New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 12

Accepted Abstracts

Enhancing Learning with Digital Ink: Graphical Real-Time Formative Assessment via Mobile Devices

Susan Kowalski, Colorado School of Mines and Red Rocks Community College (United States)

Frank Kowalski, Colorado School of Mines (United States)


Learning can be enhanced when real-time formative assessment is facilitated by the use of mobile devices. Formative assessment has many well-established pedagogical advantages: students are actively engaged with their learning, metacognition is increased, misconceptions can be identified and corrected, and instruction can be efficiently paced.  However, the logistics of collecting formative assessment can be cumbersome, and instructor response must be timely in order to be most effective.

Although clickers (a.k.a. personal response devices) overcome many of these logistical hurdles, many educators are frustrated by their limitations, particularly in probing higher-level thinking skills, in assessing student understanding of complex material, and in nurturing skills such as creativity. 

This study further explores another promising technology-based solution for collection of real-time formative assessment. The instructor poses open-format questions (not multiple choice!). Students then use the digital ink of various mobile devices (iPads, tablets, some smartphones) to reveal their thinking through graphs, sketches, equations, proofs, etc. This is facilitated by software (InkSurvey) that is free worldwide; since the software is browser-based, there is nothing to download locally and students can use either their own or school-owned devices.

The instructor receives the graphical responses instantaneously, providing him/her with immediate feedback on the efficacy of instruction, a seamless avenue for scaffolding learning, and timely opportunities to refine student understanding.

This paper presents data collected over 4 semesters in an introductory biology classroom at a U.S. community college.  First, the average learning gains achieved (per pre-test/post-test question) when this pedagogical model was used during learning were assessed to establish its viability (n=27).  For the following three semesters (n=68), the study compared learning gains achieved for each student when this model was implemented vs. those achieved by a mixture of other active learning instructional strategies. Data indicate statistically significant enhancement of learning gains when graphical real-time formative assessment was collected using mixed mobile devices.

The paper also includes examples of questions posed to the students, some actual student responses, and a brief discussion of some of the challenges of implementation.  Although this study involved a community college biology course, the pedagogical model is appropriate for any discipline and any level.

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