Texthelp Talks Podcast

Podcast: The Changing Face of Assessment with Daren White

As Wales announce that they plan on following Scotland in their decision to cancel end of year exams in 2021, Texthelper Patrick McGrath is joined by Daren White, a Senior Leader across two Secondary Academies in Essex, to explore the changing face of assessment. 

They discuss what this move away from exams means for teachers and students. And how technology can support more formative assessment and provide the continuous, meaningful feedback that students need to succeed. Listen to their chat to learn more.


 

Transcript

Patrick:
And welcome everybody to this episode of Texthelp Talks Podcast. And this is a series of podcasts from the team here at Texthelp, where we're bringing a range of expert speakers, experienced ed tech-ers, for want of a better phrase. We're going to cover topics right the way from education through to the workplace. So please make sure you do subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your favorite podcast player or device and your streaming service and never miss any of these episodes.

Patrick:
And today we're going to be focusing on, I suppose, the best way to describe it is probably the changing face of assessment. Lots of changes in exams coming about now. Some of the regions of the UK dropping exams for ... in terms of end of term assessments. And so we'll be having a look at that.

Patrick:
But really want to focus on where does ed tech fit in amongst all of these changes. I'm Patrick McGrath, I'm an education technology strategist here at Texthelp, which means I do lots of things, including podcasts, and helping ensure that our products work very well for teaching and learning. But we're not here to talk about our products today. We're here to talk to somebody who is absolutely my pleasure to introduce, and that is Daren White.

Patrick:
Daren, welcome to this edition of Texthelp Talks podcast. Good to see you.

Daren:
Thank you very much. Great to be here, Patrick.

Patrick:

Well, listen, Daren has been a teacher for 20 years for 10 of that he's been a senior leader, he's currently learning technologies lead and GDPR champion across two secondary academies in Essex. Daren is also, Google is clearly his middle name, he has all the Goggles, Daren is a Google certified educator, trainer and innovator, I believe that's from VIA20 this year, Daren, is that right?

Daren:
That's correct, yeah.

Patrick:

So, the Virtual Innovator Academy. And as part of Daren's expertise in Google, he is very involved in the GEG, both in the UK and also the global GEG as well. And outside of that, runs a significant amount of school staff training, particularly around Google workspace, and uses the Google workspace Facebook group to help drive that.

Patrick:
Daren has also developed, and I'm really excited about this, my Ed Tech Buddy, which is his Google innovator project from VIA20, designed to increase teacher confidence by using technology within learning. And we're going to have a good chat about that, I hope later, Daren because that's really exciting. And just before we came on, Daren was telling me just how many people are getting involved in that program now. And it's a wonderful project. And I'm keen to get all of our listeners and viewers today to have a good look at that.

Patrick:
So, one of the things I suppose that frames today is of course the backdrop of the last number of months. So I think maybe we'll work on a banned word list and I'll ring the bell if we mention it. So I have decided today the two words we're not allowed to mention are unprecedented, because that's really starting to get to me, and COVID. Perhaps if we can stay away from both of those two, we'll see how we go.

Daren:
We'll give it a go.

Patrick:
But that said, obviously exams have changed quite a lot across the four different regions of the UK. So you're currently in England, so in England at the moment, exams look to be still on at this point in time?

Daren:
Yeah, that certainly looks to be the case. The research that's been done suggests that's still the best way and the fairest way of doing it.

Patrick:
It's interesting when we're going to be talking about ed tech and how that kind of plugs in across the year. Because in Northern Ireland where Texthelp is headquartered, we're still at the same point of England, but of course, Wales and Scotland, they have changed things round. So that's starting to move to that continuous assessment model and the teacher feedback in terms of gaging how well students are doing, and challenges lie there. But I suppose, during the last few months you have seen, like all of us, a huge rise in ed tech, tell us about what your experience has been about the rise of ed tech and where you're working and the teachers you're working with.

Daren:
I mean, I've been quite fortunate, our school has been a Google school for probably seven years now. So the vast majority of staff had some knowledge of things like Google Classroom and the basic use of G Suite as it was, or Workspace as it is now. Obviously when that word came along.

Patrick:
Ding, ding, nearly rang the bell there.

Daren:
When that came along and the lockdown was announced, we were pretty much in a position from the following Monday to offer our students some sort of online learning. Initially, I know there were a lot of schools across the country and further afield that kind of canceled everything for three or four days and gave their staff some super rapid, fast track PD and then tried to go into it. We kind of didn't need to, we gave ourselves a week or so where we set purely asynchronous work that could easily be self-assessed within the systems themselves. So the students could get immediate feedback on how well they'd completed the quizzes or the tests or whatever they were.

Patrick:
So is that like Google Forms mainly, Daren, is that the kind of tools you were using? Or what else were you using in there?

Daren:
Yeah, we were using things like Google Forms and quizzes, particularly quizzes because they'll mark themselves. But also things like Seneca Learning, which provided that same sort of idea, of the students being able to choose their subjects, choose the topic, and the teachers being able to set it as well. So those kinds of things, and BBC Bitesize as well, where students could get that immediate feedback.

Patrick:
And if you, well, fast forward into this new year academic year and maybe on a different side of confidence, how do you think that your staff's confidence has grown in terms of the reliance on technology? So let's say for example, they put in a ... you talked about Seneca and some new types of formative feedback, to using things like quizzes more, are they more confident about the fact that those new tools that they're adopting, probably more and more than they ever have done, are representative of good feedback and good assessment points for the students? Are they happier with that now?

Daren:
Definitely. Yeah. I think once they've got used to Google Classroom. I think the problem we have previously is people who were in computer rooms, or departments that had their own laptops, they were okay. But for everyone else, they weren't really using it often enough to get used to it properly. And we all know what that's like. If you don't do something very regularly, you need to remind yourself how to do it.

Daren:
Because it went through that period of day by day, they've developed now that level of confidence with Google Classroom. And because a lot of the third party tools now integrate so well with Classroom, as soon as they see that share to Classroom option, it's almost like a weight's lifted. Because, oh, I know that bit, that's fine. So that is a really big selling point for a lot of third party tools that as soon as you say it works with Google Classroom, or you can share, or you can import your classes from Google Classroom, people are much happier to pick it up and run with it. But I think they've also learned that it's very hard to break it.

Patrick:
Yeah. I suppose on Google Classroom, I mean, what have you seen there, Google Classroom sort of that central bridge that you've talked about to all of these additional tools that teachers are now using. Has Google Classroom in particular helped with the communication and the collaboration piece between teachers and students. You know that methodology, say, stream there and the class discussion areas and meet, has that really helped them prove that dialog and that ability to ask for help. And has that...

Daren:
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, one of the issues that a lot of our students face is that although we might have offered a live lesson at nine o'clock in the morning on a Tuesday, they couldn't necessarily access their laptop at that time because they were sharing it with siblings or with parents or whatever. So the fact that they can access and comment and send us messages at any time that suits them, was an absolute game changer. So the private messaging option, the ability to just comment, whether it's on the stream or whether it's on the work, was fantastic.

Daren:
But then within that, a lot of us built in verbal feedback, has been a really useful way, particularly because the students felt disconnected. They're used to hearing our voices all the time and seeing our faces, bless them. They do have a rough time of it sometimes with me. So the ability to use tools like Moat, for example, which we've adopted across our trust, it's been fantastic because not only can teachers record feedback very quickly, and students can just play it and listen to it and respond to it, it massively reduces your workload. Because you can mark a piece of work much quicker than you can if you're actually writing it. And I think because you can do it quicker, by nature the quality of your feedback becomes higher and more personal. 

Patrick:
Yeah. Yep. So I think that's something that came out in this increased adoption is that feedback has become a lot more personal. As an industry person, who's been out of education for a few years working in industry, everybody talks about personalized learning, and we've talked about that for a long time. But I think the adoption now and the reality of what our teachers are accomplishing with technology tools genuinely are delivering a much more personal experience. Do you see changes down the line, do you think this is the precursor to exam changes from a more longer term perspective, Daren? Or what's your thoughts on that?

Daren:
I'd love to say yes. I think we're definitely moving in the right direction. I think for it to happen fully, it needs the right people around the table. The exam boards on their own won't understand exactly what the capabilities are. The government on their own won't understand. So it's about looking at all of the different options that are available. And actually as you say, what is it we're trying to achieve? That famous, judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. What is the purpose of a GCSE? Is it to show that you can write down answers or is it to show that you understand what you've been taught, and can apply that knowledge? And if it's to show that you can understand, then we ought to be providing more than one way of proving that.

Patrick:
Yeah. And that's a whole lot more than moving to simply e-assessment which a lot of people are advocating for. Are going, no, our exams need to be on computers. And they talk about it in that very old fashioned computer way. But for me, that's not, it's exactly as you say there. And if we are to achieve that long-term, this kind of how we've embraced technology has to stay. And you mentioned earlier on, we talked about confidence, we talked about confidence of students using technology, we talked about confidence of teachers. What else are you seeing there in terms of this increased use, and particularly when we think about moving towards continuous assessment stuff? Are we seeing ... is technology helping with independence, is it helping ... I mean, what other advantages are we seeing there?

Daren:
Yeah. I mean, I'm a big fan of escape rooms. So one of the things I'd really like to do is to use the various different tools to create escape room type activities. Which is an assessment. Because if they don't solve it, they don't get out. But they don't realize it. But they're having to use that critical thinking, their lateral thinking, they're having to collaborate with each other. One person might get one clue and another person get another, that on their own in isolation are no good. But they put the two together. And so trying to develop those sort of skills through that sort of approach. The students really enjoy it. It's fun to do as well. It's fun to build. It's dead easy to do in the classroom or online at the same time. And of course, once you've done it, you can reuse it.

Daren:
It's not taking up space in an office in a filing cabinet. It's not tons of photocopying. You can just bring it out again another time, tweak it a little bit. And that's been really good, the students ...

Daren:
I think resilience is a big thing. And you only learn resilience through having to be resilient. So that whole get it wrong, get it wrong, get it wrong cycle, the suddenly getting it right, you can give a kid an analogy, 2000 attempts to create a light bulb all you like, it doesn't mean anything to them. But make them get it wrong until they get it right. Because there's an incentive at the end of it. Whether it's a digital badge, whether it's a letter to parents, a phone call, a certificate, or whatever, they'll do it. And particularly with the level of competition and the gamification, they obviously want to be the first one to escape or whatever. But ultimately I'm able to test what they've learned.

Patrick:
It's interesting listening to you talk over the last wee while Daren, and there's a rolling theme there that you can see that maybe you hadn't noticed in terms of motivation and incentivizing our students to learn. And even when you're talking about PD, the badge approach. And the badge approach is very interesting to me because you'll remember a number of years ago, badges, open digital badges were the thing. And we were all going to have a portfolio. And it all went away for a while. And I think Canopy in particular have done an absolutely fabulous job of bringing that back. We've introduced badges into WriQ and stuff as well in terms of motivation. But I can see this time round, our students really grasping a hold of badges in general. So there's motivation there and there's reward. And it's also a really good methodology of feedback because this recognition is feedback in and of itself, which is fabulous.

Daren:
Absolutely. And as I keep saying to the students, realistically their CVs are going to be interactive online CVs. They're not going to be printing out sheets of A4 and handing them around.

Patrick:
Or they're going to be Flipgrids.

Daren:
Yeah, why not.

Patrick:
And hey, why not? And that, if you take, I suppose, an analogy of that is we were all used to sending our CVs in, that is the exam certificate, as it is nowadays for our students. But as we look forward, we talk in jobs about our video interviews and our interactive pieces, and our web pages and that's how we start to change careers and look at different roles. And I think students have to be prepared for that in terms of their digital skills, their creativity, their critical thinking skills, all of those skills are really important for employability.

Patrick:
Which brings us back to the question then of do exams actually address that and prepare them well? And so maybe this is beyond the scope of the day to answer that question. But if we were to take that consideration forward, Daren, if we were to reconsider exams and consider it in the context of continuous assessment and better feedback and a better experience to motivate our kids for success, who do we need to get in a room to take that forward? Who are the stakeholders here? Is it the parents, is it business, is it the government, is it DFE, is it everybody?

Daren:
To a certain extent everybody. I mean, yes, you need the employers in the room because, what is it they want? I think it was 2016, The Economist did a survey of the top 10 skills that they wanted from future employees and communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking were right at the top there. So those kind of what do they actually want is what it's about. Because you can have somebody who's got badges up their arm or a whole stack of qualifications, but that doesn't make them the right person for a job with a certain company.

Daren:
Equally I think we've got an opportunity to change things, but everyone's got to understand it. And with the change from As to Gs to nines to ones, that was incredibly messy. I feel sorry for some employers now, who are trying to make sense of not just the students, like this person is this age and they've got As to Gs and this person is this age, and they've got nines to ones. But you've got the ones in the middle who've got some nine to ones and some As to Gs and some distinctions. And how on earth are you supposed to make sense of that? Because you haven't got time as an employer to go through and go, well, they did that in that year, so that would have been when they were ...

Daren:
What does it actually mean? So ultimately I think a lot of, for this generation, a lot of things are going to come down to what do they bring to the table as people. And them as a person is probably more important. Are they able to learn new things? Because let's be honest the idea of a career as being one job, forget about it. Everybody's-

Patrick:
Yeah, absolutely, there's no job for life anymore is there?

Daren:
No.

Patrick:
And I mean, a few years ago, I think it was maybe about four years ago, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers decided that what they were going to do was when there were applicants for a job, they were not going to look at any exam results or education history. They were going to treat each individual as they walked through. They were going to pass them on criteria and allow them to come in to interview. Which means that if you got four GCSEs to your name, there was still a chance you could get in front of the people. Because you might be the best talker and the best skilled person for that job. And it's not based on how many A stars or grade ones or grade nines or whatever you happen to have. And that's definitely a change.

Patrick:
So exams, I suppose, become less relevant. But that does certainly does not mean that the learning stops. And it does not mean that the teaching changes. It just means that our path to assessment of how we are getting on with our learning stays.

Patrick:
Let's talk podcast for a second. Let's switch gears and let's talk podcasting. I have to say, Daren, the first time that I listened to you was on your Short And Sweet podcast. But I mentioned that at the very outset, and then you said, "No, no, no, no, no, no. There's another podcast series coming." So tell me about that as well. So, tell me where you're up to at the minute.

Daren:
So, I've only pushed out the first episode so far. But My Ed Tech Buddies, which works alongside and complements my Innovator Project, is basically a new podcast where I am interviewing a range of different people, ed tech experts, teacher trainers, coaches, school leaders, teachers themselves, ultimately also graduates of the program to show their own journeys, what they've learned from it. What lessons they've learned. But with a view to, well, for two reasons really. One, I'm fed up of listening to the TV and the news and everything being about certain things.

Patrick:
Aren't we all, yeah.

Daren:
And actually I've really got into podcasts myself. But also really, easy things to do as well. And actually could be a brilliant teaching and learning tool. Why not make a podcast for your class? A 15 minute podcast. Instead of trying to drag kids in for revision sessions, let them listen to the podcast.

Patrick:
Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Absolutely right.

Daren:
And if people could see how easy it is to do it, why not, super, super simple.

Patrick:
Totally. Well there, so tell me, give us a bit more about My Ed Tech Buddy, I'm really interested, you talked about it, and I've been following it on Twitter, but for those people who haven't been giving it a close eye, tell us how people get involved and tell us what they can achieve through your project.

Daren:
Okay. So, My Ed Tech Buddy was basically product of VIA20, the Virtual Innovator Academy. And my goal was to come up with a way of helping teachers build their confidence using technology. So I wanted it to be interactive. But I also wanted it to be very bite-sized and available when they wanted to do it. So originally I was thinking of like when you're sitting in the toilet and things like that. Oh, I've got five minutes, what can I do? Which is not a great visual image.

Daren:
But then looking at the kind of audience I was going for, I wanted it to be available on their phone or on their laptop, but not feel like another piece of technology. Which is why I decided to build the majority of it on Book Creator.

Patrick:
Oh right, didn't know that. Yeah.

Daren:
Yeah. So it's built mainly in Book Creator, so that it behaves like a book. So it's like that bridge between, it's a bit like an app because it's on your phone. And you can click buttons and it works like an app. But ultimately it's a book. And hopefully that works in two ways, the people who are a bit afraid of apps, but quite used to books, will say, "Okay, so this is working like a book." But hopefully it also helps people understand that apps, although they don't look like it, work in the same way as a book. There's pages, but you just can't see them.

Daren:
So they're all there, you just have to turn the pages in a slightly different way. And then it's, basically I put together six units on pedagogical approaches rather than specific tools.

Daren:
So feedback is one, flipped learning, communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. Okay. So those are the six units. At the end of each unit, you complete a skills assessment. But to get to that, you go through clickable tutorials that you follow and physically have to click, so you develop that muscle memory if you like. And then at the end of it, you do your skills assessment to get a badge. And when you've got all six badges, you can become a graduate. So you do your graduates assessment. And graduates benefit from being part of an exclusive Facebook community. And also some excellent perks. So the first one hundred graduates get a free unlimited Moat account for a year.

Daren:
Everybody gets three months premium Book Creator. And then also there's a great deal off of an annual account with Iorad as well. Which if you haven't tried is a fantastic tool for tutorials and interactive ways of getting people used to using technology.

Patrick:
I get the feeling Texthelp are missing a trick by not being included on that somewhere, Daren, I think there's a conversation to be had on this one.

Daren:
Yeah. Absolutely. And because I've gone with pedagogical approaches. It's one of those things that will develop over time. Because apps and products will change. So the units will probably change a little bit over time. But I've also left it that I've got my Ed Tech Buddy, but there's no reason why I couldn't have my Ed Tech Buddy student version, my Ed Tech Buddy parent version-

Patrick:
Makes total sense.

Daren:
And we'll see where it goes. Yeah.

Patrick:
Yeah. And how do people get involved with my Ed Tech Buddy? Where do they go? Where do they sign up? 

Daren:
So they go to Twitter @myedtechbuddy, and they'll be able to find the link to the app itself there. And also to the podcasts that they can listen into. And that's it really, it's as simple as that.

Patrick:
Brilliant. Okay. And on that, just as we start to wrap up, Daren, I mean, we've been through technology, we've been through feedback tools, we've been through assessment. We've been through so much tonight, which has been brilliant. And I think where we started off was just where are exams going? And the truth is that none of us know where exams are going, but I think all of us understand that technology is here to stay. It's providing amazing opportunities for our students going forward. Amazing new approaches to learning, to study, to revision, to all of it.

Patrick:
We don't know what the future holds. We hope that we get a level playing field for all of our students going forward. Because between the four regions, as you said earlier, some students are going to be doing exams this year. Other students are not. And until we come to a consensus on how we can have that continuous form of assessment and understand their level of knowledge or ability or skill set, then we do have some challenges ahead.

Patrick:
So I'm just going to end with a question really out to anybody who's watching the podcast at the minute. And we'd love to hear your feedback at Texthelp as to whether you think we should actually be considering a move away from exam based assessments and to a more continuous model that provides feedback quickly and directly to students that helps them improve as they go. Rather than rely on everything on that last few months of the year. So please do tweet us at Texthelp via Twitter, include the hashtag Texthelp Talks. And we'll love to be able to promote that. And we really would value your opinion on that.

Patrick:
So all the remains now, Daren, is for me to thank you so much for your time tonight. I really appreciate it. It's been an opposite pleasure. I will certainly be buying you a coffee after this. And I hope many other people will follow you on Twitter and do exactly the same thing.

Daren:
That's very kind of you.

Patrick:
No problem. And for anybody watching, this has been Texthelp Talks podcast. I'm Patrick McGrath, ed tech strategist here at Texthelp, it's been our pleasure to have you with us. Please do subscribe to Texthelp Talks on your favorite podcast player or app, and your streaming service. We're on all of them. Grab us there and you'll be greeted with plenty of wonderful speakers like Daren and presenters from the Texthelp team in the subsequent episodes in our series. Thank you. And we'll see you again soon on the next episode of Texthelp Talks.

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Now you’ve heard from Patrick and Daren, we’d love to know what you think. Should we be considering a move away from exams, to a more continuous assessment model? Let us know in the comments.

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