Fun with Google

Mark Austin (who wrote these ECDL tests – login req) recently showed me some web quests he’d authored. They are specific to his area, so not appropriate for Yacapaca public space, but good end-of-term fun nonetheless.

But what if you want young imaginations to soar beyond Google’s utilitarian fa├žade? Pick up a copy of Philipp Lenssen‘s 55 Ways to Have Fun with Google (PDF).

I particularly enjoyed discovering that ‘shocking pink is the new black’ (p22) but if you really want students to start considering the social and economic impact of search engines, I’d recommend the Googleshare game on p76.

Assessment for Learning

Right from the start, I conceived Yacapaca as an ‘assessment platform’, but what sort of assessment? In particular, does it qualify as a tool for Assessment for Learning (AfL)? I’ve spent a merry evening going through various writings on AfL and trying to match the attributes of AfL to Yacapaca features. Very instructive and reasonably successful.

Like anyone who has been in education for a while, I’m a little sceptical about new jargon. The actual concepts seem to come around in an approximate 9-year cycle, like sunspots. Each time, they have a new label. For example, one central tenet of AfL is the active involvement of pupils in their own learning. Doesn’t that sound rather like child-centred learning to you? However, I was pro child-centred learning, and I’m pro AfL whether it’s really a new thing or not.

There are no end of AfL resources knocking about, but the one I found most useful was Assessment for Learning: Beyond the Black Box (PDF) from the Assessment Reform Group. It is brief and to the point, so I shall quote here their five core requirements for AfL, and profile Yacapaca against them.

the provision of effective feedback to pupils;

  • Students see immediate percentage scores after each test.
  • The animated whiteboard analysis screen helps teachers share whole-class results.
  • The ePortfolio includes a commenting feature that lets the teacher and pupil engage in a dialogue about each element.

the active involvement of pupils in their own learning;

  • In some tests, student choose an animated avatar to represent them. This really works as an involvement feature.
  • In the ePortfolio, students choose (and can extensively modify) the final look and feel of the portfolio website. Again, it is about ownership.
  • On the negative side, it is the teacher who decides which assessments will be taken. Yacapaca will only support students deciding when and how to be assessed inasmuch as the teacher will support that.

adjusting teaching to take account of the results of assessment;

  • Yacapaca won’t adjust your teaching for you, but we have examples of teachers using the analysis tools to fine-tune a lesson the moment her students finished a test. And all this in front of a rather impressed Ofsted inspector, too.

a recognition of the profound influence assessment has on the motivation and self-esteem of pupils, both of which are crucial influences on learning;

  • Clearly, Yacapaca wont ‘recognise a profound influence’ for you.
  • What it will do is influence your own state of mind when you realise that all this assessment needn’t result in endless marking. Having to hand accurate data about students should be something every teacher can take for granted, without it being hugely disruptive to either themselves or their students.

the need for pupils to be able to assess themselves and understand how to improve.

  • Students set their own targets at the start of every test. I have resisted requests to let the teacher set these, again on a principle of ownership.
  • ‘How to improve’ is probably the biggest bone of contention I have with many of the teachers who author tests on Yacapaca. The opportunity for feedback is built into every question; in Chalkface-published material the feedback addresses the question of how to improve. My opinion remains that giving the right answer (the what) fails to address how to improve and serves instead to disempower the student. So as a tool, it can be used in an AfL way or a non-AfL way.

This last point pretty much sums up my feelings about this whole question. I’ve satisfied myself that Yacapaca is a good tool for AfL, but it is also a very general-purpose tool that can be used in many other ways too. We (that is Chalkface and friends) have to tread a fine line between exemplifying best practise and acknowledging that all users are fellow-professionals who must be free to use it as they see fit.

Happy Birthday

It’s Yacapaca’s birthday, exactly two years since we started the project. And, according to Sergej, we shall today make our 1000th ‘commit’ (update) to the software itself. That’s not quite 1000 improvements because it includes all the original development effort, but it’s close.

What’s both fascinating and cheering is not just how it’s grown, but how fast it is growing now. I last reported student numbers at 100,000 on 21st May; today they will hit 125,000. That’s 25% growth in just two months; the fastest growth rate in Yacapaca’s history.

From anecdotal evidence, what underlies the growth spurt is that the system is now strong enough for teachers to confidently recommend it to colleagues as the best place to create and run their own assessments.

Credit for the quality of the software goes entirely to the simply amazing development team in Kharkov.