Saturday, June 17, 2017

More Standards and More Assessments

Following suit, my blog post is going to be mostly concerned with the assigned reading chapter in DeVoss' Because Digital Writing Matters. That being said, this chapter was, as I see it, a lot more informative in the way teachers can address the use of technology in class, especially when considering assessments or standards fit for the classroom and school. As DeVoss points out, this is a vital topic, as "there is no escaping the fact that the proliferation of new digital tools is happening concurrently with a strong national and state accountability movement that emphasizes standards and assessment as the centerpiece for educational reform" (89). 

In developing these standards, DeVoss mentions the names of many impressive organizations and their goals, but many of these groups are external to the school. While I agree that our students need to develop and practice twenty-first century skills that will open academic and career paths for them (I'm reminded of the video "A Vision of K-12 Students Today" I once saw - linked below), it really does come down to the individual school. For instance, there was a teacher in one of my last grad courses who worked at a school that purchased iPads for each of their students. Teachers at that school were expected to make use of these tools in their lessons so that students could practice twenty-first century skills and digital literacy. However, the school I work at would never be able to afford such an expense. If standards and assessments were created at the state or national level, is there a way to properly equipped each student with the necessary tools to meet those standards and succeed on assessments? Also, are we, as teachers, properly trained to educate these students in the ways of technology? I know of many teachers that still scoff at the idea of PowerPoint, having their notes for the day plastered on a projected Word document. The only kind of technology training that my school offers is an optional lecture or two during our last PD day.

My school has about 2,000 students and limited computer labs. This year, my school introduced the math and literacy tests i-Ready. This computer-based assessment was created to see if students are prepared to move on to the next level of math or English for the following year. Unfortunately, there were huge problems that should have been obvious from the start. First, the teachers were panicking because there was an immediate rush to reserve each of the computer labs. It got to the point where teachers were asking one another if students could use their classroom computer during certain periods to finish the assessment. The resources for this assessment were just not there. The other problem had to do with the students and their experience with computer-based assessments. You would assume that because this generation of students are generally exposed to technology more often than any other, that they would have little problem taking an online assessment, but the level of confusion and frustration was staggering. Many students had to schedule times to retake the exam after school with a personal proctor because they were caught cheating. Apparently, the temptation to open another tab and look up a word or passage was too much for some students - a temptation that they would not have felt had this been a paper-based test or if we had been given laptops programmed to only open certain tabs or websites.

When I hear "new standards and assessment" for anything, digital literacy included, I groan in despair of what administration expects of us with such limited resources.

On the opposite side, how can we do right by our students if we are not properly preparing them for the future? It is obvious that technology is becoming more and more of a needed aspect in careers and even lifestyles, and the skills associated with the use of technology are just as important. Making standards and seeing if these standards are being met through an assessment seems to make sense, at least on some level, if we are to make them, as Ribble and Bailey say, global citizens (97).

Also, just to slip this in there out of interest, how do people feel about Wikipedia? It allows a certain level of collaboration, but also runs the risk of becoming overrun by false information. Should we allow our students to rely on something so shaky for academic purposes?


  1. One thing I really noticed about this chapter is that there is a huge divide between wanting our students to be digitally literate and wanting our students to meet standards and pass state assessments. As stated in the chapter, "forces of assessment and standardization exert a counter-pressure, asking us to produce conventional, formulaic print texts in scripted ways." (pg. 92) I struggle with this in my own classroom. I want them to meet the standards and pass these tests so I cater to the standards and teach them the formulaic ways of writing. However, at the same time, I want to do all these fun, creative writing projects with them but I feel like in doing that I am taking class time away from learning what the state wants them to know so I am doing them a disadvantage come MCAS day. It is very clear that the standards and the tests need to be revised to meet the times but I just don't see that happening for a while.

    I agree, it is up to each individual school and it is not fair to expect something of teachers that they themselves cannot provide to their students. If the school does not have the funding for technology or offer training of the technology, they are very much at a disadvantage. How is it fair to tell the teacher that they must still figure these things out? Luckily at my school we have an adequate amount of technology as well as professional development days throughout the year dedicated to learning different technologies but I do wonder about what it would be like to teach at a school where this is not the case. To expect someone who never grew up in a technological atmosphere to master in-depth programs and platforms AND then go and teach them to someone else is simply unfair if no training is provided.

    I also agree that sometimes we assume that our students are all going to be tech savvy since they are the digital natives but while they may be digitally skilled at using an iPhone or navigating social media, they may also be inept at other aspects of technology. When Chromebooks were first introduced at my school, students really struggled using them because young people today are not used to working on laptops and computers. Most of their time is spent on tablets and phones. In fact, when they watch me type on a computer they always ask me how I can type so fast because they are just not used to doing it.

    As for Wikipedia, I work with 6th graders so I generally tell them not to use it at all. However, if I were working with older students I would teach them how to use the sources listed at the bottom of the page and how to recognize unreliable ones.

  2. Brandon,

    I think that the reflection/self-assessment part of writing is a way to incorporate digital writing with the current standards. The authors of Because Digital Writing Matters mention that Kevin Hodgson, a National Writing Project teacher-consultant, “routinely engages students in purposeful talk about writing in relation to the technology in use, emphasizing the rhetorical choices students make across different modes (90).” Similarly, David Boardman, a teacher-consultant with the Main Writing Project, uses self-assessment to make students aware of the choices they make in digital modes (91). This self-assessment/reflection piece reminds me of Jody Shipka’s work (for those of you that took “Teaching of Composition” with Lauren Bowen). If students are able to reflect on their choices, then they should be able to strengthen their ability to make choices in future composing situations, including essays. The standards dictate what we teach students, but not how they express this knowledge. This is where digital writing can be integrated. For example, if teachers are required to teach students how to support an argument using textual evidence, then it shouldn’t matter if the student composes this argument via essay or Prezi. I realize that students cannot use a Prezi on MCAS, but if the student is made aware of the rhetorical choices they make by reflecting on their choices after completing a Prezi, then they should be able to transfer this knowledge to an essay. I believe in the power of reflection for teaching composition, but if this method only works for older students. For those of you teaching middle school, do your students have the metalanguage to be able to write about their composing choices?

    I also think that using reflection can aid the Wikipedia conundrum. According to the Wikipedia article, many students use Wikipedia during the beginning stages of research and are aware of credibility issues. If students were made to articulate their own motives for using different sources, then they would be more aware of when and how to use Wikipedia as well as other types of sources.


  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I'm delighted to see you incorporate a video into this blog entry, Brandon. It's really provocative - what's the date (I may have missed it)? I must admit that I cringe when people talk about "21st century learners." While I generally agree that we need to alter our approaches to new technologies, we've had a long time to pay attention (at least since the 1970s) to the research about new media and computer literacy. It's not like the 21st century itself was some sort of watershed moment for these learning modes/concerns. As Brandon points out, our lack of attention to these new technologies has resulted in schools that don't have adequate resources for teaching some rather basic skills (such as online collaboration, multimodal creation). And it strikes me as incredibly obtuse for policymakers to insist that all students complete standardized tests on computers when they haven't adequately equipped schools and trained teachers to implement them. We have been ignoring the research on new media literacy for a ridiculously long time and I feel that this last election has demonstrated how far we've fallen behind in this realm. The advent of "fake news" is based upon media illiteracy, at least in my mind. If we haven't learned to pay attention to critical media consumption and creation by now, I'm worried that we never will.

  5. Brandon,

    I agree with your concern regarding a lack of diversity/experimentation in the digital frameworks of education. It is likely that we will never be able to help all learners through the application of one single digital plan because we will be inevitably teaching a diverse group of individual learners at all times. I feel that, instead, it could be beneficial for each school/university to create a “mission statement” in relation to their individual technological goals, or this "statement" could be used to promote a digital community within each individual classroom. There will be no simple one-step way to incorporate technology, and this is not only due to the diverse learners in each classroom, but also, due to the diversity of the rhetorical situations students must confront when utilizing digital these diverse tools. The state of Michigan identified their own digital education standards, and through these standards, they work to support the belief that technology is “not situated as an exclusive thing or as justifying a separate set of standards, but instead is embedded within goals across content areas (Devoss, 96) This belief emphasizes the unique/specific choices across digital technologies, and each choice forces us to consider our specific situation, our key purpose, the content-focus, available resources, and each particular audience. This chapter emphasizes the teaching of conscientious communicative choices, and the adaptive strategies that may transfer into unfamiliar future digital contexts. we must teach our students how to adapt to future digital contexts. Through the prioritization of metacognitive awareness and strategic flexibility, teachers can help students gain skills for effective digital navigation within the informational void of the 21st century.

    I also appreciate the fact that you incorporated a video onto your post, which makes this a multimodal response (perfectly aligning with the focus of this chapter). This type of video could easily be adapted into any technology-focused classroom and it could help give students an opportunity to collaboratively reflect on the discourse/relationships associated with digital technology both inside and outside of the classroom. This chapter considers a wide range of digital education-based goals, and it also considers the potential problems that occur alongside such changes. Most importantly, the chapter identifies and pushes us as teachers toward the first clear essential step in digital progress: establishing a digital discourse community across the educational world. Through this focus, we can then begin to formulate strategies for effective and meaningful assessment focused on both depth and breadth. As this chapter emphasizes, “establishing a metalanguage is an essential part of creating possibilities for assessment which value all elements of multimodality.” (Devoss, 105) Our assessments can then aim to evaluate the incorporation of many different strategies, varying across both time and communicative mode, and by assessing with this particular focus, we will be one step closer to successfully teaching and evaluating individual growth with an incorporation of both digital and subject-specific knowledge.

  6. Hi Brandon, in this response I will mainly be responding to your question about the use of Wikipedia in conjunction to the topics that we have been discussing in class and learning about in DeVoss. As it stands in this moment, Wikipedia is defined as a free online encyclopedia, which derives its content from user collaboration. I like that Wikipedia is free, which means that if students have tech-screen device with internet access (ie: laptop, ipad, cellphone) then they will be able to tap into Wikipedia as a source for information. The "free" aspects of this website allows all people the right to knowledge, despite their current economic status. Also, the "online" nature of this encyclopedia allows users to access the material and information through their device, as long as an internet connection is available. The information which was once trapped inside of heavy books in libraries or individual homes, is now available at the touch of a few LED buttons. These two aspects in combination with each other, "free" and "online" breaks down a lot of barriers that most areas of information used to have around them before recent technological advancements.

    However, where Wikipedia becomes problematic for some educators and students, is the open "collaborative" nature of the website. Anyone, anywhere can edit the website and improve upon the information on individual pages. For example, if I went on the Beyonce Wikipedia page (because where else would I go?) and I noticed that on the page was written, "Married to Mos Def," I, as a BeyHive member, would recognize the error and be able to change it to, "Married to Jay Z." In other words, I will be able to improve the facts within the page through my knowledge or resource into the topic, thus helping others that access this free, online tool. Unfortunately, everyone and anyone can edit webpages to whatever information they hold. This is why, in 2016, the Wikipedia page for Meek Mill, a Philadelphia rapper, had announced as "Deceased" with his cause of death being "bodied by a singing n***a" (in reference to losing his feud with Drake). It is easily assumed that a Drake fan went on Meek Mill's Wikipedia page and easily changed the information with fiction, because it is as easy for people to make positive and helpful corrections as it is for them to make negative and hindering corrections.

    I would like to use Wikipedia within the classroom as a pre-research resource, but I do not know if I would use it as a major research resource. Or, maybe I would. The more that I think about a research project that I completed in high school, I remember it being difficult to complete the task because most research resources were subscription based through websites that I didn't know. If I wanted to pass the project I would have to either buy books, find my way around subscriptions, or borrow books from the library. Even though I am in a different technological age, I was unable to use this modern era to my advantage because of the privitization and elitism in regards to research.

    So... essentially I say all of this to say, I do not know. I see the benefits of the tool, and I see how students, eager to achieve a high grade and less than eager to go out of their way to fact check for this high mark, could sink or swim due to this tool.

  7. Brandon, great post. If our class discussions and previous blog threads are any indication, you are right to point out that the institutional contexts we all are, or will be, working in vary greatly. Conversely, as DeVoss et al. point out, there is a “strong national and state accountability movement that emphasizes standards and assessment” (89). That contexts vary so much is problematic for both standards and assessment, and beg the question of why there is such an impulse given the heterogeneity of contexts. It is worth noting that the desire for the homogeneity and reproducibility are not products of digital culture, but instead have their origins in print technology and modernity. Indeed, while the digital is noted for the ability to make infinite copies of a single source, the participatory culture of the read/write internet seems more often to give way to remix than one-for-one reproduction. I wonder if like the web, digital education, in its current form, is simply the capitalist iteration. Frankly, I found it disturbing that the P21 advocacy group “brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers to provide a powerful model of twenty-first-century education” (98) – it is worth noting that all three groups mentioned cannot be more divorced from local contexts. The semantic field of the auto industry is employed with words such as “powerful” and “model.” Are they talking about a pickup truck? The idea of a “model” is interesting insofar that the approach echoes the desire of labor models such as Fordism and Taylorism, insofar that standards and assessment assume an ideal which is testable and with modification to process reproducible. Moreover, it is disturbing that the purpose of the initiative is to provide students with skills that “are going to be really important in [their] careers” (99). Just above this section the semantic field of the workplace is employed, with language like “collaborating,” “skills,” “working,” linking,” and building” (99). These words in and of themselves are not problematic; they could be employed to describe the academic labor we engage in here at UMB. However, I feel they begin to connote something different given the context here. Thinking of education as a means for preparing people to produce meaningful things as a consequence of labor is one thing, reducing school to job training is another. DeVoss et al. point out that “establishing a metalanguage is an essential part of creating possibilities for assessment which value all elements of multimodality” (105). Multimodality is understood by theorists as a means of returning materiality and historicity along Marxist lines (by accounting for the context of production and circulation of cultural artifacts which make meaning in the world). Perhaps the language of assessment, indeed the language of the digital, should reflect these emancipatory ends. The e-portfolios seem to be the most harmonious in this regard, in that they “document process . . . show changes” and allow students “to explain decisions,” while demonstrating knowledge of self, content, task and judgement (109). The e-portfolio’s seem to allow for heterogeneity in ways that writing on demand does not, as the matter of interest is the individual students experience as a writer (subjective and infinitely variable in nature).

  8. "Will technology use be seen as an essential part of writing standards?" (90) This is a valid question as well as a concern. It is inevitable that technology will force its way into standardize testing. I'm sure there are places that are doing it currently. The problem we seem to continuously face in these English classrooms is the divide between what is/will be expected and the ability to teach the necessary skills. There are two solutions here, and unfortunately, I think I know which one will win out. Either A: Teachers will be retrained, or further trained in new technology and everything will be copacetic. Or option B: Senior teachers will be let go if they can't keep up (I.E. Learn on their own time/dollar) and new, young teachers that interact with the new technology daily will be brought in as a (possibly cheaper) replacement.

    What I don't get is that studies have shown that using a pen/pencil to write actually improves learning and helps with brain development. It is far superior to typing in that regard. The only thing that typing is better at is time, which is all that matters these days.

    I am pro technology believe it or not, but what I have my own issues with is the rate of change. We are improving at such a fast rate that we aren't really taking the time to let new technology integrate with our culture. Someone said before that technology should serve learning, not the other way around. It's clear that with the way things are, we have to serve the technology. We must continuously adapt to the next thing in order to remain relevant, when in reality, we are always what is relevant and it's the technology that is becoming irrelevant. We need to slow down. Just because we can do something or invent something doesn't mean that we should. Let's create, then sit with it for just a little while. Find ways to better the life we have instead of finding new ways to complicate it. It's unfuckingbelievable to me that we are always looking for new ways to make life better and easier but we seem to make it harder and harder to live. This can all be solved if we just chill, lay back, and think about what we are doing and what should come next, and when.

  9. Great post, Brandon. This is something that has troubled me when it comes to thinking of how to integrate technology and digital writing into the classroom. In looking at the English standards for middle school, there are plenty of ways to use digital writing to meet these standards, and several of these require students to integrate all kinds of media. While standards do need to be updated quite a bit, I feel like we are getting to a place where standards are much more inclusive of technology and digital writing. However, on a larger scale, we have a lot of catching up to do. I was struck by DeVoss' discussion of the "human" and "social" purpose of writing, and how the writing done for standardized tests largely ignores this (112-113). It makes me wonder if we really are assessing what students can do.

    I also like what you have to say about the disconnect between the realities of the classroom today and what administrators expect of teachers when it comes to using technologies and digital writing. Sure, a couple dozen new iPads are wonderful, but are there programs available to use on those iPads (digital text, ebooks, word processing software)? Many of these exciting tech purchases feel very half-baked to me.

    And I really question the value of all these flashy new gadgets if teachers are not properly trained to use them. Meaningful professional development that gives teachers the skills they need to use new classroom technology is essential, but often missing from school communities, due to a number of factors (budget is the biggest obstacle in my town). As a young person who has grown up using computers, perhaps I can figure it out, but there are so many wonderful, experienced teachers out there who lack the training to be comfortable using technology in the classroom. My mother, for example, will move up to teaching 1st grade (from kindergarten) next year and she's an incredibly brilliant, creative teacher. But she will be expected to use Chromebooks with her kids and has never been trained to use these to teach (she got her degree in the mid-1970s, and there haven't been sufficient PD sessions on this). If schools expect teachers to be able to use these resources effectively in the classroom, they need to invest in teacher training, one way or another.

    I found the article on Wikipedia usage to be really interesting. It was almost comforting to see how common it is for students to use Wikipedia in their early research. I will also use it to familiarize myself with something non-academic in nature, such as the plot of a movie that my friends are talking about, or the names of bands categorized under a genre of music. I'll admit, I often use it to get an overview of a topic and to gauge how interested I am in a topic that I may potentially research and write about. However, I would never EVER use it as a source for a formal paper.

    Regardless, I think Wikipedia could have a place in the classroom, as long as students are aware of its credibility. It may even be useful to use Wikipedia (and maybe even let students take on the task of contributing to an article) to teach students about using wikis to collaborate on the sharing of knowledge. Having grown up being told by the school librarian to avoid Wikipedia at all costs, I have trouble with allowing students to use it freely, but it can be a source of inspiration, or a starting point.

    Speaking of school librarians, I was disappointed to see how few students used them as a resource. I never made an appointment with one for my thesis, but I wish I had -- they have so much knowledge on where to find good information. School librarians could also be extremely helpful in getting students through the writing process.

  10. The debacle you described in how digital testing went over at your school last year perfectly sums up the dilemma we face in assessment. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to get to take a workshop taught by one of the lead test-makers for the AP Language and Composition exam, and I spoke with her about why the exam (and the SAT, for that matter) hadn’t made the shift to digital. Her response was pretty simple: “student equity.” Many of the ideas that DeVoss offers up in this chapter are exciting, and the standards in states like Michigan and Kentucky are catching up, but I do have some concerns over whether this slow shift will only aggravate the achievement gap between “have” and “have not” schools. DeVoss identifies the key roadblock as a logistical one—that “large-scale assessments will take longer to develop because of the demands of designing, developing, and implementing effective and reliable assessments at that scale”—but we need to be clear that the logistical dilemma extends beyond the day of the test (107). Even if arrangements can be made for students to test on computers, if they haven’t had access to the tools and experiences that prepare them to take a test based on the twenty-first-century skills and benchmarks described on pages 100-102, then is an appropriate test really going to impact their success? Kentucky’s shift to portfolio-based assessment is interesting, but I have the same concerns; if portfolios are assessed on the “review of multiple kinds of texts, digital and print, linking work inside school to that outside school and linked composers and texts to multiple contexts and audiences,” then aren’t the schools that have the resources to conduct that sort of work on a meaningful and regular basis going to have an even more pronounced advantage than in the current paradigm? I realize that there’s not exactly a glowing alternative here; if we don’t accelerate this shift, then students are left behind, but the challenge is certainly a pronounced one.

    As for Wikipedia, I found that Head and Eisenberg perfectly captured how I use Wikipedia myself and how I suggest my students integrate it into their research process if they choose to do so. I explicitly teach skills like vetting/following sources and investigating change logs and discussion pages so that my students (hopefully) think critically about whether the information they’re gathering is reliable and relevant, but I’d also hope they exercise that same judgment regarding ANY source they access.

  11. New technology is always scary especially when we were asked to change our daily routines that produce progress for our students. I remember some classrooms got smart boards, and I wanted to check it out. I never had the opportunity to see a smart board in action, but it seems they have died out. Does anyone use a smart board? So this technology that comes and goes with out the majority of people using it. So, how important is it to stay on top of the new tech. I understand if the school wants to run a new test program. We may want to sit down with it ourselves and attempt to take a test. Try and cheat, open tabs. And find solution how to solve these issues. Another question. Isn't there always an alternative option to take a test on paper? Either way I think on a pretty basic level. We can't try and master every new technology, but we can teach the disposition to be ready for change. Not afraid of the new way to take a test. It may just not be that big of a deal if it fails. So why not give it a try, and hopefully with patience, hard work the new technology can make it easier for us not harder.

  12. Brandon, I can really connect with your skepticism about state and national standards. I was especially drawn to the discussion in the chapter on the ways that traditional standardized assessments draw on a mindset that is contrary to the purpose of digital writing. Devoss writes, "...The skills and capacities essential to new digital literacies can be directly at odds with the norms and expectations that undergird most assessment programs" (92). They go on to discuss how traditional ways of teaching and assessing student learning reinforce an individualistic ideology. They compare "individual students being tested on their stand-alone accomplishments" to digital writing that emphasizes "expanded collaboration" (92). There is room for additional critique on this topic. Darisse pointed out the problems with bringing businesses into the discussion and ways that technology standards have traditionally positioned technology skills as being useful for the workforce and helping the individual to get jobs. Where I teach at the community college level, there is a lot of pressure to partner with the for profit sector to train students in technical skills and to push community colleges to become schools to churn out good workers. That may be one part of their mission, but there are other important ways that technology should be integrated, taught and assessed that reflect a value of community in addition to the individual.

    I like the concept of "Digital Citizenship"in which learning outcomes are more focused on communication, literacy and critical thinking skills than on specific technological tasks that serve individual profit. These "digital citizenship" skills are certainly "marketable" too, but I think it's important to refocus our attention to the ways technology/digital writing can connect the classroom with the world, deepen student engagement, and help students reflect on their writing choices for different modes as a way of connecting with their audience. Finally, I very much appreciated the discussion of e-portfolios as a tool for students to reflect on their writing processes.


MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...