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MIT Playful Assessment Reshaping Classroom Practices

Image credit: The MIT Teaching Systems Lab

The MIT Teaching Systems Lab designs, implements, and researches the future of teacher learning.

According to the website, “all around the world, educational leaders are working to support more ambitious teaching and learning in classrooms – with less recitation and passive listening, and more active engagement and student-centered learning.”

Playful Assessment is one of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab current projects. The Advisory Board is composed by James Paul Gee, Kylie Peppler, Director of the Creativity Labs at Indiana University Bloomington, and Kevin Miklasz, the Senior Director of Data and Prototyping Lab at BrainPOP.

The background assumption for this project is that although there has been a push for instruction to become more student-centered and engaging in recent years, we have not seen as much of an attempt to transform assessment in these same ways. 

Assessment is a key leverage point that can have a significant impact on how students learn in schools. Building on years of research experience in game-based learning and assessment, researchers across The Education Arcade (TEA) and the Teaching Systems Lab (TSL) are well positioned to innovate on the assessment experience for teachers, teacher educators, and designers. Therefore, they are expanding their work beyond the student experience of assessments, to support teacher competencies through PD materials and practice spaces.

The core principle is that "both creating and implementing assessments should be playful and authentic - if learning is fun then there’s no reason the fun should stop when the assessments come out."  

According to The MIT TSL researchers, in many cases these should be formative assessments that are woven throughout learning experiences rather than interrupting the flow of an activity. A well-designed assessment should be seen as a tool to help students learn and progress, rather than as a threat.

In order for these playful, authentic performance assessments to be successful, educator competency is of utmost importance. Teachers need to understand where assessment data is coming from, how to interpret it, and how to act on it, and even be able to adapt ideas to create their own playful assessments.

Playful Assessment work includes three main strands: Game-Based Assessment, Beyond Rubrics: Assessment in Making, and Metarubric.

Game-Based Assessment Project

Image credit: MIT News - Coding for Kindergarten

The MIT Education Arcade, in collaboration with the Teaching Systems Lab, is creating a Game-Based Assessment System that gives students and teachers access to ongoing assessments that measure multiple learner outcomes. They intend to accomplish this by using an ongoing game-based assessment model that doesn’t rely on single observations and single types of game mechanics, but rather gathers data continuously over time and ubiquitously across contexts and standards.

The project targets the role of formative assessment in math classrooms using digital games as a vehicle to assess learners’ growth in core fundamental knowledge as well as in cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as persistence and creativity. The psychometric qualities of the assessment results will be researched so that ultimately the assessment system could replace tests, and the implementation model of short, frequent interactions will make it feasible to integrate into classrooms.

Their goal with this project is to not only create one game-based assessment system, but to develop a process whereby this type of tool will be more feasible to design and build, in order to reshape classroom assessment practices.

They have selected the topic area of geometric measurement and dimension, including the relationship between 2D and 3D shapes. The goal is to create an environment in which students demonstrate their conceptual understanding of geometry and their spatial reasoning skills by imagining and building shapes to solve modeling problems. It will be open-ended enough that players can solve problems in multiple ways, but constrained enough to yield interactions and choices that can feed assessment models. These are the core goals that are driving their prototype development, task design, and playtesting with students.

Beyond Rubrics: Assessment In Making Project
This research project aims to address the lack of assessment strategies in making contexts. They are using an embedded assessment approach in which teachers collect rigorous forms of evidence of student learning, without constraining or interrupting complex and iterative making processes

Metarubric Project
MetaRubric is a playful learning experience that is designed to show how complex, and even fun, assessment can be. It gives players an experience creating and using rubrics for open-ended work. It starts with a creative mini-project, then asks you to identify what makes that project good, ultimately coming back around to evaluating your original project. It should give you a feel for what rubrics can do well, and perhaps also what they can’t!

This week’s article at EdSurge - Is Assessment Ready to Move Beyond Standardized Tests? These MIT Researchers Think So – examines in depth how MIT researchers are piloting Playful Assessment (part one). You can also read part two - How Playful Assessment Unseated Standardized Tests at One School - to learn about how one school is implementing their work.