Monday, October 31, 2011

Assessing Students’ Knowledge and Skills through Certification Exams

As we consider ways to improve education, especially with the use of technology, two professors of education have formulated a possible solution for measuring students’ knowledge and skills. While states develop curriculum standards and sometimes assessment exams that schools use to teach and assess students, Alan Collins of Northwestern University and Roy Pea of Stanford University submit that in the digital age, “we need to reconsider how students are deemed proficient in terms of the skills and knowledge they develop outside the standard classroom environment.”

Their plan, published this month by Education Week, centers around the development of national certification exams for subject areas addressed in the common core state standards as well as for less traditional subject areas, such as IT. By offering certifications in many subject areas, students who learn skills outside a traditional classroom have a way of earning a credential that proves their expertise.

In Collins and Pea’s plan:
  • Certification exams would have high standards, comparable to Advanced Placement exams
  • Exams could be taken in a classroom or at a learning center such as Sylvan
  • Exams could be taken by anyone who wanted to take them, with a small fee
  • Exams could be administered and scored by a computer, automatically sending a report to the test-taker with results and suggested learning resources for improvement
  • Students could accumulate as many certifications as they wanted, which would become part of their certification record

For the alternative certification exams envisioned by Collins and Pea, students could prepare in many different ways: virtual or traditional courses; lectures or demonstrations online; books; face-to-face or online tutoring; or engaging games. With exam objectives published online, students would know what is required to pass, and it would not matter what method they used to prepare.

According to Collins and Pea, “a national certification exam system has the virtue that the certifications specify much more precisely than a diploma or transcript what the learner knows and can do. Such a system could reflect our national goals for education and the high standards we want students to meet.”

The TestOut PC Pro Certification recently released by TestOut aligns neatly with the theory of Collins and Pea; the certification is designed to authentically assess what a student can do in the subject area of computer maintenance, no matter what course or method a student uses to prepare for the exam. The PC Pro Certification earned by students will be recognized by employers for its authenticity and objectivity.

What do you think of Collins and Pea’s proposal for a national certification exam system?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Flipped Classes Give Instructors Class Time to Help Students

Do you utilize TestOut’s LabSim in a way that allows you to “flip” your classroom? Do you assign the LabSim videos as homework and then let the students complete hands-on labs in class, where you are available to give one-on-one help to students who have questions? There are many ways to utilize LabSim and many ways to incorporate it into a class schedule. One possible way is to flip your classroom.

Many teachers, not just in IT, are flipping their classrooms so that class time is when students complete the “homework,” and the assignments at home are to watch the lectures—the course element that has traditionally been delivered in the classroom.

USA Today recently featured a calculus teacher in Maryland, Stacey Roshan, who has succeeded in flipping her classroom and has seen students benefit from it. In the past, Roshan lectured during class and sent students home with assignments of calculus problems, but there never seemed to be enough time to get through the material in class. Roshan now digitally records her lessons, uses a tablet computer as a virtual blackboard, and requires students to watch the lectures at home. By having a recording of the lecture, students are able to re-watch explanations of difficult concepts as many times as they need until they understand. Then, in class, students work on the calculus problems that would have been their homework in years’ past, and Roshan makes her way around the classroom to answer questions and give one-on-one assistance. If she sees that several students are struggling with the same concept, she calls the whole class’s attention to the whiteboard and re-teaches it so that they all understand.

Roshan reports that since she has flipped her class, her students are less stressed. She also says she has seen improvement in the amount of content she can cover in a semester and in the number of students who score a perfect “5” on the advanced placement calculus test.

What is your opinion about flipped classrooms? Are they a smart way to implement technology in education?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Redesigning Campus Computer Labs to Meet Students’ Needs

What is the function of the computer labs on your college campus? Do students still stop in to check their email or sit down to write a paper, or do most students have smartphones with email at their fingertips and carry their own notebook computer? Some campuses are phasing out computer labs, while others are rethinking the purpose of the labs and redesigning them with resources that better fit the current needs of students.

Ed Tech Magazine
currently features Temple University’s Sheri Stahler, associate vice president of computer services, and her experience redesigning a computer lab at Temple. According to Stahler, when colleges debate the future of computer labs, “the discussion should be less about phasing out labs and more about rethinking what labs could and should be in this era of wireless notebooks, smartphones, multimedia and collaborative technologies. IT leaders also need to examine why and how students choose to use computer labs over their own notebooks.”

At Temple, the cost for departments to run their own labs with specialized hardware and software became too great, and they couldn't afford to keep the labs open with long hours. “By consolidating into one large megalab, we were able to control costs and offer students what they needed, when they needed it,” Stahler wrote.

Temple’s CIO Timothy O'Rourke said, "We wanted a comfortable space where students would feel safe and could study alone or collaborate in groups. We wanted all the software they might use in their coursework to be available in a single, 24-hour facility."

Temple focused on creating a lab that offers the technologies needed in each major, as well as collaborative tools, a social environment, and more emphasis on student convenience and customer service. The lab they built features:
  • A mixture of Macs and PCs at 700 workstations
  • Breakout rooms where students practice presentations or share research
  • Recording booths where students work on audio projects
  • Wireless access, including wireless printers, for students who bring their own computer
  • Extra electrical outlets to charge portable devices
  • IPTV for students to watch television in the lab workstations

Temple’s flexible lab, called TECH Center (Technology, Education, Collaboration, and Help), has been successful because it meets the needs of students today. “Colleges have to offer a place that's as comfortable for the students who want to study alone or rest for an hour as it is for groups of students who want a place to work collaboratively,” Stahler said.

Instructors, has your campus redesigned computer labs to better meet students’ needs? Please leave a comment and tell us about it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ed Tech Panel Discusses Personalized Learning and Valid Assessment

eSchool News recently reported on a panel discussion called “Educational Technology: Revolutionizing Personalized Learning and Student Assessment,” held at the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization. Educators and policy makers on the panel weighed in on what technologies will benefit students in education and what changes need to be implemented in education systems in order for the technologies to have the impact students need.

A major theme in the discussion was personalization and how technology can meet each students’ individual learning needs. Darrell West, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and the panel moderator, said, “Technology has the potential to improve education by personalizing learning, enabling different forms of student assessment, and making class time more flexible.” Chip Hughes, executive vice president of school services for online-learning provider K12 Inc., said that technology personalizes learning when it allows students to work at their own pace. “Students working at their own pace … aren’t bound by the circumstances of all the other students in the room,” he said.

A vital part of tech in education is assessment methods that allow teachers to understand what students are and are not mastering so that teachers can intervene when needed. Hughes also pointed out that virtual learning levels removes social barriers to learning. For example, an older student who has fallen behind doesn’t feel embarrassed to work with younger students when the instruction is virtual; likewise, younger students aren’t intimidated by older students. With technology in education, “we aren’t only thinking about the academic piece of it, but the non-academic barriers that might be in their way,” Hughes said.

Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, stated that “technology-enabled learning and teaching is the way we’re going to figure out how to teach kids what they need to know and how to be successful in the future.”

The topics of personalization and valid assessments are certainly two of the greatest strengths that TestOut’s LabSim IT courseware offers educators and students. Students work individually in LabSim at their own pace—at school or at home—and can review whatever material they need at any time. Teachers have access to a dashboard with data of students’ time spent with each LabSim component and scores achieved. Teachers tell us they love knowing exactly where students need additional instruction and being able to give on-on-one help to meet a student’s individual needs while the rest of the class continues working.

What technologies do you use in your classroom to personalize learning and validate assessment?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Top IT Skills Areas Proven by TestOut PC Pro Certification

Computerworld’s recent Forecast 2012 survey reflects the attitudes of IT executives at companies across the United States, and nearly one-third of them say they plan to increase their IT employee headcount over the next 12 months. What skills are they looking for? Computerworld’s Rick Saia wrote about the top nine skills areas that companies demand and wrote that “IT managers may be thinking about innovation, not merely keeping the lights on, as they plan their staffs for 2012.”

The top nine skills areas Saia detailed include:
1. Programming and Application Development
2. Project Management
3. Help Desk and Technical Support
4. Networking
5. Business Intelligence
6. Data Center
7. Web 2.0
8. Security
9. Telecommunications

Of these top nine areas, Help Desk/Tech Support, Networking, and Security are all areas where entry-level skills are developed through TestOut’s LabSim A+ courses and proven with TestOut PC Pro Certification. For Help Desk/Tech Support in particular, Saia writes that in many organizations, “help desk and tech support are points of entry for IT professionals and places to pick up the skills that can advance them into” other roles.

PC Pro Certification assesses students’ hands-on ability and proves to potential employers exactly what they are capable of. TestOut’s certification exam is different than the exams offered by CompTIA, Microsoft, and others because TestOut assesses students’ performance—what they can do, not just what they have memorized—through online labs with PC hardware, operating systems, and networks.

IT instructors, you can give your students a boost in the job market by administering the TestOut PC Pro Certification exam.