The image above, taken from a series of French postcards published in 1899, posits a vision of an ideal twenty-first-century classroom, in which knowledge is literally transmitted into students' heads via cables and a headset. It such a system, I assume, each student would receive the same packets of knowledge in exactly the same format, and thus each student would leave the educational experience with a targeted and identical set of skills.
This postcard helps to exemplify the fundamental problem of education, one that has clearly existed forever: how do we ensure that students receive the message that we as educators intend to send, and thereby achieve universal mastery for all students? Without an elaborate brain cabling system like the one depicted above, it can be practically impossible.
Assessment is the closest remedy that current instructors have to the problem of uneven understanding, but it is also among the most time consuming and hated features of the instructional cycle for both students and teachers. Thus, when we discovered the app Socrative earlier this year (courtesy of Kent Campus-based History Professor Dana Logan), we were amazed at the ease with which it enabled the creation, administration, and analyzation of mobile-based assessments.
This free app can be downloaded in a student and teacher version for iOS and Android, and can also be used via the web. After signing up for an account, instructors can create short or long-form quizzes that students can access via the mobile app. While the initial purpose of Socrative is for formative assessment at the end of a lesson (it even has a "quick question" feature for on the fly assessment), it allows instructors to utilize a variety of question types, as well as embed related images, figures, and exhibits into questions, making it possible to use the tool for longer form assessments, as well. Once a quiz has been created within the mobile teacher app or the web-based app, it is stored within the interface for later use or re-use.
When the teacher is ready to launch the assessment, they are provided with a number of options that can facilitate classroom and assessment management, such as scrambling questions and distractors or utilizing a teacher-managed pace. Students are able to access the quiz via the Socrative student app by entering the classroom code, a constant letter/number combination that is generated when users sign up for the app. The image to the left provides an example of the launching menu within the teacher's version of the mobile app.
As the students complete the assessment on their mobile devices via the Socrative student app, the instructor can use either the teacher's mobile app or the web app to view the results in real time, and share them with the students, if appropriate (student names can be hidden). The image below shows an example of a sample World Geography quiz that we administered to test the app, and the results are very instructive. You can see that the color-coded chart provides guidance on concepts that may need quick reteaching, or and it makes it easy to pinpoint individual students may need more intensive remediation. For example, in the example below 80% of the students in the class answered question number one incorrectly, so clearly this content, which dealt with the diameter of the earth, needed to be retaught. Also, the second student in the chart needs additional help, because they missed three questions and are really struggling with many of the concepts. As you can see, Socrative allows you to develop plans to address misconceptions and help your strugglers, before students walk out the classroom door. After class, results can be exported as a .csv or .xls file for manipulation in Excel or uploading into the Blackboard Grade Center.
Thus, while the Ed Tech team has not yet figured out how to build the indoctrination machine that was imagined in the French postcard, Socrative comes pretty close to figuring out what is going on in our students' heads and helps us to do our best to make sure that all students leave us with the skills mastery that is the ultimate and lasting goal of education.