Counting What Matters: A Semester with Thimble
The end of the semester, unlike the winter weather, has rolled on in. Similar to meteorologists we teachers have to use tools to gather data and make predictions. On their own these readings do not describe much. A climate is so much more than a thermometer reading. Taken together, however, we hope multiple measures of performance can demonstrate some growth in learning.
At the Mozfest session on Thimble, however, I felt we wanted to focus on the tools for measuring. Instead we need to consider the climate of space that allows learning to thrive. Many of the teachers who attended the session on Thimble immediately requested features that we could loosely label, “testing mode.”
Thimble should not have a testing mode. Any teacher can remix an activity or a teaching kit to have learners move from blank page to published product. I just wonder how much we miss when we base our writing assessments on products of learning and not the processes of learning.
My Semester with Thimble
I chose to do a portfolio assessment for my EDU 106: New Literacies: Digital Texts and Tools for Life long Learning. I don’t think “code quizzes” would be a better approach. There are awesome games to measure those types of learning outcomes. Play CSS Diner or Flexbox Froggy.
I would have missed so much learning if I just used a “final project” approach.
The student who taught half the class how to use Google fonts…would she receive credit?
How about the learners who pinged every corner of social media for help…does this effort not count?
How about the student who struggled but persisted to get an “MVP” published. Should his portfolio be judged on the same scale?
When you teach with Thimble so much of the learning happens as students exchange strategies and designs. When we only use tests or constrained projects as a thermometer of the class we miss so much of the climate.
My Portfolio Assessment
I created a task for the class. I tried to Mr. Miyagi my students. Almost everything to be included in the final should have been done. The students then had two templates to choose from. One portfolio uses the basic three page template included on thimble.mozilla.org and the second template was one I hacked together (a lot of broken JS and used CSS in my template).
I offered an optional design studio the last day of class. Many people went from their paper prototypes (I required this) to a basic portfolio by the end of the class. They all used the <3 project on thimble.mozilla.org.
You can check in and follow the portfolio submissions on our class stream.
We cannot use new tools to support outdated paradigms of measurement. We cannot rethink learning without challenging education. We will not develop opportunities for connected learning without rethinking assessment.
I am not saying all measurement is bad. In fact I am rather found of counting things and I am excited about the possibilities of machine learning. With Thimble, for example, I would love a summary pre/post of lines changed, unused CSS, elements changed. Basically I want to know how far a remix deviates from an original template.
Not sure how hard revision history would be, but that would make a powerful source of data for teachers.
This, however, would never be enough.
Assess by Learning
I am learning! I am assessing. The two can not be separated. I am also documenting my learning through a series of blog posts I share with the class. For example I talked about my struggles with the navigation and the creation of my media page.
Assess by Leading
In essence by sharing my work I am teaching by leading. I am also seeing leadership emerge as an important element in the connected learning classroom. There are folks people turned to as their skills leveled up. There were task managers who could keep their classmates on point. So many different roles emerged that helped to contribute to our climate.
My thinking about assessment and Thimble has really been informed byJay Lemke, Robert Lecusay, Michael Cole and Vera Michalchik Documenting and assessing learning in informal and media-rich environments. We should not be looking to create the perfect measurement stick.
The spaces we create matter just as much as the people who fill them.
Also published on Medium.