Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Take a Skills Snapshot: Employing Online Self-Assessments

Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

Take a Skills Snapshot: Employing Online Self-Assessments

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1998, we were responsible for the technology component of a program for middle school students considered at risk of failing to meet the revised New York State Regents standards. The 1-month pilot "Summer Prep School" featured instruction in math, English, study skills, and technology designed to improve academic skills and performance. Team building and decision-making activities included "Ropes training" and indoor wall climbing. The focus of the school was to help students discover and work in closer alignment with their preferred learning styles.


As we set about planning the technology program, we identified the following goals:

To engage "academically at risk" students entering the eighth and ninth grades in a summer school setting, and to design a program appropriate to their diverse technology skills.

To enable students to more accurately reflect on their technology skills, as well as the skills of their peer group.

To use technology in support of the school's integrated approach to math, English, and study skill instruction.

To use technology to facilitate communication between school, students, and parents and to design projects that would "showcase" student technology skills and individual student progress.

In the weeks prior to the start of the program, we debated the merits of a number of different program designs. We feared that if we didn't engage our students right away, we could run the risk of "losing" them or wasting precious class time teaching to the wrong skill level. It was critical to have an accurate picture of their technology skills and interests.


Ultimately, we were able to get the information we needed by using a student self-assessment of technology skills. We developed a survey that asked students to assess their skills in 10 areas (see survey and results below). We based the survey on the Bellingham Public Schools' "Middle School Student Technology Outcomes" posted at mankat.htm. We revised their survey to target demonstrable skills that we planned to teach in our course.

We posted the survey to a free online survey engine at Infotrieve (http:// We established an account, chose a survey format, entered our survey questions, and then built an Internet link to our survey form. Students were given a hard copy of the survey to fill out and then asked to log their answers to the survey online ( techself.htm). They then submitted their results, which were instantly tabulated along with their classmates and displayed online in graphic form. We then asked students to view the class survey results online (http:// results.htm-see Tables).


We used the rest of the first class period to brainstorm a course plan based on the feedback from the survey Our class discussion focused on answering two questions: "What do we know how to do?" and "What do we want to learn how to do?" Thus, the students were able to assess and reflect both individually and collectively on the course design. For example, they felt that they had adequate skills in word processing, file management, and Web browsing. They felt they lacked skills and demonstrated a high interest level in PowerPoint and Web page creation.

The student self-assessment and class reflection were invaluable to the design of the next 4 weeks of instruction. Our original plans had called for beginning with a unit on word processing-an area in which 80 percent of our students claimed a "skill level" of 4. While the students may not have been as skilled as reported, as a group they thought they were. If we focused instruction in this direction, we weren't going to engage them.

Based on the assessment, we altered our plans. We devoted the first week in class to developing PowerPoint projects because 70 percent of our students responded, "I do not know how to use PowerPoint. …

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