Without a doubt, the chatbox is one of the most valuable resources teachers have at their disposal in online teaching. It is very simple to use and can add quite a bit of variation to our lessons, while also serving as an important continuous assessment tool if used adequately. In this article, I am going to outline ways in which the chatbox can be used for assessment purposes.
The chatbox as a record of our students’ work
Formative assessment (Hughes 2003) involves recording information collected throughout a course to provide each student with a) a comprehensive view of their current abilities, b) persistent difficulties and progress made. Hence, we can say that chatbox text provides teachers with a written record to assess students’ learning in real-time. Apart from opportunities for error correction, practice and consolidation, the possibility to save the chat after the end of a meeting allows the teacher to look back at the recorded data and use it to inform the marks given.
When posing a question to the whole class and asking students to reply in the chatbox in order to record their answers, a couple of key factors to consider are accuracy of content and form; and perhaps most importantly the time of response, granted that students who answer faster and more accurately in a consistent manner demonstrate greater flexibility in the language, as well as the willingness to take risks and make mistakes which are part and parcel of the learning process. On the other hand, reluctant students might feel their skills are not good enough or simply lack the determination to upskill their language, in which case teachers could look at private messaging as a safer strategy until these students feel more at ease within the group.
But they’ll just copy from each other, right?
During synchronous sessions, one of the main concerns teachers have when using the chatbox is students copying from those who are perceived as stronger in the classroom and that were quicker to type their answers. To tackle this effectively and strike a balance, teachers should train students to give answers within a specific time limit, perhaps with higher marks being attributed to those answering more quickly and accurately in accordance with the teacher’s perception of each student’s skills. Let’s see how this would work using a quick practical example.
Normally we ask our students a question until someone raises their hand. If there is no response we usually nominate someone, or else a student who tends to dominate whole class feedback might jump in inadvertently to give an answer. If either scenario becomes the norm in online lessons, and also when using the chatbox, not only will your pacing be negatively impacted but your students might also feel demotivated as they see their skills are not being fairly assessed. So what can we do to get answers from all students? 3…2…1… Click Enter! Give your students some thinking time before they give an answer and only when they have finished writing start counting down, and instruct them to hit the ‘enter’ button all at the same time. This adds an element of playfulness and surprise to student output while preventing them from changing an answer after seeing their classmates’ replies. This will certainly inform a more precise assessment of each student’s individual responses in a more spontaneous way.
With this practical idea, I would like to wrap up my first of the three entries I have prepared for using the chatbox as a continuous assessment tool! I hope you enjoyed reading it and I’ll see you again next week with the second part which will focus on practical ideas and games using the chatbox!
Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP.