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General thoughts on handheld technology and assessment (a boring title, but hopefully a good discussion)

By LeaderTalk Contributor — March 24, 2009 1 min read

I have been reading (with great interest) several posts by a variety of noteworthy edubloggers about the use of various handheld technologies in our classrooms - most notably cell phones and iPod Touch kinds of devices. Coincidentally, I also happened to have a wonderful conversation with our district’s network consultant about the availability of wireless access in schools, policies regarding students bringing their own equipment for use on district networks, and the like. He shared many people in districts he worked with had serious concerns about students using cell phones and other personal handheld devices to cheat.

We have been worried about cheating since tests were created. Yes, cheating is an issue of moral character and I can’t imagine any educator condoning it. However, many progressive educators I know understand our information economy has evolved well past the relevance of having a single correct answer (unless you plan to make large sums of money on Jeopardy.) Higher Order Thinking Skills are more critical than ever. My question is this: if a student can look up or transmit an answer for a test on a cell phone and use that answer for full credit, are we developing the right kinds of assessments?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand there are certain truths people should just know. A certain amount of general knowledge is required as a foundation for problem solving and higher order thinking in our society.

This is an issue that is pervasive in our McDonaldized communities. We want a simple answer to a complex question and we want it now. In my opinion, state tests still require mostly lower level thinking skills. Our information systems have a harder time producing data that can truly capture students’ higher order thinking and problem solving skills. Many teachers are excellent at developing assessments that require students to reach the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels. Some are not. Test preparation has also provided a hurdle in that significant time is allocated for it.

I am the first to admit I don’t have a complete answer to this question. Maybe some of our LeaderTalk readers do. What do you think?

Matt Hillmann

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