I decided to do my Staff Development project on formative assessment in information search after reading about Buffy Hamilton’s work on the subject. I was very impressed with the way she organized and structured the inquiry project to incorporate both written and in-person feedback and coaching to help to students grow as searchers while assisting them on the project they are currently working on.
After reaching out to faculty and seeking to identify an opportunity to do something similar, I found a team of 9th grade teachers of Talented and Gifted students doing Project Based Learning combining World Geography and English. However, since I was not involved in the PBL collaboration from the early planning stages, I didn't see a way of doing everything that Buffy did. The main obstacle would be time as the students had to finish and present their projects before the winter break. Additionally, the topics of the student groups would be largely decided before I would have a chance to intervene in their process.
I wanted to go beyond the usual presentation to class with me demonstrating databases and modeling search strategies, and provide a truly meaningful formative assessment to each member of the classes. The basic strategy comprised 4 parts:
- A presentation about preliminary research using library databases
- Group work on refining topic and dividing into specific information search role.
- The actual formative assessment in which each group member selects the 2 most useful sources and describes the method of discovery and why the sources are useful.
- Feedback on the formative assessment via video screen-cast
Student work on parts 2 and 3 was via a Google Doc Template. I did the video tutorial screen-casts with SnagIt and uploaded and shared the video via Google Drive.
The main focus of the formative assessment was giving the students several days to search on their own using their usual methods and listing the sources that they felt were most valuable for their portion of the project. On or before the deadline for the formative assessment, the students shared their Google Doc with me and I then downloaded all to an offline folder so that students could not modify them after the deadline. I actually printed out some of the docs and others I read on the screen. While I pondered writing comments on the Google Doc itself as the main form of feedback, I decided that a short video would be more powerful for modeling the search process. In the end, I decided to take some of the key points from the video and put them in writing, particularly to make some of the sources I found easier for the students to locate.
Of course, I wanted to know if the formative assessment and feedback provided helped the students on the project and/or helped make them better searchers. While I didn’t have a sound method of evaluating students’ search skills before and after the assessment, I did survey the students at the end-of-semester presentations. Here are the questions and results:
Q1. Was the video tutorial helpful in your information search?
Little or no help-1.5%
Did not watch video tutorial-18.5%
Q2. Did you use the sources provided in the video tutorial and/or written comments?
Q3. Do you think the formative assessment and video helped you become a better searcher of information?
Not Sure- 40.5%
Overall, I was pleased with the project and the student feedback. Many thanked me in person and had genuinely positive feelings about the video tutorial. However, I don’t think the video tutorials are as impactful as a one-on-one or small group session. I was not able to provide effective help 100% of the time, mainly because I didn't have an extended dialog with the students during the process.
The advantage of the video approach was my ability to reach a vast majority of student groups within a tight time-frame and without the complicated logistics of scheduling all the individual and small group sessions during times students were available. I was simply able to work on feedback when I had time and sent the video to the students via the Google domain when it was ready. Then the students in turn could watch the video when they had time. The feedback I did provide was individualized, but only as good as my understanding of the students work via the Google Doc. Dialog and group work allow for much greater insights, but this process is far better than trying to teach an entire class simultaneously.
I can’t say enough positive things about formative assessment in general. Students need opportunities to learn better search skills. They need time to practice, receive instruction and feedback, and it needs to happen numerous times during their academic careers. This method of video screen casting is one practical method for accomplishing this goal.
I welcome any comments or feedback.