Leveraging Digital and Cloud-Based Tools for Contextualized Assessment of Critical Writing: Best Practices and Design Principles for Learning in Remote Settings

Leveraging Digital and Cloud-Based Tools for Contextualized Assessment of Critical Writing: Best Practices and Design Principles for Learning in Remote Settings

Gregory Shepherd (Kean University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-2468-1.ch003
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This chapter examines instructional and assessment models for learning activities that lead to critical thinking and writing in remote and online classroom environments. Activity design principles and group work management strategies will support these models. Assessment models that encourage contextualized feedback and personalized evaluations of learning will be advanced over mere knowledge measurement and rubric administration. Finally, electronic tools such as learning management systems, feedback delivery through cloud-based platforms, and digital badges that assist in assessing student learning in formative and summative tasks will receive detailed attention.
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What is critical thinking? First, it involves perceiving and weighing the validity of discourses and voices. Next, it calls for acting on the first step by forming opinions and supporting them using diverse sources. Willingham (2008) offers a straightforward definition of critical thinking noting that it is “seeing both sides of an issue, being open to new evidence that disconfirms your ideas, reasoning dispassionately, demanding that claims be backed by evidence, deducing and inferring conclusions from available facts, solving problems” (p. 21). The first actions require an openness to varied and sometimes opposing viewpoints followed by active construction of positions based on the logical mediation of evidence. Usually, the latter step feeds into some sort of pragmatic task like defending the new position in writing or speech or proposing and supporting solutions. The initial perceptive steps are about evaluating and organizing discordant positions with the intent to find and establish foundational truths. In Teaching Critical Thinking, hooks (2010) explains: “critical thinking requires discernment. It is a way of approaching ideas that aims to understand core, underlying truths, not simply that superficial truth that may be most obviously visible” (p. 9). The second step involves creating opportunities for learners to apply the results of step one to a project or problem-solving activity. Helping students develop critical thinking calls for structured practice of both steps within diverse disciplines: weighing different sources and using argumentation to build and support reasoned positions. Willingham goes on to note: “solving a complex but familiar physics problem by applying a multi-step algorithm isn’t critical thinking because you are really drawing on memory to solve the problem. But devising a new algorithm is critical thinking. Critical thinking is self-directed in that the thinker must be calling the shots: We wouldn’t give a student much credit for critical thinking if the teacher were prompting each step he took” (p. 27).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Formative Assessment: The process by which teachers evaluate and assess learning in the middle of learning activity sequences. It is a measurement of learner achievement that intends to play a role in the formation and development of skills usually delivered informally and regularly as a part of classroom activities and performances.

Remote Learning: The administration of live online classroom activities through Learning Management Systems or teleconferencing platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet. Remote learning differs from online learning in that the former is synchronous and the latter tends to be asynchronous.

Learning Management Systems or LMS: Online platforms that allow electronic classroom delivery in order to administer content, discussions, class lectures, live learning activities and assessment. BlackBoard and Canvas are examples of these platforms that allow teachers to run all facets of classroom instruction and assessment from remote locations.

Summative Assessment: A measurement tool that allows teachers to summarize student learning growth at the end of a unit. It is an activity requiring student production in either written or spoken format that will render a formal evaluation from the teacher.

Badges: Digital images or icons that represent competencies, achievements, or skills development. A tool for motivating students that directly supports the assessment process.

Critical Thinking: The ability to consider multiple viewpoints and remain open to diverse sources. Critical thinking also manifests itself as students use sources to build arguments in defense of philosophical, historical, and cultural interpretive positions.

Feedback: Statements intended to both evaluate student work and guide the process for making improvements in skills development.

Rubric: An assessment tool that offers a series of descriptions of the characteristics of student projects or performance in a grid format. The teacher uses this grid to identify the levels of achievement demonstrated in the student work by associating specific qualities with the descriptions giving students a general idea of whether they are meeting predetermined learning outcomes.

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