The Plastic Brain


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e-portfolios for students…and staff!

My colleagues and I are currently investigating the use of e-portfolios. There are, of course, many platforms available, each with a range of features. The trick is finding the one which best suits your purpose, and with which you feel the most comfortable.

With respect to purpose, our discussion was driven by the requirement for documentation of two processes:

1. for students

Our Year 10 students are at the beginning of their South Australia Certificate of Education (SACE), which is mostly completed in Years 11 and 12. However, in Year 10 they complete a Personal Learning Plan (PLP). The PLP is undertaken over the course of the year, and requires students to reflect on their learning thus far, be introspective, explore life and career goals and plan their future learning path(s).

2. for staff

Under the new Professional Standards for Teachers, AITSL requires “evidence” for certification at each of the levels. Curating this evidence could be a complicated and frustrating task. e-portfolios may be a solution, allowing teachers to incrementally add CV details, teaching and learning artefacts and write professional reflections.

selected e-portfolio options

This is by no means an exhaustive list, simply a selection of options at the front of my mind. A more thorough list can be found here. Click on each image to investigate further.

the verdict

So, as I said at the start – all depends on your on situation, but here’s my summary:

Google Sites is flexible, and works well if you already have a Google account. Could suit either students or teachers.

WordPress is essentially a blogging platform, hence is useful if you want to encourage a focus on the process and reflection. You can add pages to cover the other stuff, like a CV. This is what I use (obviously), and you can see some of the pages I’ve added at the top of this page.

Folioforme seems like a pretty sweet platform. I’ve not used it, but it certainly has a good range of features, and unlike the previous two, is purpose built for e-portfolios.

Livebinders is a jack-of-all-trades web filing cabinet. Useful for storing and sharing your e-portfolio, but not particular user friendly or pretty to look at.

Carbonmade is a bit of a wildcard entry. Very much designed to appeal to younger and more artistic types, it impressed me with its splash page. I think students would go for it. However, looking at the example e-portfolios, they may be a little too visually-dominant to be of much use in an educational setting.

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Reflections on “The role of formative assessment in effective learning environments”

Dylan Wiliam

I am reading this chapter by Dylan Wiliam, and have decided to share some thoughts as they arise:

  • Feedback is a critical part of formative assessment, and we should be aware of the differentiation in its use in education, compared to sciences and engineering (eg “positive and negative feedback”)
  • More frequent assessment is linked to higher achievement – to a point. More than one test per fortnight had no additional effect – not too surprising.
  • The quality of feedback on these assessments had a much more significant effect than their frequency
  • Effective corrective feedback requires that the learner is active in the process
  • Feedback works best if it is focused on the task (not the learner), and specifically addresses what was done well, and where improvements could be made.
  • No one method of formative assessment appears optimal, and each teacher must find a way to integrate it into their teaching
  • Wiliam’s definition of “formative assessment” focuses on the idea that its purpose is the inform (that is, form) the future learning process based on evidence from the assessment.

The chapter provides a very detailed look into formative assessment, and discusses the effect size of various feedback and assessment strategies. As with other reviews of this type, I am left with a feeling that it is of little value to focus on any individual strategies. In different studies, the same interventions have different effect sizes, indicating that there are so many variables in any study in an educational setting that fine-grained analysis may be meaningless. Nonetheless, Wiliam is able to draw together some general guiding principles, which appear as the 5 key strategies shown above.

My ongoing and proposed actions

  • Continue providing recorded audio feedback
  • Ensure feedback is provided during the same or next lesson for most tasks, within a week for longer summative tasks
  • Provide ongoing records (graphs, charts) or student achievement levels to students (and parents?)
  • Peers to review work from a higher grade band. “What are the students a grade band above you doing?”
  • Review how well my teaching aligns with Wiliam’s key principles.

Other ideas arising

  • Help students view Units of Study as opportunities to add knowledge and skills to their inventory, rather than barriers which they need to bust through then ignore. The vertical integration of the Australian Curriculum provides examples of learning paths which could show learners how this process happens.
  • Wiliam presents Nyquist’s classification of feedback and formative assessments, along with their effect sizes (below). It provides an interesting challenge – especially the level ‘strong formative assessment’. In it, not only is the task designed to provide evidence of learning, but then specific tasks are provided to students to improve areas of deficiency. It is a worthwhile aim, though one would hope for more than a 0.56 effect size.

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Children’s perceptions of scientists, before and after actually meeting them.

Via this article, via MindShift.

Particularly relevant after this came out today:

Huge drop in year 12 students studying science‎ 

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Australian Students Capture Dancing Galaxies

[Click on the image to read the story]

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What are young children capable of achieving in the classroom? This test (click the title for more information, and a link to the test) shows that 8th grade children in 1931 were capable of knowing quite a lot about their state, its history and industries.

(via @TonyBoyajian)

Take this 1931 8th grade test