Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Tablet-Based Math Assessment: What Can We Learn from Math Apps?

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Tablet-Based Math Assessment: What Can We Learn from Math Apps?

Article excerpt


The era of tablet computers as wide-spread consumer devices began in 2010 with the announcement of the Apple iPad. In 3 years, the tablet shipment has surpassed either desktop or laptop PCs, and outsold all PCs combined in the fourth quarter of 2013 (IDC, 2013). Tablets see even stronger demands in the education sector (Interactive Education Systems Design, Inc., 2013). In the educational assessment arena, tablet devices have been recognized as an alternative test delivery platform, and various validity issues have been studied (see, for example, Laughlin Davis, Strain-Seymour, & Gay, 2013; Strain-Seymour, Craft, Davis, & Elbom, 2013). How to design educational assessments specifically for tablet computers, however, remains largely an uncharted territory.

Change is imminent, though. Decisions by prominent testing consortia such as PARCC and Smarter Balanced to support touch-screen devices have pushed tablet-based assessments into the spotlight (see Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, 2012). High stakes tests are not the only impetus for educators, students, and parents when they order tablets by the thousands (see Blume, 2013); instead, they are drawn to the numerous possibilities that tablets hold, including the idea that tablets will personalize learning and improve student learning outcomes. A key to achieving this goal is in the form of formative assessments to track student learning and provide timely feedback. In sum, tablet-based assessments--both summative and formative--are scheduled to launch shortly. Are we ready?

The answer depends on one's expectations. If the question is whether we are ready for tablet delivery of assessments that were designed for paper and pencil or PCs, the answers, and debates, can be found in various technical analyses and usability studies (e.g., Isabwe, 2012; Kowalski, Kowalski, & Gardner, 2009; Kim, Lim, Choi, & Hahn, 2012; Toby, Ma, Lai, Lin, & Jaciw, 2012; Laughlin Davis et al., 2013; Tsuei, Cho, & Chan., 2013; Strain-Seymour et al., 2013). The consensus seems to be that the technology can be made to work. But if the goal is for tablet-based assessments to be as engaging and interactive as the many apps that students are already enjoying on tablets, we have a long way to go.

This report is a part of a research project under the Cognitively Based Assessment of, for, and as Learning (CBAL) initiative at ETS that aims to build a model for an innovative K-12 assessment system using learning sciences and other related research towards: documenting what students have achieved (of learning); helping to identify how to plan instruction (for learning); and being a worthwhile educational experience in and of itself (as learning, see Bennett, 2010). This survey was inspired by work of the first author to develop a tablet-based assessment prototype for elementary mathematics, namely, students' understanding of fractions and decimals. When we began the project, we found that most published research on the use of tablets in mathematics assessments focused either narrowly on specific features of the tablet technology, such as the usability of digital ink (e.g., Ren & Moriya, 2000; McKnight & Fitton, 2010; Kim et al., 2012), or broadly on the relationship between classroom tablet usage and end-of-semester student learning outcomes (Hieb & Ralston, 2010; Isabwe, 2012; Kowalski et al., 2009). Given the apparent lack of a systematic review on how to design mathematics assessments for tablet computers, we decided to start with a survey of mathematics education apps with the hope of understanding their design principles and techniques. We also looked for potential pitfalls that we hope to avoid in our work. This report is a summary of this qualitative research.

In what follows we will outline the dimensions of mathematical content and interactions used as the basis for review. We then outline the method we used to sample the apps and the evaluation criteria. …

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