Technology-Enhanced Items in Assessment
Part 1 of a 5 part series exploring the benefits of technology-enhanced items in education & assessment. Brought to you by Learnosity and A Pass Education Group.
A significant increase in demand for innovative assessment technologies has come about worldwide.
With the introduction of assessment consortia in the US, the popularity for technology-enhanced items (TEIs), that incorporate technology beyond simple option selection as the student’s method of response, has increased substantially. The assessment consortia Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) aim to establish comprehensive, advanced computer-based assessment systems that align with the Common Core State Standards. With that, access to digital learning content has never been so important for teaching staff across the US, as they now have the additional responsibility of preparing students for these computer-based assessments. As teachers are adapting to the relatively new Common Core State Standards, education publishers are simultaneously facing the challenge of having to tailor their product offerings to the changing needs of America’s educational system. This paper explores TEIs and the important part they play in the changing learning environment of the US. We discuss both the many benefits and possible drawbacks of these item types.
Benefits of TEIs
Assessments using technology-enhanced items offer several advantages, both from an educator and learner perspective. TEIs allow for the creation of assessment environments that can resemble real-world scenarios in which students might interact with information using technology. This makes TEIs inherently more authentic and engaging for students. In addition, students are already relatively familiar with many of the elements facing them in TEIs, such as the drop-down menus and text-highlighting features. In that sense, technology-enhanced items are already quite intuitive to the modern-day learner. In addition, the use of touchscreen devices is naturally appealing to the modern-day learner because it’s human nature to want to touch and interact with one’s environment.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the substantial difference in students’ motivation to complete tasks that involve interactive engagement.
Furthermore, technology in educational materials has been shown to have a positive impact on high-level thinking and problem-solving abilities. Before the introduction of TEIs, the selected-response (or SR) item was the most widely used assessment item type. In comparison to TEIs, SRs don’t possess the same engagement opportunities. TEIs benefit students by allowing them to engage in a more direct manner with the concept on which they are being assessed. This furthers student engagement along with aiding the development of advanced thinking skills. This idea of “constructing artifacts” is key. TEIs often require students to formulate responses, which is more challenging than simply choosing from a list of options. Regardless of the initially daunting feelings educators might experience setting out on the road to technology-enhanced item usage, the benefits available to them are quite sophisticated in comparison to the more traditional assessment items. One of the key benefits of TEIs from an educator’s perspective is the opportunity and potential to delve further into the student’s thought process throughout an assessment. Information such as response time, response changes, tool usage, item navigation, and items skipped can be captured and can provide meaningful insight into the student’s assessment experience. With this, educators can paint a much clearer picture of their students’ high-level comprehension and their ability to correctly respond to rigorous questions. The capabilities of TEI measurement tools are still growing and advancing. TEIs also have the additional advantage of being computer scorable, which makes the process of gathering scoring data for these kinds of items simple and efficient.
TEIs Vs Traditional Assessment Items
Traditional assessments have typically consisted of selected-response (MCQ) questions and constructed-response items (short essays). While selected response items are desirable due to their automatic-scoring capabilities, they provide limited assessment of high-level thinking skills. Constructed-response items allow teachers to evaluate students’ high-level comprehension and their abilities to express ideas, but these items do not always have reliable auto-scoring capabilities. A question type that allows for both the testing of critical-thinking skills and automatic scoring provides the ideal solution. Basic selected-response items present several limitations. Selecting a response from a list of options has proven to be a lot less challenging than responding by constructing an answer or by completing an interactive task to contribute to a response. In this sense, TEIs have the ability to be engaging through the inclusion of interactive response features. These features also influence students to engage and interact with the materials given, instead of randomly guessing an answer. Not only that, TEIs expand the range of alternatives for approaches to assessment, meaning that test-taking skills don’t play such a huge part on the assessment outcome as they do in MCQs.
As with everything, TEIs have limitations. Some students may experience obstacles in testing situations, particularly when there is a lack of access to computers in both students’ homes and schools.
Students who have less experience with computers are then more likely to face situations where they are unable to grasp the question in its entirety. TEIs do, however, have the capabilities of improving this sort of situation through simulating real-world, computer-related tasks for students who haven’t had as many opportunities to interact with computers.
The Key to Effective Technology-Enhanced Items
The benefits of TEIs are undoubtedly clear and profound. However, it’s extremely important to acknowledge that they are only potential benefits, unless the best instructional practices in creating these materials are taken into consideration. The creation of technology-enhanced items cannot be dealt with any differently than the creation of any other type of assessment item. They must be held to the same high standards for rigor, alignment, and quality of content as other kinds of educational materials. Creators of TEIs often find themselves in situations where they almost force an idea just so it works within a particular TEI framework. It’s important to realize that a good fit between the content and the technology-enhanced item is essential for its effective creation. It is also essential to avoid letting technology drive assessment item development. Research surrounding this suggests that what makes a TEI truly effective is the combination of engaging interactive features and well-crafted, pedagogically sound textual content that challenges students to clearly demonstrate that they understand the importance of supporting their responses with evidence and that they have acquired the knowledge and skills described by the Common Core State Standards.
The use of technology-enhanced items within assessment can only be expected to increase in the coming years—due in part to the heavy influence of the PARCC and SBAC consortia. We can also expect the quality and effectiveness of TEIs to continue to advance and improve. At this relatively new stage of existence, TEIs have brought positive developments for both educators and learners, however, publishers and content developers must ensure that technology is not the sole driver for the use of TEIs, but rather that the TEIs are clearly aligned to the skills and standards they are designed to assess.
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Partnering with companies across a range of sectors—including K-12, Higher Education, and Corporate Education—Learnosity provides the technology framework for authoring, assessment delivery, and reporting for many of the world’s best assessment solutions. Leveraging the Learnosity offerings enables clients to enhance any digital product, new or existing. It also reduces the need to reinvent the wheel, significantly increases speed to market, and decreases the overall cost of ownership. Learnosity offers one of the widest ranges of technology-enhanced items on the market, with over 55 distinct question types currently available, ranging from the more basic fill-in-the-blank question types to spoken-response capture, Cartesian graphing, handwriting-recognition technology as well as advanced Math and Chemistry formulas. The authoring experience is designed to allow any user—professional content author or the more casual teacher author—to create advanced technology-enhanced items in minutes. It’s as simple as using any word processor. A wide range of implementation and storage solutions are also available. Clients can choose to use the Learnosity item bank, which uses a flexible, tag-based system for organizing Items as well as providing test-construction facilities. Alternatively, clients can choose to simply add the Learnosity TEI editor to their existing Content Management System.
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