|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2011, 27(Special issue, 5), 781-797.
Design-grounded assessment: A framework and a case study of Web 2.0 practices in higher education
Yu-Hui Ching and Yu-Chang Hsu
Boise State University, USA
This paper synthesises three theoretical perspectives, including sociocultural theory, distributed cognition, and situated cognition, into a framework to guide the design and assessment of Web 2.0 practices in higher education. In addition, this paper presents a case study of Web 2.0 practices. Thirty-seven online graduate students participated in a small-group collaborative concept mapping activity using Web 2.0 applications (e.g. Webspiration) to construct sophisticated understanding of instructional design processes. The analysis of this case focuses on different assessment strategies adopted to ensure students' successful participation in such technology-rich collaborative context. This case study concludes that a shared goal needs to be in place to establish a purpose of collaboration. The collaborative nature of learning afforded by Web 2.0 applications needs to be acknowledged through the award of grades. That is, both the processes and products of collaborative knowledge construction need to be assessed and formally graded at individual and group levels. This paper also suggests several potential assessment strategies that may enhance smoother Web 2.0 practices, and discusses some possible challenges associated with those strategies.
Web 2.0 technologies have been adopted widely in higher education for teaching and learning. The characteristics of easy publishing, sharing, and communication of these technologies encourage and help create a participatory culture among educators and learners (Hsu et al, 2009). This participatory culture values educational practices that promote collaborative learning and peer-to-peer interaction (Gunawardena, Hermans, Sanchez, Richmond, Bohley & Tuttle, 2009), that involve active participation and interactive multi-way communication, and that engage learners in knowledge creation activities (Dohn, 2009). Such educational practices enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, namely Web 2.0 practices, help learners develop essential skills needed for success in today's world, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration.
Although higher education has been taking advantage of Web 2.0 applications to create technologically-enriched learning experiences for students, most of the existing Web 2.0 literature shows that educators did not use those applications to their full potential. That is, the participatory, interactive, collaborative, and social aspects were often missing from the learning (Ching & Hsu, 2010) and assessment activities (Gray, Thompson, Sheard, Clerehan & Hamilton, 2010). In a critical review of blogging activities in higher education, Ching and Hsu (2010) found that a large number of blogging activities were mostly designed to facilitate or promote individual reflective thinking or practice. Although interaction with peers through the commenting feature was often encouraged or required, it was found that active interaction with peers in blogging activities was not guaranteed (e.g., Ellison & Wu, 2008).
Since assessments usually drive learning, it is likely that the lack of active peer interaction was a result of failing to include relevant criteria for assessing peer interaction as part of the learning performance (Macdonald, 2003). In addition, the interaction among students was often found to be at a superficial level because students typically do not feel comfortable critiquing or they lack the necessary skills to provide constructive feedback (e.g., Xie, Ke & Sharma, 2008; Wassell & Crouch, 2008; Farmer, Yue & Brooks, 2008; Fessakis, Tatsis & Dimitracopoulou, 2008). Gray et al. (2010) analysed cases in which students created content with Web 2.0 applications in higher education settings. They found that in most cases, the grading criteria for Web 2.0 authoring still represent the more conventional modes of assessment that use written work as the major, if not the sole basis for grading. They found that only in some cases students' uses of interactivity or social interaction features were assessed, while students' uses of innovative affordances provided by Web 2.0 tools, such as tagging, RSS feeds, communication features, and revision history were rarely assessed.
The two aforementioned reviews of the existing Web 2.0 literature by Ching and Hsu (2010) and Gray et al. (2010) identified the incongruence between how Web 2.0 applications were commonly used in education and the core value of the Web 2.0 practices. The identified incongruence could potentially decrease students' motivation in using the applications for social learning and knowledge creation. As such, researchers have proposed the need for useful frameworks that can guide the development of sound pedagogical strategies for integrating Web 2.0 applications as well as assessment endeavors of Web 2.0 practices (Gray et al., 2010; McLoughlin & Lee, 2010; Laurillard, 2009).
In this paper, we present a synthesised framework that can not only guide the design of learning experiences afforded by Web 2.0 applications and aligned with core value of Web 2.0 practices, but also serve as the foundation for developing assessments of students' Web 2.0 practices. We also analyse a case of Web 2.0 practices in higher education using the synthesised framework. Based on the case study, we provide suggestions on assessment strategies that may enhance smoother Web 2.0 practices, and discuss some possible challenges associated with those strategies.
Vygotsky's sociocultural theory (Vytgotsky, 1978) emphasises the critical role of social environment in facilitating development and learning (Tudge & Scrimsher, 2003). The social environment mainly refers to the interpersonal or social interactions. It enables constructing meaningful knowledge and transforms learning experiences (Schunk, 2008). The social environment impacts individuals' learning through various tools, including cultural objects (e.g., machines), language, and social institutions (e.g., schools). Among the tools, language is the most powerful one because it is the mediator people use directly for interpersonal/social interactions. From the sociocultural perspective, Web 2.0 applications are ideal for mediating social interactions because they can not only serve as the repository of the mediation processes and products (e.g., a wiki system hosts written drafts or VoiceThread hosts audio comments), but also help social interactions extend beyond geographical and temporal constraints.
While sociocultural theory puts emphasis on knowledge construction through social interaction among human agents, the distributed cognition perspective extends the agents of interactions beyond human beings. Distributed cognition posits that knowledge is distributed across collaborators, external symbolic representations, tools, environments, and artefacts (Pea, 1993; Bell & Winn, 2000). Considering the major argument of distributed cognition, this theoretical perspective contributes to extending the view of cognitive activities constrained in each individual's mind to any unit external to one's mind, including other people, tools, and artefacts. According to this theoretical perspective, the benefit of knowledge is maximised only when it is represented externally for the utilisation of involved individuals. In terms of contexts, distributed cognition occurs in two major types of settings-natural and by design (Bell & Winn, 2000).
A good example of distributed cognition in a natural setting is the intellectual activities during problem solving where distributed cognition exists in the individuals who participate in problem solving activities. In the context of distributed cognition by design, cognition is recorded on the tools when human beings interact with the tools that are designed to support work or tasks, such as devices (e.g., calculators) or software (e.g., Web 2.0 applications). Accordingly, a calculator contains distributed cognition during calculation tasks, and Web 2.0 applications (e.g., wikis) record both processes and products of knowledge construction. Bell and Winn (2000) indicated that highly interactive and networked media motivated the pursuit of a distributed cognition perspective, because this perspective is especially useful in explaining meaningful interaction and collaboration at a distance. Web 2.0 applications, as highly interactive and networked media, serve as ideal tools that enable meaningful interaction and collaboration at a distance. As cognitive tools, these applications help relieve cognitive burden by externalising one's cognition and making it visible to collaborators. As enablers of collaboration, Web 2.0 applications provide platforms for knowledge creation and recording, which makes both the collaboration process (e.g., tracking revision history on a wiki) and products (e.g., working document) visible not only to all collaborators but also in almost real time. Furthermore, cloud-based and networked Web 2.0 applications afford updating work-in-progress instantly for effective collaboration at a distance. For example, collaborative writing/editing applications, such as Google Docs, allow multiple people to edit a shared document at the same time. Collaborators do not need to send the document back and forth via emails for collaboration. The visibility of collaborative process and updated level of collaborative work reduce the wait time and increase efficiency in communication.
Situated cognition focuses on the context of the interaction for knowledge construction, which complements the two theoretical views above. Situated cognition emphasises learning and practices in authentic and meaningful contexts (Greeno et al., 1998; Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Lave, 1988). The contribution of this perspective toward explaining Web 2.0 practices resides in the emphasis on learning in context (e.g., activity, people, culture, and language) and learning is inseparable from doing (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989). When individuals construct knowledge together, they reciprocally create learning experiences for each other, and serve as part of each other's "learning environment." Situated cognition also draws from the perspective of community of practice where a group of people with common interests develop and evolve together (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Through sharing knowledge, experiences, and practice, a community of practice develops knowledge related to their field (Lave & Wenger, 1991). With the built-in affordances for communication and collaboration, Web 2.0 applications provide and serve as the environments to not only make learning by doing (participating) possible, but also allow for learning by "participating together", which enhances the richness and opportunities of learning potential and experiences. In communities of practice, knowledge and competence are situated cognition resulting from situated participation (Dohn, 2009).
Synthesising the three theoretical perspectives, Web 2.0 practices value knowledge construction through social interactions (Gunawardena et al., 2009), view knowledge as distributed among involved entities (Bell & Winn, 2000), and embrace learning through situated participation (Dohn, 2009). As such, Web 2.0 practices would engage learners in representing and organising their knowledge for knowledge construction, and in actively interacting with other people and available tools in an authentic and meaningful environment. Web 2.0 applications can be powerful tools with great potential to enhance Web 2.0 practices: 1) Web 2.0 applications in themselves not only support social and interpersonal interactions through their interactive affordance/ functionality (e.g., chat and commenting function), but also support the use of a powerful mediation tool - language in various formats (text/video/audio); 2) Web 2.0 applications can be hosts of the distributed cognition of collaborative individuals and groups by recording the externalised cognition; 3) Web 2.0 applications provide environments to build authentic learning contexts in which collaborators engage in collaborative knowledge construction through situated participation.
Despite the powerful affordance of Web 2.0 applications, Web 2.0 practices will not simply "happen" if there is no deliberate design of the learning and assessment to enable the practices. To promote Web 2.0 practices, several aspects should be addressed in any design and assessment of learning activities, including shared goals, interaction for knowledge construction, and process and product artefacts. A shared goal (e.g., a common task to complete or a common problem to solve) establishes a purpose for interaction among the members of a learning group or community. A shared goal, as the glue, bonds the members to work together - whether it is a small group formed in a biology class or an informal learning community aggregated to help each other on questions regarding mobile programming. Without shared goals, participation, communication, and collaboration are unlikely to exist. When promoting Web 2.0 practices for learning, explicitly providing a shared goal to learners or facilitating the creation of a shared goal by learners, will help establish the foundation of successful collaborative work. However, to understand whether Web 2.0 practices are successful, it is important to assess if the interaction, the process, and product artefacts reflect and address the shared goal of a group or community. Fortunately, the features of Web 2.0 applications provide the possible tools to help with what is needed for such assessment. These applications often can record interaction among collaborators (e.g., comments or conversation on the work), collaboration process (e.g., tracking revision history) and produced artefacts (e.g., jointly written drafts). These records are the cognitive residue or "tangible distributed cognition" of learning groups or communities, providing rich data for assessing the participation, communication, and collaborative knowledge construction toward achieving the shared goals. Figure 1 presents a synthesised graphic representation of the previously reviewed frameworks.
Figure 1: A synthesised framework for Web 2.0 activity design and assessment
The Web 2.0 activity reported in this case study was a collaborative concept mapping activity, one of the integrated learning activities for this online graduate course. Thirty-seven students participated in this Web 2.0 activity, as they would normally do with other course activities. All forms of data for this study were retrieved after the course had ended to ensure there was no bias in assigning students' course grades. All students' identifiers were removed so that the data could not be associated with individual student. The artefacts generated during this activity process were collected, including group concept maps, concept map revision history frequency counts, and chat logs. In addition, an open-ended question inquired about students' perceptions of the concept map activity in an anonymous mid-term feedback survey as part of the course evaluation. At the end of the Web 2.0 activity, students were given an opportunity to assess self and peer performance. Students were asked to comment on their group collaboration process and how the design of the activity could be improved in two open-ended questions. Qualitative data were examined for themes relevant to the synthesised framework.
The Web 2.0 activity for this case study aimed at having learners collaboratively create sophisticated graphic representations of the instructional design process that could guide their future instructional design endeavour. Prior to the activity, learners self-selected themselves into groups of three or four. The activity involved the following steps: 1) learners individually chose an existing instructional design model and presented it in a concept map format (Novak & Cañas, 2008); 2) learners shared their individually created concept map with their group members on a Web 2.0 concept mapping platform (i.e., Webspiration); 3) learners collectively integrated several different selected models into a coherent representation of an instructional design process. Scaffolding guidelines were provided to achieve the group shared goal of creating an integrated concept map. Learners were encouraged to discuss the similarities and differences of each model, the relevance of each model to the ADDIE process, and the presentation of an integrated concept map in a comprehensive and coherent way. The entire learning activity lasted for one and a half months, including two submissions of the group concept maps. The rationale for such an extended period was to accommodate scheduling of the group work due to the geographical separation of these online students. Students were encouraged to utilise different channels for communication with their group members during the process, including a discussion forum set up on Moodle (the course management system used for this course), emails via university accounts, and other tools of individual group's choice. This group activity accounted for 10 percent of the total course grade.
Group concept maps. Group concept maps were submitted first for formative feedback through which the instructor provided constructive feedback to help learners revise their group work for final submission. The rubric for assessing the integrated group concept maps includes the following criteria:
Communication. The instructor monitored the collaborative efforts by examining the group discussion forums and sent email reminders to groups that lacked communication. It was observed that learners utilised a range of communication channels to share and discuss ideas, and to manage group work. In addition to the instructor-created discussion forums, several groups communicated synchronously or asynchronously using the chat function embedded in the recommended Web 2.0 collaborative concept mapping application. When group members logged on to the collaboration platform at the same time, they chatted synchronously. As the chat logs were preserved by the system automatically, members were able to view or review the logs afterwards. In addition, one group used the "Commenting" function embedded in the application. Learners also reported using emails to communicate and they sometimes copied the instructor on the emails to update their collaboration process or to ask instructor assistance for solving group collaboration issues. Although learners also used video conferencing tools for synchronous discussions, the instructor had no access to student communication via these channels. Through accessing discussion boards, chat logs, and student email exchanges, the instructor was able to monitor the collaboration process and helped resolve group collaboration issues. For example, the instructor mediated conflicts between two members in a group and fostered an understanding of different working styles.
Group concept maps. After the groups received formative feedback on how to improve their group maps, they were given another two weeks to revise and submit final group maps for grading. Group concept maps were assessed at the end of the activity based on the rubric presented in the Formative feedback section above. Overall, eight out of ten groups performed well and achieved the learning goals of the activity with three of these groups performing exceptionally well. These top-performing groups created well-organised concept maps with sufficient sophistication. Their maps covered a great deal of the important concepts by including 65 to 75 nodes. These concepts were also well connected to each other, including 75 to 80 links. Figure 2 presents an example of the well-organised and integrated group concept map. On the other hand, the two groups with low-quality concept maps included fewer than 35 nodes each - one group did not have all the nodes linked properly and the other submitted a poorly organised concept map with redundant nodes and arbitrary links. Figure 3 shows an example of a poorly organised and integrated map.
Figure 2: A well organised and integrated group concept map
Self and peer assessments. After learners submitted their group maps for grading, they were asked to fill out an online survey of self and peer assessments. In the survey, learners were asked to assess their own contribution as well as the contributions of all of their teammates during the collaborative process. They were told that their responses would be confidential and would not be shared with their peers. On a 5-point Likert scale, learners were asked to rate themselves and their peers on four questions: 1) the quality of their contributions to the group; 2) a fair share of contribution to the group work; 3) cooperation and communication with other group members; and 4) cognitive contributions on helping the group accomplish its goals. Question 1 and 4 served as indicators concerning the quality of cognitive contribution, whereas Question 2 and 3 served as evidences of involvement and cooperation during the group process. Two open-ended questions asked learners about their perception of learning during the collaborative activity and how the design of the activity could be improved for smoother collaboration.
Figure 3: A poorly organised and integrated group concept map
Examining the results of self and peer assessments, we found that in the well functioning groups, learners were rated similarly by themselves and by their group members and they were mostly rated positively at 4 or 5 on a five-point Likert scale for each of the four aforementioned questions. In one case where there was a non-participating member, all the other members in that group did not include this non-participating member in their peer-assessments, which implied the non-participating member was not considered as part of the group by his peers. In some cases, disagreement was apparent in the peer-assessments, indicating group members had different perceptions about their involvement and contribution to the group work. This occurred in one group where two members did not get along due to their coming from different professional backgrounds and one person tried to dominate the group process while the other fought for her voice. This situation caused the group to suffer from an unsmooth group process, as evidenced in another member's comments in her responses to the open-ended question.
Overall, after triangulating among several data sources, the results of the self and peer assessments showed that this assessment strategy could reveal the group process and interaction quality. That is, the high consistency between self assessments and peer assessments could indicate the unproblematic group interaction and collaborative process; whereas inconsistency in these assessments could reveal possible conflicts or problematic group involvement (Griesbaum & Gortz, 2010).
It was nice to have a group to work with because much of what we are learning is new information and it is always nice to bounce ideas off of someone else.Yet another student started to embrace the activity toward the end, stating that:
By seeing how other's interpreted the [instructional design] models I was able to understand them better than just reading from the coursework.
I felt this activity was a fantastic learning experience, not just for instructional design but for collaboration. Our group actually fought a little bit but we worked through it and came out better for it in the end.However, some students did not value the collaborative knowledge construction aspect of the activity that is essential to achieve the shared goal. They commented on their preference for working individually, especially in an online learning environment where face to face interaction is lacking. Students in this course were mostly busy professionals with full time jobs and families to attend to. To coordinate a group of three to four members can be rather challenging, especially when members are located in different time zones. A few students commented:
I would scrap this activity in favor of individual work with a group comment option. It was quite challenging to collaborate on this document given the asynchronous nature of the course.Moreover, some believed they did not learn from participating in the group work. A student commented that the group work:
The group process is very difficult in this learning environment. For the amount of time we spent, I could have very easily created my own blended model without a group.
... caused nothing but unwanted stress and frustration and wasted a great deal of time... since I couldn't get any group members to respond.In addition, some students did not feel comfortable being graded solely on the basis of their group work. A student indicated that his/her grade relied on people he/she had not met before. In some cases, learners were frustrated by their group mates who were not motivated to achieve the shared goal and displayed irresponsible behaviors, such as completing work at the last minute or simply failing to complete their own share of the work. These behaviours caused potential conflicts in the group collaboration process, which exacerbates the discomfort of being graded solely for group product. It was also found that learners in the well-functioning group generally showed positive attitudes toward this activity and believed that they learned the subject matter better while engaging in this activity. On the other hand, members in dysfunctional groups tended not to value group activity and preferred to work on their own, possibly due to either having irresponsible group members or having conflicts among members.
This way, the activity grade would not depend solely on the group work and individual's work could be valued by a knowledgeable authority (i.e., the instructor). Individuals might, therefore, feel they have better control over the collaborative activity and become more receptive and less intimidated by the shared goal. However, previous research also identified possible tensions between assessing individual endeavour and group products because students would prefer more weighting on individual contribution than on group products (e.g., Macdonald, 2003). In addition, a limitation of assessing at both individual and group levels lies in increasing the instructor's workload. Depending on the load of the activity in the context of the overall course design, grading and providing feedback to every individual for the purpose of ensuring individual accountability may not be feasible in a class with large enrolment (Macdonald, 2003).
Using Web 2.0 applications has the conspicuous advantage of enabling assessment of both processes and products. In this case study, learner knowledge representation, knowledge construction, and interaction were recorded by the Web 2.0 application and could be viewed and reflected upon at a later time. Through the recorded interactive activities, such as chat logs, or asynchronous messages posted on the discussion boards, the process of collaboration was made more transparent. These process data can not only serve as sources for examining collaborative processes and individuals' contribution to those processes (Macdonald, 2003), but also help learners reflect on the evolution of their thinking while engaging in Web 2.0 practices. In this study, the instructor provided formative feedback on group knowledge construction during the collaborative process and allowed for another submission after group revision based on the feedback. Some learners indicated that such structure helped relieve their stress during the group process because they received an opportunity for revision and directions for improvement. In addition, examining learner interaction through recorded interaction patterns helped shed light on the collaboration process. Assessing such processes enables the diagnosis of potential participation issues and allows for early intervention.
The revision history recorded automatically by the Web 2.0 application also disclosed the collaboration process through recorded edits and time stamp for each edit. We found that groups with quality final products tended to have higher frequency of revisions. The groups that did not collaborate smoothly and submitted less than satisfying final group products generated about one third to half of the revision frequency compared to those of the high performing groups. The revision history also showed how each member contributed during the collaborative process. An extreme example in this study showed that a member in a group only added his portion to the group product after the rest of the group had finished their collaboration, resulting in a poorly integrated final group concept map. Web 2.0 applications as collaborative platforms offer group members equal access to the created artefacts, hence allowing individuals to have their voice during the group process and reducing the possibility of a dominant member controlling the whole process (Vratulis & Dobson, 2008). However, in this example, equal access seems to present new challenges for managing the group process. In addition, using the revision history as a data source has its limitations. For example, a group may work on more than one document or on different collaborative platforms throughout the process, which makes it difficult to track the revision history. As such, revision history may not always be comprehensive or reliable as a data source for assessment.
The communication logs (e.g., chat logs) could also shed light on group work processes and help detect disengaged members as well as potential conflicts that occurred during the collaboration. However, as learners in this case study utilised a range of tools to discuss and manage their group work, the communication became dispersed among different tools. This also presented a challenging situation for the instructor to track all the communication that occurred. The dilemma, thus, lies between offering learner choices of communication tools that allow autonomy and satisfy diverse learner needs, and prescribing certain tools for easier management. One possible solution could be allowing learners to use their preferred means of communication but requiring them to submit their communication logs that demonstrated their group effort and individual contribution.
In addition, the collaborative nature of learning afforded by Web 2.0 applications needs to be acknowledged through the award of grades. That is, both the processes and products of collaborative knowledge construction need to be assessed and formally graded at individual and group levels. While the focus of this paper is on designing assessments on Web 2.0 practices in higher education, we believe the activity and assessment of Web 2.0 practices are inseparable parts of quality learning experiences. The results of assessments could help inform and improve the next iteration of learning activity design. We hope the proposed framework, assessment design considerations, and the presented case study can together inform educators about some possible ways of design-grounded assessment of Web 2.0 practices in higher education.
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|Authors: Dr Yu-Hui Ching PhD, Visiting Assistant Professor|
Department of Educational Technology, Boise State University
1910 University Drive, Boise, Idaho, 83725-1747, USA
Dr Yu-Chang Hsu PhD, Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Technology, Boise State University
1910 University Drive, Boise, Idaho, 83725-1747, USA
Please cite as: Ching, Y.-H. & Hsu, Y.-C. (2011). Design-grounded assessment: A framework and a case study of Web 2.0 practices in higher education. In J. Waycott & J. Sheard (Eds), Assessing students' Web 2.0 activities in higher education. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(Special issue, 5), 781-797. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet27/ching.html