and not as well as ensuring they are informed about risks that could come with choosing a public presentation. While instructors are covered by academic freedom, students are not.

Any time you choose to do assessment digitally, it is good to discuss digital citizenship issues. Co-creating guidelines can be incredibly helpful. You can start with discussions of netiquette as it applies to the situation. It is also important to ensure that students are aware of what the risks could be so they can make informed decisions.