technology and evaluation

There can be no doubt that technology can make the work of evaluation easier and the array of software and applications is evergrowing. Check out the AEA365 blog and search for technology related posts… there are plenty. The challenge for evaluators will be thoughtful use of technology and avoiding technology driven evaluation practices. One of the best examples of technology driving and structuring thinking, knowledge construction and presentation is Powerpoint… Microsoft has created simple software that too often control what counts as information. Edward Tufte’s critique of ppt, PowerPoint Does Rocket Science–and Better Techniques for Technical Reports, is required reading for anyone who has ever or will ever use powerpoint.

Today Apple revealed the availability of, Look For, an iphone app for recording classroom observations of teaching and it is marketed as a tool for teacher evaluation. With a quick click (and some added notes if you like) principals can record whether teachers are “making subject matter meaningful” or “facilitating the learning process.” The promo for Look For says the app has the following features:
-Create unlimited observations
-Sort observations by school, teacher, subject and date
-Select from hundreds of qualification points within 6 basic categories
-Easily email and share reports and progress instantly
-Track teacher progress through each of the 6 instructional categories
-Supports state and national standards

Everyone wants technology to make their lives and jobs easier, and principals are no exception. But is this like ppt? An app that pre-defines and standardizes what counts as good teaching and limits sensitivity to context may be time saving, but does it promote good evaluation? Establishing criteria is key to good evaluation, but this is and ought to be a slippery part of the process… we cannot and should not know all of the relevant criteria a priori and we ought to be open to recognizing good and bad making attributes of teaching in situ. Principals and teachers need to be able to recognize and acknowledge what is not easily or necessarily captured by the 6 instructional categories.

So maybe Look For is a good app, but only if used in a critical way… true for all technology.

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