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History of and Theory Behind the Participatory Assessment Network

Written by Indiana University Learning Sciences
November 16, 2011


This network was initiated in 2008 with a collaboration involving Indiana University, Project New Media Literacies, and a gifted Bloomington English Language Arts teacher.  This collaboration was organized around Project NML’s Teacher Strategy Guide and resulted in the three core practices. Dozens of netbooks from a 2009 federal Educational Technology allowed us to bring in English teachers in Bloomington and in the neighboring rural Eastern Greene County.  The resulting Monroe-Eastern Greene Network (MEGN) has continued to develop, implement, refine, and spread modules that support participatory learning.  Each module bundles a range of open-source learning resources and informal assessments around one or more Common Core English standards; the modules are refined using high-quality performance assessments and evaluated using discreet online testlets.  Behind these modules is a comprehensive curriculum design model called Designing for Participation (DFP).  We are showing that DFP can foster participatory learning around new and conventional literacies, while indirectly but consistently impacting individual understanding and group achievement


Designing For Participation (DFP)

DFP embraces the notion that “participation” does not necessarily mean talking, but listening to and taking in insights made by more articulate peers who are struggling to grasp a concept. Much like “lurking” in social networks allows newcomers to become familiar with and comfortable in joining in the conversation when they are ready, DFP works to foster a participatory culture and assessment setting where “not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready and believe that what they contribute will be appropriately valued” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 7).

Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR)

The network and the DFP framework in general exemplify the four aspects of what Penuel et al (2011) labeled Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR), and how participatory assessment can support DBIR. The first aspect of DBIR is that teams form around a focus on persistent problems of practice from multiple stakeholders’ perspectives. In our work, the team was formed around the “persistent problem” of the obstacles to participatory curriculum described above while the “multiple perspectives” were embodied in the three very different kinds of learning outcomes that participatory assessment aims to align and foster (shared participation, individual understanding, and aggregated achievement). The second aspect is to improve practice, teams commit to iterative, collaborative design. In close collaboration with the assessment team, the teacher made continual small refinements with the feedback she received from the informal reflections in each activity; additionally, she discussed the progression of the implementation with the researchers to make larger adjustments with the feedback from the more formal reflections as the module progressed. 

The third aspect of DBIR is teams develop theory related to both classroom learning and implementation through systematic inquiry. The design of the module was based on the DFP framework and guiding principles, which evolved out of situative theories of cognition. The fourth aspect of DBIR is that it is concerned with developing capacity for sustaining change in systems. Because the DFP framework invites practitioners and researchers to work collaboratively to develop and iteratively refine modules with each implementation, the modules themselves stay relevant and useful for each classroom in which they are used. Teachers are encouraged to adapt, adjust, and remix these modules (and activities within the modules) as necessary to keep the content relevant for their curricular needs and student population.

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