How Do You Assess and Evaluate Intangibles With A Learning System?

There are some subject areas that seem to lend themselves more readily to evaluation through a learning management system.  Mathematics and science, for example, seek out more definite answers to questions, and are at least partially expressed in formulas and equations. True, we do ask students to show their work, but even then, it's in pursuit of a specific outcome, and this makes it somewhat easier to use tests to determine what someone has or hasn't learned.  In terms of the educational technology that's become pervasive in classrooms, assessing and evaluating this may simply be a matter of setting up a multiple choice online quiz, or having students submit a structured lab report.

But what about subject areas that don't necessarily lend themselves to objective, answer-driven assessment and evaluation, such as the arts or literacy?  What if the process behind the final completed assignment is just as important as the finished product? How does a teacher accurately capture a student's mastery of soft skills, like critical thinking and creativity, using e-learning tools? What about the parts of STEM learning that aren't as straightforward as solving numerical problems or completing a series of questions?  How can a learning platform help give a teacher a better grasp of the "intangibles" involved in education?

There are a number of ways that educational technology can help teachers take "snapshots" of their students' learning, even in more subjective areas of education.  The right learning system can:

  • Help teachers observe and track how individuals work on their own, and within a group (collaboration).
  • Allow students to share with other students, as well as with teachers on a regular basis (communication).
  • Make room for reflection and analysis by enabling students to capture their thoughts in photos, videos and soundbites (media literacy, critical thinking).
  • Break difficult, complex projects into smaller learning moments, string them back together as a piece of work progresses, and take a look at what worked and what didn't (evaluation).
  • Provide a venue for students to find, share, and comment on additional resource material that relates to what's covered in class (research).
  • Encourage students to take their work home, to share with family (community building).

Perhaps educational technology is a ways away from writing essays, performing dramatic skits or creating sculptures, but that doesn't mean that it can't be a valuable tool in assessing and evaluating subject matter that isn't about yes or no questions.  Applied correctly, it can allow students to demonstrate creativity, collaboration, communication, and other 21st century skills.  Moreover, it can allow teachers to create a more dynamic, personalized and engaging learning environment that allows learners to flourish, even in the more "intangible" portions of their education.

Amy Leask is VP of Enable Education and Communications Manager of Infinite Octopus.