An examination of teacher formative assessment practices in high school biology instruction when using computer-based interactive modules
Jurkiewicz, Melissa Ann
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The purpose of this study was to explore how the integration of instructional technology into an introductory biology high school course supports and constrains teachers' formative assessment practices. The specific technologies involved in this study were interactive 3-D computer modules involving cellular transport, coupled with a web application, the SABLE system, which allows real time monitoring of students' work. Three secondary biology teachers were participants in the research. Interviews with those teachers and observations of their implementations of the cell unit were the primary source of data for the research. Several characteristics inherent in the instructional technologies supported the teachers' formative assessment practices. The computer modules and the SABLE system elicited, gathered, organized, and stored evidence of student learning, enabling teachers to devote more energy towards interpreting and acting on the elicited evidence. The SABLE system allowed teachers to analyze students' work and modify instruction in real time, providing the opportunity to complete multiple cycles of formative assessment with each student. Through enabling teachers to monitor students' work, the SABLE system allowed teachers to maintain a connection to the process of teaching and learning. When interacting with the computer modules, students began to develop knowledge of science concepts and to construct a new vocabulary. The students' new knowledge allowed for teachers and students to share a context in which meaningful discussions about science concepts could occur. Several characteristics inherent in the instructional technologies also constrained teachers' formative assessment practices. For instance, the cluster of open-ended response questions towards the end of the modules and the lack of an automated grading component hindered teachers' abilities to quickly assess the data from the open-ended response questions. This research report discusses implications for science teacher educators and developers of instructional technology. Additional research is needed in order to understand the role of instructional technology as a catalyst for increasing the effectiveness of how teachers use formative assessment.