How can NGL be employed to transform assessment practices in the IB Visual Arts classroom?
The aim of this design-based research (DBR) proposal is to present a theory-informed plan for using NGL to transform my teaching practice. The structure of this proposal is based on the first two phases of a DBR project as described by Herrington et al (2007).
PHASE 1: Analysis of practical problems by researchers and practitioners in collaboration
1.1 Statement of problem and context
Digital technologies have changed the way people relate to each other and how information is created and shared (Lepi, 2014; Rosen, 2014; Siemens, 2005, 2008, 2011). Learners are now capable of forming global learning networks, which enable them to extend their learning environment beyond the traditional classroom walls (Siemens, 2008, 2011). These developments influence the power structures in education, where learners are becoming more in control of their own learning. This has required educators to rethink what they do for their students and what students can do for themselves (Anderson, 2008; Downes, 2013; Siemens 2008, 2011).
My educational context
As an International Baccalaureate Visual Arts (IBVA) teacher for students in grade 11 and 12 at an international school in India, my teaching practice has naturally been affected by the developments described above. A one-to-one iPad program was implemented at my school 2 years ago, which means that all students and teachers have access to an iPad or laptop for participation in NGL activities. The one-to-one program has encouraged teaching and learning approaches associated with a blended learning (BL) model and the integration of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).
Statement of problem
Despite all the transformations in education mentioned above, there still seems to be a significant divide between the developments toward a more student-directed and autonomous learning experience for high school students and the realities posed by a standardized international diploma program such as the International Baccalaureate (IB). “While networks have altered much of society, teaching, and learning, systemic change has been minimal” (Siemens, 2008, p.2).
At a first glance, the IB organisation’s (IBO) mission statement, aims and strategies may seem in line with new developments toward student-centered pedagogies. However, it is still, to a large extend, embedded in traditional approaches to teaching and learning, with “rigorous assessment” (IBO, 2014b, para. 6) strategies that rely heavily on traditional pen and paper summative examinations. Doherty et al. (2012, p. 10) claim that the IB’s highly prescriptive courses of study in traditional disciplines, and high stakes external examinations resonate with neo-conservative approaches to curriculum. Such high-stakes assessment strategies tend to stimulate approaches of “teaching for the test” (Morrison & Tang fun Hei, 2002; Wolf & Pistone, 1991) rather than “for learning” (Stiggins, 2002).
In the arts disciplines, this is made even more difficult by the perceived (and to some extent, actual) subjective nature of judgments of quality. There is a long history of a problematic relationship between visual art education and assessment. Victor Lowenfeld’s foundational book in the art education discipline “Creative and Mental Growth” stated that “grading in art has no function” and that “the art room should be a sanctuary against the school system…without the imposition of an arbitrary grading system” (quoted in Gruber, 2002, p. 14). Furthermore, “for many art teachers the artistic process remains associated with emotions, unpredictability, and individual quality whereas assessment and evaluation stand for rationality, predictability and quantification…[S]tandardized examination are criticized because of their restrictive impact on art instruction” (Haanstra & Schönau, p. 439).
For the past seven years, IB Visual Art students had to complete investigation pages in a visual journal (pen on paper). Scanned copies of these pages were mailed to the IBO to be assessed by an external examiner. The students’ studio artworks were examined by external Visual Arts examiners who visited the schools. In 2013, this process was replaced by an electronic submission of the scanned investigation pages in PDF-format and the photographed studio artworks in a range of digital formats. From 2016, students will submit a comparative study, process pages and studio artworks as digital files, created in layout and presentation software such as Prezi, Apple’s Keynote and Microsoft’s PowerPoint. This definitely is an improvement from the previous requirements, moving toward a slightly more dynamic way of displaying students’ learning paths. There is also good merit in the IBO’s argument that the external examiner is not just judging a final product, but that the series of process pages provides a full picture of the student’s process and development of ideas over two years.
However, it still leads to a relatively static product (PDF file), which cannot include any dynamic media such as animations or videos. Also, it ends up being one document that is only viewed by the external examiner and the teacher and the only feedback received by the student after the final examination is a number on a scale from one to seven. By the time students receive this grade, they don’t have another opportunity to make improvements, so they will most likely not learn much from their final assessment. This seems out of line with the practice of arts education, where assessment is ongoing, holistic in nature, integrated into instruction, completed in multiple forms, evaluates a wide variety of factors and products, and is used as a learning tool (Wolf & Pistone, 1991).
1.2 Consultation with researchers and practitioners
1.3 Research questions
From the problems stated in the section above, the following questions arise:
- How could alternative ways of assessment be developed that could do better justice to learning in the IBVA domain?
- What is the role of the IBVA teacher in ensuring student growth and autonomy through authentic formative assessment activities within a blended learning model?
- How can IBVA teachers influence the way the IBVA assessment system may change in the future by starting the implementation of an online student blog system in their own classes?
- How could such blogs serve as a dynamic formative assessment tool, as well as a way to stimulate collaboration and dialogue between students, teachers and parents – within and outside of the school setting?
- How would IBVA students benefit from presenting their creative pathways for formative assessment purposes in the form of an online blog, as opposed to static formats?
- How would art teachers benefit from following their students’ progress through a blog? Could it give them better insight into their students’ intellectual pathways?
- Upon completion of this intervention, do teachers and students report any transformative change in their teaching and learning experiences respectively?
1.4 Literature review
Who/what is the International Baccalaureate?
“The International Baccalaureate® (IB) is a non-profit educational foundation, motivated by its mission, focused on the student. Our four programmes for students aged 3 to 19 help develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world” (IBO, 2014a, para. 1).
“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right” (IBO, 2014b, para. 5).
At the high school level, the pressures of graduation requirements and university entry have lead parents, students, and administrators to hold teachers responsible for sustaining a fair, reliable, and justifiable grading system. Over 40 years, the IB has created a recognized global brand and a strong reputation for academic consistency that leads to its popularity and consumption. It is marketed as a credential that supersedes the local certificate and is accepted by prestigious universities across the globe (Cambridge, 2002; Doherty, 2009; Doherty et al, 2012, p. 5). This often translates into an over-reliance on rampant testing systems, which has been widely documented to “exert a negative effect on curricula, student motivation, self-esteem, creativity, higher order thinking and flexibility” (Morrison & Tang Fun Hei, 2002, p. 289).
Blended learning model
An investigation into the available literature on the definition of BL, reveals a wide variety of responses, which refer to different things “being blended.” For example, it could mean the blending of delivery media, the blending of instructional methods or the blending of online and face-to-face instruction (Driscoll, 2002; Graham, 2006; Singh, 2003). For the purpose of this study, I will focus on the third of the 3 themes offered above, which describes BL as “the combination of instruction from two historically separate models of teaching and learning: traditional face-to-face learning systems and distributed learning systems” (Graham, 2006, p. 3). This definition also emphasizes the vital role of computer-based technologies in BL (Driscoll, 2002; Graham, 2006).
Blogging as an authentic assessment tool
There is a wide range of literature (Hernandez-Ramos, 2004; Huffaker & Calvert, 2005; Jonassen, Carr & Hsiu-Ping,1998; Leslie & Murphy, 2008; Nardi, Schiano & Gumbrecht, 2004) discussing the relevance, advantages and disadvantages of using blogs with secondary students as an authentic assessment tool in a NGL environment. Most of these sources highlight the idea that blogging has the potential to be a catalyst for self-directed learning and authentic assessment through collaborative learning and self-reflection practices (Barrett, 2007; Downes, 2010).
The following advantages of using student blogs as authentic learning tools could be extracted from the literature review:
- Student work can easily be shared with peers, teachers, parents and others, and feedback could be provided through a single electronic device (Wade et al., 2008)
- Blogs provide a platform for reflective processes (Barrett, 2007; Hernandez-Ramos, 2004), which is a relevant practice for IBVA students. As part of the IBVA syllabus, they are required to use reflection to synthesize theory, practice, and the individual (themselves).
- Blogs may help students to take ownership of their work and create their own learning communities by using the social networking model (Barrett, 2007; Downes, 2010). This may further encourage the development of specific skills and mindsets that will enable students to direct their paths in a networked society (Siemens, 2008, p. 6).
- By sharing their own experiences, problems and resources with other learners, students may become more engaged and develop a sense of confidence and belonging (Joinson, 2001; Jonassen, Carr & Hsiu-Ping, 1998; Tosh & Werdmuller, 2004).
- Blogs can be powerful devices for learning when used for formative assessment purposes, rather than summative evaluation (Barrett and Carney, 2005). Black & Wiliam (2005) say that e-Portfolios are a type of formative assessment when they include active feedback that enables students to keep modifying and improving their work as they compile their portfolios. More than just being a formative assessment tool, this type of working e-portfolio promotes assessment for learning, as opposed to assessment of learning (Stiggins, 2002).
- Blogging supports collaborative learning exercises, where less proficient students develop skills with the help from more competent peers. This relates to Social constructivist pedagogies that is focused on groups of learners, learning together with and from one another (Anderson & Dron, 2012; Vygotsky,1978).
Using blogging in the secondary classroom can also present its obstacles. Frequently discussed issues in the literature are those associated with students’ misconceptions regarding their online identities and digital footprints (Christensen, 2014; Common Sense Education, 2014a, 2014b). When students’ work is made public, they are also exposed to inappropriate material, sites or cyber bullying (Edudemic Staff, 2014; Fleming & Rickwood, 2004). Such exposure may have a negative impact on students’ futures (Common Sense Education, 2014a, 2014b; Krause, 2004) if they have not learned the skills and responsibilities associated with proper digital citizenship (Davis, 2014; Dunn, 2012; Lepi, 2013).
However, most sources argue that students, within a safe learning environment, could benefit from online exposure. Students, with the aid of a teacher and peers, could learn about online safety and etiquette (Christensen, 2014; Common Sense Education, 2014a, 2014b) and develop strategies and procedures to follow when finding unsuitable sites (Edudemic Staff, 2014; Rosen, 2012). These are relevant life skills to develop, considering that social networking and sharing platforms have become an integral part of youth learners’ lives (Dunn, 2012; Lepi, 2013; Ripp, 2011; Rosen, 2012).
In an NGL environment, the teacher takes on a different role, which is one of a facilitator who doesn’t need to have all the answers, but who needs to guide students to connect with various sources of knowledge and learn by themselves (Downes, 2013). Recent literature concerning the use of student blogs as a NGL tool also reveals that students need some initial assistance when applying Jarche’s (2014) seek/sense/share phases of networked learning. Open-ended tasks could lead to more productive outcomes when students are given some guidelines. Otherwise the task may become too vague and overwhelming, which may lead to learner disengagement (Brummelhuis & Kuiper, 2008; Krause, 2004; Siemens, 2011; Voogt, 2008).
Before getting engaged in NGL activities, it is recommended that students form an understanding of the web tools and where the information they access online comes from (Schreiner, 2014). Furthermore, it is important for students to be made aware of their responsibilities with regard to academic honesty and the importance of crediting their sources of information (Creative Commons, n.d.; Schreiner, 2014).
Crowdsourcing and the visual arts
A large group of people participating in an online activity, are believed to form a collective intelligence that is more significant, in terms of problem-solving and creativity, than the intellect of any single member of the group. Surowiecki (2004) defines this concept as “the wisdom of crowds,” while Kroski (2005) labels it the “hive mind.”
“Crowdsourcing” is a term coined in 2005 by Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson, editors at Wired Magazine, following conversations about how businesses were using the Internet to outsource work to individuals (Howe, 2006). “Crowdsourcing is the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers” (crowdsourcing, 2014).
The introduction of digital sharing has enabled opportunities to challenge traditional ideas about authorship and creativity Literat, 2012). It has also given participants a liberating vehicle for self-expression (Literat, 2012). Furthermore, its possibilities of widespread participation and global interconnectedness have helped to democratize art production (Stoddart 2009).
“Online crowdsourced art is the practice of using the Internet as a participatory platform to directly engage the public in the creation of visual, musical, literary, or dramatic artwork, with the goal of showcasing the relationship between the collective imagination and the individual artistic sensibilities of its participants” (Literat, 2012, p. 2962).
Increasingly, visual artists, writers and musicians are using social media to enable participation in their art projects (Kessler, 2010; Stoddart, 2009). Examples comprise the crowdsourced visual arts project PostSecret (Warren, 2004-2014), the writing project We Feel Fine (Kamvar & Harris, 2005-2014), and the music project Virtual Choir (Whitacre, 2009-2014). More examples of such crowdsourcing art initiatives include The Million Masterpiece (Million Masterpiece, 2006-2014), SwarmSketch (Lennon, 2014) and 1000 Tears (Young & Kocis Edwards, 2014).
Crowdsourcing initiatives in secondary education
New media platforms with crowdsourcing capabilities can be used in educational practices to help students and teachers create ideas beyond their own perspectives (Rosenthal Tolisano, 2014). Part of the challenge is to learn which kind of images or prompt questions spark inspiration and which do not (Rosenthal Tolisano, 2014). An example of such a new platform is the sketchnoting network Mix by FiftyThree. Mix is a new edition to the iPad sketchnoting application Paper by FiftyThree. Once a sketch done in Paper is uploaded on Mix, it is visible to other members of the Mix network. Members can star the sketch, then open it on their Paper application and remix it, which then gets shared back to the platform.
A recent initiative to generate an authentic and global audience for student blogs is Quadblogging, explained in this short video by its creator, David Mitchell. After signing up, a class using a blogging system is allocated a Quad four schools/classes (from anywhere in the world). Each Quad has a coordinator who is responsible for making sure each of the quad members understand the schedule. Each week one school’s class blog is the focus blog with the other three blogs visiting and commenting during that week. This is repeated until each of the classes/schools has had their week in the spotlight. The cycle is then repeated. However, this time, the students know what to expect and they will most likely work harder in order to get content on their blog (Mitchell, 2012).
PHASE 2: Development of solutions informed by existing design principles and technological innovations
2.1 Development of draft principles to guide the design of the intervention
The IB’s assessment strategies seem to be entrenched in the program’s responsibilities to maintain its reputation for academic rigour and to enable entrance into prestigious universities. A strength of the IBVA assessment system is its flexibility, which allows IBVA teachers to implement individual assessment strategies that may increase the relevance of assessment for students. From this observation, one could extract the draft principle that IBVA teachers need to find innovative ways of improving their assessment strategies within the constraints of the program’s external examination requirements.
Further observations from the review of the literature around authentic assessment, NGL and the blended learning model, revealed that there would appear to be some significant benefits to exploring the use of e-portfolios (in the form of student blogs) as an authentic assessment tool in IBVA.
Another design principle that was extracted from deeper investigation into the potential of crowdsourcing and digital sharing in visual art, is that it would benefit IBVA students if their assessment could involve tasks that are aligned with their futures. For example, tasks that would prepare them to become active contributors and collaborators in an increasingly complex twenty first century world.
2.2 Description of proposed intervention
The focus of the proposed intervention will be on improving assessment strategies in the IBVA classroom, while keeping in mind the requirements of the IBVA program’s external examination. The aim of this intervention therefore is to work within the IBO guidelines to create a more authentic and meaningful learning experience for IBVA students.
One could argue that if students were going to put in all the effort of displaying their creative and investigation processes through images and text in digital format for their final external assessment, it may be more productive for them to do it through a dynamic platform such as an online blog. These blogs could serve as a dynamic formative assessment tool, as well as a way to stimulate collaboration and dialogue between students, teachers and parents – within and outside of the school setting. This could be a great opportunity for students to start from an early age to communicate and get feedback on their ideas beyond the classroom walls and it could also assist art teachers in their own internal assessment tasks.
Instead of focusing so much on the final submissions for the summative assessment, more focus will be placed on getting students engaged in learning and motivated to communicate their ideas beyond the IBVA course and classroom. When students start to understand the relevance of reflective practice and collaboration with a community of learners, they might be less concerned about the grade and more motivated to learn for the sake of learning, and not for the sake of earning high grades to enter university.
2.3 A plan for implementation
The plan is to start small by implementing an e-portfolio system with a group of five IBVA students who will each create an individual blog at the beginning of their 2-year IBVA course. They will use the blog as a platform to write reflections that could evidence their creative process while working on their studio and investigation projects. This documentation of their learning should gradually transform into the digital layouts that are required for their final submission of process pages and investigation work. Throughout the whole process the teacher would be modeling the process of blogging to students by also creating a blog, which would be used specifically as a means of communication with the IBVA class. The teacher and students will be interacting by following one another’s blogs and responding to posts.
Getting set-up and safety procedures
The first stage of the implementation would involve the administrative procedures associated with choosing an appropriate blog platform and setting up student blog accounts. These procedures would include an evaluation process to determine which blogging software would be most advantageous to use with students in terms of its functionality and student protection capabilities. Students would also need to be made aware of their online identity, digital footprints and the consequences of over-sharing online. At the beginning, students will be asked to make their blogs private. These settings could be changed at a later stage provided that students have developed the necessary skills to participate appropriately and responsibly in online conversations. They also need to feel comfortable with sharing their work to a wider audience. The IBVA teacher may need to evaluate the situation with the specific students to determine when or whether students are ready to share more publicly. The teacher would also need to set up an agreement (signed by students, parents and the school) that stipulates appropriate and safe use of the blogging tools.
Assessment tasks through the blog
The second stage would be for the teacher to create assessment tasks through the blog. A task could be broken up in stages that include formative and summative assessments. Formative assessment stages could include peer-assessments as well as comments and recommendations from teachers and classmates. Summative assessment stages could include a more finished product at the end of a task, where the feedback, received during the formative assessment stages has been applied. It is important that not all of the tasks get graded, as blogging is meant to be a way to practice communicating ideas to an audience and learning to respond to critique. If the whole idea of the intervention is to get students’ attention away from “the grade” blogging certainly should not feel like something they do for grades.
Examples of authentic assessment tasks would be to ask students to write a certain amount of blog posts on topics that are relevant to them and appropriate to IBVA. A next step could be to ask them to embed an image and/or video into a post. During a later stage, students could even be challenged to make use of a crowdsourcing platform (such as Mix by FiftyThree) to share their ideas and participate in creative collaboration with sources beyond their IBVA classroom.
Generating dialogue and digital sharing
The third stage of the implementation of blogs would be to encourage students to generate feedback and dialogue through their blogs. For example, students would be asked to create links to their peers’ blog posts and post comments on others’ blogs. They may also be encouraged to seek feedback from sources outside of their own IBVA class and go through the process of learning how to form a personal learning network through reading what other learners and teachers have written about similar topics. Initiatives such as Quadblogging could also be trialed as a way to generate an authentic and global audience for student blogs.
Challenges and implications
The implementation of student blogs in this IBVA class will be an experiment and the teacher will need to learn how challenging it is for students to learn and use the technological tools associated with blogging. This would certainly have an impact on their level of enthusiasm and engagement in using their own blogs as a learning tool. It will also determine how much time the IBVA teacher needs to allow for setting up the blogs during the initial stages. Time constraints may pose problems due to the heavy workload associated with the IBVA program.
Another aspect of the implementation that may pose problems for students is the challenge of generating relevant feedback and dialogue through their blogs. The role of the teacher is especially important in this respect, to teach students how to comment and blog effectively and for motivating students to keep posting regardless of how many people respond. IBVA teachers could help students to get started by responding to their blogs and by creating links for them between different students’ posts. Students need to learn that even though these new digital technologies provide them with great new learning opportunities, it still takes patience and effort to learn and master the tools effectively.
Evaluating the success of the intervention
The success of the intervention could be evaluated by assessing the level of students’ participation and engagement within the blogging platform. As part of their assessment tasks, students could be asked to reflect on their experience of learning through the process of blogging, which could illuminate problem areas or suggest solutions. Similarly, teachers could model this process by reflecting on their own teaching and learning experiences during the process.
Apart from providing a means of cultural expression by a networked and global society, new media in visual arts are also used in support of democratic change (Jenkins, 2014). IBVA teachers may not be able to enforce any immediate systemic changes in terms of the institutional power structures that sustain the IB’s assessment policies. However, I do believe that the implementation of an online class blog system in a few IBVA classes, could be the start of utilizing the power and “wisdom of crowds” (Surowiecki, 2004) within the global network of IB schools. Such a network has the potential to provide IBVA teachers with the kind of agency that could eventually influence how the IBVA assessment system may change in the future.
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