The Assess-As-You-Go Writing Assistant, 2009-2013

In 2009, a team lead by Dr Bill Cope won a grant from the US Department of Education to create the Assess-As-You-Go Writing Assistant. Now named Scholar, 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.

In our more ambitious moments, we invite teachers and students to imagine a learning information environment which provides learners, parents, teachers and the public with all they need to know about student progress without having to have end-of-program tests. Our approach in this project is 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 team has trialed the environment in Grade 8 Science and Language Arts classrooms in Urbana-Champaign and Rantoul.

The outcomes of this research have included the creation of the "checker," "survey," and "dashboard" components of Scholar, now licensed by Common Ground Publishing by the rights owner, 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. An Anywhere/Anytime Formative Assessment and Learning Feedback Environment, 2010-2012

Social networking technologies allow the social relationships of learning which have been initiated in the classroom, to continue beyond the walls of the classroom and the timeframes of the school timetable. This project has developed a "Web 2.0" environment that provides feedback for learners and supports formative assessment. It supports the capture of text, image, table, diagram, video and audio, thus allowing the construction of a wide range of multimodal texts such as scientific reports, writing in language arts, history essays and social studies projects. It also supports collaborative work, maintaining an audit trail of co-authors’ varied contributions. Alongside the student work environment, there are three formative assessment processes and learner feedback mechanisms: 1) a commenting and editing module; 2) a review and rating module; and 3) a semantic tagging module. Classroom-based research and development has involved overlapping and iterative processes of feasibility analysis, technical specification, software development and beta testing.

The outcomes of this research have included the creation of the "semantic editor," "publisher, "review," "annotations," and "project" components of Scholar.

This research has been supported by the Small Business and Innovation Research Program (SBIR), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant ED-IES-10-C-0018 to Common Ground Publishing LLC.

Assessing Complex Performance: A Postdoctoral Training Program Researching Students’ Writing and Assessment in Digital Workspaces, 2011-2014

This project brought four postdoctoral fellows to work with a team of senior researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Educational Psychology, Curriculum and Instruction, and Computer Science. The College of Education at the University of Illinois has established itself as an international leader in education, with strategic initiatives such as the Center for Education in Small Urban Communities, the STEM Collaborative, and the Ubiquitous Learning Institute—a center for research and inquiry into the changing conditions and possibilities of learning, pedagogical redesign and innovation. The Department of Computer Science has been a pivotal site in the invention of the digital world—from the world’s first computers, to PLATO (the first computerized learning system). These faculty, programs and resources provide the backdrop to this Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.

The postdoctoral fellows program offered a variety of projects which involve an array of research designs and methods, from large scale analysis of state-wide test data, to research for the National Writing Project to improve the teaching of writing literacy, to the development of new educational tools that provide ongoing formative and summative assessment. The fellows in this program designed their research programs in consultation a faculty mentor. These plans included: individual goals and a timeline; regular fellow/mentor meeting times; at least one research focus; one project for deep involvement and at least one other project for partial involvement; supplemental readings and courses to audit; specific goals related to research activities, such as the development of grant proposals, and the writing, presentation and submission of papers for peer review and publication; plans for a job search following the postdoctoral program; and the development of a curricula vitae which reflects the fellow’s growth and achievements in the program.

Postdoctoral Fellows: Dr. Elizabeth Bagley, Dr. Shannon Carlin-Menter, Dr. Alecia Magnifico, and Dr. Justin Olmanson.

This research has been supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305B110008 to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

InfoWriter, 2013

InfoWriter is a "Web 2.0" writing and formative assessment tool that transforms middle-school students’ experience of writing informational/explanatory texts in English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, as specified by the Common Core State Standards for grades 4-12. It combines two educational functions, not previously brought together in the one learning software environment: a) an online concept or information mapping tool that highlights the thinking underlying student writing or exemplar reading texts, and b) use of these info maps for the purposes of learner feedback and formative assessment of writing and subject knowledge represented in writing. Students can use InfoWriter to highlight sections of a text, drawing maps based on the underlying reasoning of the texts. InfoWriter can be used both for close reading of exemplar texts, and critical reflection on their own or peers’ texts. In this project, we developed a prototype using cutting-edge "concept/semantic mapping" techniques. The prototype was successfully trialed with 246 students in 10 classes, with 6 teachers in 3 schools.

This research has been supported by the Small Business and Innovation Research Program (SBIR), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant ED-IES-13-C-0039 to Common Ground Publishing LLC.

Scholar Literacy Courseware, 2013-2014

Scholar affords teachers the opportunity to create twenty-first century literacy instruction, with rich formative assessment and engaging peer-to-peer interaction. Until this project, Scholar was only available as an open writing and assessment space. This project has supported the development of literacy courseware to supplement Scholar addressing the US Common Core State Standards for Writing in Grades 4 to 8.

The Scholar Literacy Courseware is presented in two modes. The first is a web-delivered writing program for each of the grades 4 to 8. Each module in this program consists of:

  1. A full writing project cycle: consisting of planning, note-taking, drafting, giving feedback from others, receiving feedback from others, revising, publication and class discussion of works published in Scholar’s Community space.
  2. Strategic "overt instruction," explicitly exploring writing and language features relevant to the text type being addressed in the module. These would be "chunked" into components with student activities that are about one lesson long. Over the course of each grade level, overt instruction covers all writing and writing-related aspects of the CCSS.
  3. "Information surveys" which gather information on student perspectives, and "knowledge surveys," which provide students and teachers with selected response data about student understanding and knowledge.

The second mode of presentation is the "Writer’s Toolkit," in which the "overt instruction" components are arranged analytically. In this format, teachers can reach for specific instruction in areas where the whole class or some students need supplementary explicit instruction. Alternatively, students can ‘look up’ self-guided how-to instruction. Topics might range from language specifics (how to write topic sentences, interesting transitions, and linking evidence to claims in arguments), to web writing (how to effectively integrate image, diagram, video, audio and dataset into web presentations), and collaborative writing skills (how to give constructive feedback, useful annotations, informative peer reviews).

Both modes are made available for delivery via:

  1. Teacher-push: The teacher posts the overt instruction to the activity stream for whole class activity, or group or individual instruction.
  2. Student-pull: The student automatically moves to the next step in a module when they have finished the current step.

This research and development project has been supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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