The Assess-As-You-Go Writing Assistant

A grant from the US Department of Education supported a team lead by Dr Bill Cope to create a web app, the Assess-As-You-Go Writing Assistant. Now named CGScholar, this a web-based working environment in which students can create written texts, as well as embed images, sound and video. Students are able work both individually and collaboratively, representing online various kinds of complex knowledge performance – such as scientific report writing or persuasive writing in language arts.

A repertoire of mechanisms of assessment accompany student work at all times: teacher-created and student-actioned rubric or schema based tagging; automated natural language processing; and ‘web 2.0’ style commenting and rating of student works by teachers, parents, experts, peers and self. Psychometric mechanisms measure individual student progress over time and individual student performance in relation to cohorts (the class, students of the same demographic profile etc.). These mechanisms provide students with continuous feedback (formative assessment), whilst also collecting enormous amounts of data on student learning activity, and synthesizing this into more valid and reliable summative assessment data than available in today’s end-of-activity or end-of-program tests.

The notion of "assess-as-you-go" invites teachers and students to imagine a learning information environment which provides learners, teachers and parents all they need to know about student progress without needing end-of-program tests. Our approach in this project has been to think ambitiously about such a possibility, while working modestly and incrementally to build a web-based-learning environment which does just this.

This project involved a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Illinois: writing experts Dr Bill Cope, Dr Mary Kalantzis and Dr Sarah McCarthy; psychometrics expert Dr Hua-hua Chang; evaluation experts Dr Jennifer Greene and Dr Joseph Robinson; and computer scientists Dr Roxana Girju, Dr Dan Roth and Dr Marc Snir.

The outcomes of this research have included the creation of the "checker," "survey," and "dashboard" components of Scholar, now licensed by Common Ground by the University of Illinois.

This research has been supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305A090394 to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.