Assessment by Digital Annotation

Assessment for, as, and of learning.
Assessment for, as, and of learning.

Learning, Connectivity, and Digital Annotation

The study makes the argument that a digital annotation is a form of reification: a concrete product that also denotes the socially constructed process of its creation. Examples of reified products include words, tools, concepts, methods, stories, and documents developed in and by a community of practice (Wenger, 2000). The findings of this study suggest that digital annotations shared in blog posts and tweets are similar to the words documented in a community of practice; they both provide physical evidence that an event took place while also representing the process by which the event unfolded.  Digital annotations represent connections, and if we are to assume that making connections across concepts, people, space, and time is part of a pedagogical act, then we can conclude that digital annotations might be used to document as least some aspects of learning.

Documentation as a Form of Assessment

Classroom assessment has a number of purposes, including providing feedback and support for students, gathering diagnostic information to help in planning and decision-making, maintaining records of student activity for external stakeholders (such as parents, administrators, and funders), and informing instructional and curricular adjustments and evaluation (Wilson, 1996*).  These purposes can be organized loosely into assessment of learning, for learning, and as learning.  The first, assessment of learning, refers to the majority of classroom assessment that takes place in higher education: summative assessments that sort students into relative performance groups and provide reportable symbols (i.e. grades) meant to inform the student and external stakeholders of student achievement.  In contrast, assessment for learning refers to a descriptive process that shifts the emphasis from summative to formative, thereby illuminating current status, diagnosing strengths and weaknesses, and informing decisions around the next steps in the learning process. Assessment as learning is a subset of assessment for learning that seeks to develop students’ metacognitive skills by inviting them to carry out the description, diagnosis, and sense making related to their own formative assessment (Earl, 2013).

Progressive educational approaches such as Reggio Emilia and Montessori emphasize the close relationship between learning, documentation, and assessment, arguing that “in the process of learning through documentation, we become aware of that learning and its value; we assess it” (Rinaldi, 2004; p. 1).  Assessment for and as learning requires instructors to accurately understand, apply, and communicate knowledge of their students, assignments, and desired learning goals in the context of the course and the larger educational agenda. They spend considerable time curating, interpreting, and helping students make meaning around learning artifacts such as portfolios, writing, art, videos of performance, recordings of social interactions, or similar.  Finally, they implement assessments that spotlight “learning intentions” of students, making connections in student thinking explicit for the purposes of providing students with feedback, assisting them with self-reflection, and planning future action (Clarke, 2001*).

However, acts of connection-making in the physical world are often fleeting, uncoordinated, and undocumented (Kimble & Hildreth, 2005). They can require a significant amount of instructor resources to document, interpret, and report. For example, Clarke (2001) recommends that faculty use highlighter pens to mark any connections they find when reading student essays.  Strategies such as these become problematic in the context of large class sizes and higher education.

In contrast to physical world connections, digital connections leave an automated and automatically documented trail if students choose to make them.  Hyperlinks indicate connections across web based documents.   Embedded materials can indicate connections across modalities.  Mentions indicate connections between people. Hashtags can do all of these things. When integrated into a larger educational belief system, the documentation and interpretation of digital annotations allow instructors to move beyond the conceptualizations and limitations of the physical world and into a more digital approach to getting things done. In short, the assessment strategies offered in chapter four can be considered a digital augmentation Clarke’s (2001) highlighting pen; the collection, exploration, and visualization of digital annotations offer an open window into the types of connections students are making in their work.



Old School Reference List 

Clarke, S. (2001). Unlocking formative assessment. London, U.K.: Hodder and Stoughton.

Wilson, R. (1996). Assessing students in classrooms and schools. Scarborough, U.K.: Allyn and Bacon.