We all know that curriculum is driven by assessment. Teachers will only teach what will help their students pass their exams. The tail wags the dog so to speak! Assessment strategies are thus vital tools in curriculum change, and to my mind form the cutting edge of change. Technology offers the promise of changing the way in which assessment is done.
Perhaps one of the most innovative uses of software to drive pedagogical change can be seen in Personalisation by Pieces, a platform which uses peer mentoring and assessment to drive mastery of the curriculum. Children prepare assignments which are then submitted to a peer who has already mastered the level being assessed. This peer assesses the assignment, gives feedback, and ascertains that the criteria for attaining that level have been met. The student is then ready to submit further work at the next level. All work is submitted and received electronically, and the software keeps a record of attainment targets. Skill sets are presented in the form of ladders, steps which need to be attained to fulfill the outcomes.
I don’t want to look in too much detail at this particular piece of software, but it does seem to me to offer very crucial affordances which non-electronic approaches to personalizing learning lack. The key affordance is the communicative function at the heart of the system. The system depends merely on a community of learners and an Internet connection. Mentoring and assessment is done by peers, and occasionally teachers (an emergency measure). Electronic media offer a rich array of communication channels, and widen the pool of people with whom the child may come into contact.
Paper-based systems would require mountains of bureaucracy. It is hard to imagine that a similar system based on non-electronic media would ever become viable. By using an electronic medium, control of the process can be placed squarely in the hands of the user, ie. the student. The learner chooses what skills to target, and which mentors and assessors to draw from.
A second key affordance is the effortless way in which the software can keep a record of what has been attained, what work has been offered for assessment, and what the outcomes of that assessment are. The checks within the system make it impossible to attempt levels which are too far beyond the present competency of each child, and encourage children to attempt more work, rather than less work. I know, as a teacher, how onerous record-keeping can become. The software in very important ways frees the teacher up to teach. With assessment being undertaken by peers, teachers are freed up too to undertake more thorough preparation and engage on more one-on-one interventions.
And finally, and perhaps most crucially, it seems to me that electronic media offer a sense of personal and collegiate responsibility for learning, which is lacking in many traditional systems where teachers often seem to care more than children about the learning that is going on. Precisely because it channels through an anonymous interface rather than an individual class, or subject teacher, it encourages the child to take responsibility for his/her own learning and to direct this learning independently. It helps create a community of practice.
This system is certainly worth looking at, and offers one of the really transformative solutions I have come across.