The Karma Project: Code Less, Teach More

July 6, 2009

Automated Assessment is the Killer App

Filed under: News — bryanwb @ 7:14 am

This subject deserves an in-depth blog post, but I only have a few minutes to spare, so here is a perfunctory treatment.

Automated Assessment is the Killer App for Using Computers in Education .

It just is. This statement will likely repulse many of you interested in computers in education and I ask those of you to understand this statement in a context much different than your own.

I have noticed that a large portion of the people interested in using computers in education come from high-performance schooling environments that are very structured and closely monitored. They had teachers that graded their homework, conducted regular teacher parent conferences, and completed regular status reports. In this context, more assessment isn’t really needed. However, this situation does not represent schools in the vast majority of the developing world nor a large chunk of the developed world. Homework isn’t graded, exams happen at the end of the year with nothing in the middle, and most teachers have so many students that it is nigh impossible for them monitor each child’s progress.

Banish from your mind that assessment === mindless instructionism. At a basic level, assessment is any means by which a teacher can monitor an individual student’s progress, i.e. what they have learned, what they haven’t learned, any deficiencies in their understanding, bad/good work habits, etc. A key aspect of any modern pedagogy is that the teacher must have a good sense of how each student is progressing.

The Magic Educational formula isn’t so Magical

I have listened to a lot of people talk about success stories of this or that education methodology or X country’s educational success and virtually all of them boil down to a simple formula I call the The Universal Formula For Educational Success (TUFFES).

“Intelligent Adult, Passionate about Teaching” + “Manageable Number of Kids (usually less than 30)” === “Educational Success!”

On any of my trips to educational events, I heard stories like the following “We paired an MIT student with a struggling inner city kid and the result was an awesome Carbon-Neutral robot!” “Teacher X in California led her 20 students in a series of constructionist projects and the kids had amazing results!” Examples like this reduce neatly to TUFFES

Here in Nepal, most kids never have their homework graded nor their essays critiqued. They take one exam at the end of the year that determines whether they advance to the next grade. The average class size is around 50 children but it can be as high as 100. This scenario is typical of many countries. Achieving TUFFES is feasible within 30 years, but not the next 10. An important advantage that using laptops in the classroom offers is automated assessment. And by automated assessment, I mean a system that automatically collects basic information about students.

Frankly I don’t get excited about Student X is doing amazingly well. I care about Students Y and Z that are way behind and in danger of failing out. I don’t care about the superlatives. I care about the masses, the average, the majority. It is easy to get carried away thinking about little geniuses in rural Nepal, but the real magic, the real social change will come from elevating the average level of education. To do that we need to ensure students read at grade level, grasp basic mathematics, etc.

By having children work with digital learning activities such as EPaath, we can easily collect basic information about each child’s academic progress. It isn’t feasible that a teacher w/ 100 children could grade each one’s homework, but they could periodically look at a simple bar graph describing for Student X what she is doing well and what she is having trouble with, if X is reading at grade level or below. If student X’s reading Level in Nepali is at Grade 2 when student X is already in Grade 6.

We haven’t implemented this feature in EPaath, due to lack of resources but it will be an extremely important part of Karma. I will write more about it in weeks ahead.


1 Comment »

  1. I agree with you. This is something we really miss in EPaath.

    Comment by Roshan Karki — July 30, 2009 @ 5:26 am

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