Technology as educational motivator, formative assessment tool, and documentation of both

The voice on my arm chirped "Four kilometers. Twenty-four minutes and ten seconds. Five minutes and fifty-three seconds per kilometer."


With that data I knew I could run a sub-30 minute five kilometer time, but I would have to push harder.

That is formative assessment at its absolute best: exactly the data the student needs at the exact moment the student needs that data and delivered in a way that was completely accessible to a student with his hands full. When I run, I juggle, a sport called "joggling." Joggling means my hands are literally full and constantly in motion, I have no ability to check a wrist mounted pace monitor
~ ~ ~
"How are you doing in that class?" I asked Bill as part of a advisor-advisee conversation just after early warning.

"I don't know," he responded.

"Why not?" I asked.

"The teacher has not marked any of our papers, we don't have a grade yet," he replied.

At midterm I asked Bill about the same class, "How is that class now? Do you know how you are doing?"

"Yes, I have a C. But I do not know why. The teacher has not yet handed back any papers."
~ ~ ~
"I ran a mile at the high school track tonight," posted Newleen to her friends on social media. "#6/41!" she added, indicating she was on the sixth day of a 41 day challenge to run one mile every day for 41 consecutive days.

"Post a screenshot of your app," admonished Lynda in a reply to the post. The screenshot is proof of the accomplishment, documentation, evidence. The app refers to software on a smart phone that the running group is using to share proof of their accomplishing the daily one mile running challenge. With group members scattered across ten time zones around the planet, only screenshots of running apps can provide evidence.
~ ~ ~
"How are you doing in statistics class?" I asked Tom.

A puzzled look briefly flashed across his face and then he smiled, "I doing OK," Tom responded.

"What's your grade?" I asked.

"'B', I just checked Schoology this morning." Tom replied. "But if I get the missing homework done, it will go up."
~ ~ ~
When I reached home and finished the run, a new voice piped up, that of professional runner Shalane Flanagan, announcing that my five kilometer time was a personal best for me.


From inside the house my wife asked, "Who's that woman out there with you?"

"Shalane Flanagan," I responded.
~ ~ ~
Immediate feedback is the motivating and the critical enabling factor is the technology that makes this possible. The running app, enables immediate formative feedback during the process of running.

The technology also provides the ability to share the experience as an image. Anyone could post "I ran a mile today" but the image documents the accomplishment, provides proof. One is motivated to run in order to get that image to share with friends who are waiting to see the image. The technology is central to the motivation to get up and go out for a run.

In the classroom too, the key is the technology. My student knew their grade even when I did not because of technology, my use of the Schoology learning management system. And they had the information they needed on how to improve that mark. I used on line tests that provided instant feedback upon submission of right and wrong answers. The students reacted very positively to this feature of the course. Yet only technology made that possible.

There is also Lynda's comment to post a screenshot. Provide evidence. Not just for the benefit of the student, but for those who supervise instructors. Technology can enable an academic supervisor to complete the supervision loop. The chair for the division in which Bill was taking that class had no idea that their instructor was not providing any feedback, and in the eighth week could only provide a grade without a "screenshot" showing how that grade was obtained. Supervisor's need to have real time insight into their runners - the employees they supervise.

Technology can again play a pivotal role. If instructors utilize an on line learning management system (and here I intentionally mean a learning management system replete with assignment submission and rubric marking capacity, not merely an on line grade book), then by purchasing an institutional license, authorized administrators can have real time insight into whether formative assessment is occurring.

The starting point for motivating the runners above is the enabling, connected, networked technologies. And that also has to be the starting point for a 21st century classroom. Which is why I cannot be a supervisor: if you are not using a learning management system and other enabling technologies in your classes, then it is time for you to move on.

Note that this article was inspired in part by What Fitness Bands Can Teach Us About Classroom Assessment. The names used are pseudonyms to protect privacy. The author is a 55 year old community college instructor in the Pacific. The running app pictured is the Android version of the Nike+ running app

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