I’ve been using Google Apps for some time now. I love the collaborative aspects of it. Indeed, I do almost all of my simple word processing tasks in it. If I need to get some feedback from a colleague about something, I can share the document with them with a few key strokes. Later, should I need to get fancy, I can export the Google Doc to a word processor and take over from there with a more powerful tool.
The teachers in my school regularly ask their students to use Google docs in a similar fashion, with student collaborating with one another on projects. Sometimes the teachers will use Google Docs to annotate the students’ work, further enriching the experience. When projects are completed, Google Docs can be shared with the entire class, grade level, school, or even the outside world as a web page.
And then comes the test, and all use of Google Docs and collaboration comes to a grinding halt. Why is this?
As a professional educator and technologist, no one objects to my use of collaborative tools in the performance of my job. In fact, I am expected to collaborate with my colleagues. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Even TV game show contestants can collaborate, be it in the form of help from the studio audience, or by “phoning a friend.” I realize that the stakes in a weekly unit quiz that counts 1/100th of a student’s grade doesn’t stack up against a jackpot of, say, a million dollars, but come on! Why can’t students also get the chance to “phone a friend?”
There’s an axiom in business and in education: people will base their performance on what is measured by others, especially their boss (or teacher, in this case.) So if we say we value collaboration, but we don’t measure it in high stakes performance opportunities, we’re not behaving congruently.
A recent thread in the Google Educators Discussion Group, talked about how to “Google Proof” questions for students. In other words, how can we question students in such a way that we can allow them to collaborate, research, phone a friend and use all of the resources that will be available to them as adults in the workplace to answer questions, but still assess their relative knowledge, skills, and attitudes to provide meaningful feedback and guidance to them? Not with multiple choice, true false, and other machine-scored exams, and not with SATs, ACTs, or APs.
In a previous post, I wrote about how assessment is one of the constraints on educational innovation. Google-proof questions may just be one of the better ways to think about assessment that supports 21st century teaching and learning.