This fall we will be rolling out Google Apps for Edcuation district-wide. With the snap of a finger, all 12,000 students and staff will have access to Google’s cloud services. OK, so it’s more than the snap of a finger, but with the skillful work of our dedicated IT technicians and developers, it will appear to be a snap for the users, as it should be.
Some of our ELA teachers are planning their writing curriculum for next year, and want to convert to digital journals, RTLs, and more. They are very excited that with Google Docs students can create and collaborate on writing pieces from any computer and share them with each other and the teacher. As they were talking, one teacher said the following (this is a paraphrase):
My fear of using Google Docs is that the students will not be able to handwrite well enough for the assessment at the end of the year.
Ow. Yikes. This is not a case of a technology-fearing teacher (she is totally together w/respect to students & technology). This is a case of the reality of the dichotomy between what we should be doing and what we have to do. At the end of the day (year), students must handwrite essays in those ridiculous, arcane, blue books that have haunted education for a century. These great teachers did not see this issue as a deal-breaker at all, and simply came up with a game plan to have students do enough hand written practice along the way to make sure they are OK for the exam. It’s a shame they even have to consider this issue.
I know that the writing process for me is completely different when I word process compared to handwrite. I could not be a blogger if I had to hand write and scan in my entries. I think totally differently when I type as compared to write. This, combined with the fact that I’m an immigrant to this type of writing, makes me wonder just how bad it is for our natives who type and text all day, and then for a few hours a year are forced to handwrite the things that judge them the most on their progress!
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for assessment (if it is in fact possible that assessment is a useful thing). When I took my certification exams for the School Building Leader and School District Leader recently, they were completely computer-based. New York State contracts with Pearson to administer the exams at Pearson testing centers. I was able to sit in a secure, comfortable environment with a good functioning computer and type to my heart’s content (it had better be a secure, comfortable environment with a good functioning computer since each test costs $400…). I remebmer taking a pilot version of the exam which was hand written and it was not a good expereince. The good news about the exams is not only that they are computer-based, but that the essays are human-scored. That is a win-win in my book.
What is the fix for this? Simple – if we have to give assessments, then we have to provide an environment where the students can take them on a computer. Perhaps New York State will have to begin investing in laptops so every student in the state who normally takes a paper exam can do the same thing on a computer. That is a lot of computers, but at the same time, the increased benefit to student success and savings in paper is well worth it.