World ORT has showcased its groundbreaking use of educational software in Israel to a delegation from Singapore, whose education system is ranked second only to Switzerland in the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitiveness Report.
The four-strong delegation visited three of the six World ORT-affiliated schools participating in Assessment in My Palm, a pilot project in which students use small netbook computers to create an e-portfolio documenting every aspect of the work in which they are engaged.
The Singaporeans are familiar with the e-Scape software used in World ORT’s pilot project – but only as a tool for summative assessment, in which an examiner uses it to look through the entirety of a student’s piece of work, including methodology, to give a final mark. But the Israeli schools are the only ones in the world using it for formative assessment.
“We’re breaking new ground,” said Dr Osnat Dagan, Pedagogical Manager for World ORT’s operations in Israel, who decided to introduce it to the Jewish State after helping to evaluate the British pilot of the program. “Usually, e-Scape is used for final assessment; what we’re doing is using it mainly as a learning environment in which the teacher always sees what students are doing and makes remarks throughout the process so that students can improve along the way.” Ranked best in the world by the World Economic Forum for the quality of its mathematics and science education, Singapore has, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a high performing, future-oriented education system with features that other systems could learn from. “We’re flattered that they came to learn from us,” said Dr Dagan. “And they thought that we were doing a great job in our use of technology in schools – not just e-Scape but all kinds of computers, communications etcetera. But when people come from outside they sometimes see things you miss, so I learned a lot from them; it was an opportunity to share knowledge.” Another innovative aspect of World ORT’s use of e-Scape is broadening its application beyond technology studies to subjects such as biology, ecology, economics, electronics, science, English, biotechnology, robotics and sociology. At Emek HaHula School in the Upper Galilee, the Singaporeans observed a class of 13-year-olds use the technology to explore and understand the concept of classification of living things as part of their study of biodiversity. “I think they got a good view of e-Scape’s possibilities and the ways that teachers use this software to enhance learning, particularly self-managed learning,” said the school’s Innovation Leader, Tali Beeri. “E-Scape has a great future, it has great potential. I think it fits the kind of work that I do: small projects, long-term projects, collaborative work, assessment of the way the children are learning. We’re going to extend its use to more teachers in more subjects next year.” Using touch screen technology, e-Scape provides students with the means to record their ideas and problems as they work, using written notes, audio notes, sketches and photographs. The documentation that students create is saved on the internet and the three students in each group using the system can dip into each other’s work-in-progress and comment on it. Teachers’ ability to review students’ work at any point in the process stimulates reflection and subsequent activities that can be planned in advance with students as part of the entire exercise.
“Reflection is a vital part of the learning process,” Dr Dagan said. “This program develops high order thinking skills and allows you to evaluate and give feedback on processes in a way which is very easy and very friendly for both the teacher and the student.”
At Rogozin High School in the Galilee, teacher Simcha Benyamin, is particularly enthusiastic about Assessment in my Palm’s mobility and versatility.
“We have been using it to take the students out of school to investigate the effects of a new by-pass in an interdisciplinary way, encompassing geography, civic studies and environmental studies,” said Ms Benyamin. “They can do everything using the one piece of equipment: take photos, record interviews, write notes. They conduct research and it’s wonderful because their learning is no longer confined to the classroom and they accomplish so much.”
Her comments are typical of teachers who have been using the system over the first year of World ORT’s pilot and who discussed their experiences with Kay Stables, Professor of Design Education and Head of the Design Department at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College. Professor Stables developed the system with Richard Kimbell, Professor of Technology Education at Goldsmiths and founder of the college’s Technology Education Research Unit (TERU).
Professor Stables’ evaluation of the first year of Assessment in my Palm was overwhelmingly positive, with teachers finding that the system motivated students, enhanced their ability to structure activities, developed student autonomy, supported different learning styles (including children with special needs), helped students to be more organized by having all their work together in one place and accessible at home and at school, and supported collaboration.
And students were just as enthusiastic.
“[They] found the approach fun, cool, innovative, progressive and interesting,” Professor Stables wrote. “There was a sense that the students recognized that they were being involved in a very new approach right from the start – and were excited by being involved. They generally found their involvement to be very motivating [and] they appreciated being able to see the overview of their project – what one student described as it being ‘like an on-line diary’.”
She concluded: “The first year was clearly both challenging and motivating for both teachers and students. The insight provided through their feedback shows what an important and valuable initiative Assessment in my Palm has become. What was also apparent was the tremendous commitment and support for the teachers from the World ORT – Kadima Mada team who have been with the teachers and students every step of the way, providing support and encouragement and also carrying the vision for what this project promises as a tool to support innovation in learning, teaching and assessment in project-based learning.”