If I can find some good in the current global climate, it is that it’s given me the opportunity to review my thoughts on the future of online testing and learning. For the past few weeks, we have all been living and working in a transformed world. The technology that defines our work, filters our information, and supports our decisions has posed new challenges and new solutions. Our classrooms and conferences are moving online and our important meetings, that once required face to face interactions, must be conducted virtually. The entire scope of our social interactions, at some level, is undergoing reinvention in the cloud.
At work and at home, Simon Sinek’s question, “Why?” has never been more urgent: Why are we here? What’s the mission of our company? Once we clarify and internalize the “why,” then the question “How?” — in person or virtually — becomes manageable for most of our endeavors.
We know our “why” — that our work supports all learners to be successful and that our tests are helpful and relevant for all students (see this story on California’s decision and Wayne Camara’s notes, the “how” we administer the tests should match test-takers’ new reality. The tests need to be administered
- In person, but 6 feet apart from each other;
- Proctored by humans, or AI, or both by humans and AI;
We can therefore (figure out how to) be there for our students.
Similarly, once the immediate need for quality learning resources emerged, many of us in EdTech and testing companies came forth with educational tools offerings, such as those from ACT. Others provided the platforms on which many of these new digital schooling experiences take place. On a global scale, teachers’ devotion to their students has surpassed “admirable,” and we in the EdTech and educational testing communities, beyond being grateful and in awe of their efforts, are working hard to support them, through developing tutorials and webinars in record time aimed at preparing educators for our new digital reality and then delivering the educational materials their students rely on. Moreover, we are reaching out to parents. We understand the stress that can manifest when workers at home and learners at home must share limited resources and coexist in the same space, all on top of parents’ concern for their children’s education.
We’ve discovered that we are resourceful and nimble beyond our own expectations, and that even in extraordinary circumstances, we can deliver new ways to support our varied and important communities. More than ever, we understand the relationship between our social mission and our services and how they support the educational system in the US and abroad, and that in turn invigorates us to reinvent ourselves.
From its inception, my team, ACTNext, has been dedicated to exploring the challenges, advantages, and myriad uses for AI in education ‑ from content development for learning resources and item development for tests, to diagnostics, feedback, recommendations, and to image analysis to support remote proctoring – the list goes on. The tools and resources the assessment and education world viewed as almost science-fiction only a few years ago are now moving from the realms of possibility into reality in order to help everyone thrive in this new environment. In these challenging times, when learning is being done virtually, these AI-based capabilities become affordances for a smoother experience for students and a better support for educators.
It’s not clear how exactly our tests and our EdTech will look in a year from now, but I know for sure that our testing and learning community will be there to help.
About the author
ACT Chief Officer, Alina von Davier, PhD., leads ACTNext, a multidisciplinary innovation unit at ACT Inc. Von Davier is a pioneer in Computational Psychometrics, an emerging interdisciplinary field concerned with the application of theoretical psychometric models and data-driven computational methods for multimodal, large-scale/high-dimensional learning and assessment data. Von Davier’s unique approach drives ACTNext’s development of innovative solutions to challenging problems, and challenges the ways in which assessment is traditionally thought of. Her current research interests involve developing methodologies in support of adaptive learning in virtual environments that allow for collaboration, using techniques incorporating machine learning, data mining, Bayesian inference methods, and stochastic processes.
Two publications, a co-edited volume on Computerized Multistage Testing (2014) and an edited volume on test equating, Statistical Models for Test Equating, Scaling, and Linking (2011) were selected as the winners of the Division D Significant Contribution to Educational Measurement and Research Methodology award at American Educational Research Association (AERA). Additionally, she has written and/or co-edited five other books and volumes on statistic and psychometric topics. She has received significant grants and contracts as a Principal Investigator; funding sources have included the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the US Army Medical Research, and the Army Research Institute.
Prior to leading ACTNext, von Davier was a senior research director at Educational Testing Service (ETS) where she led the Computational Psychometrics Research Center. Previously, she led the Center for Psychometrics for International Tests, where she was responsible for both the psychometrics in support of international tests, TOEFL® and TOEIC®, and the scores reported to millions of test takers annually.
Von Davier is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Iowa and Fordham University, and the president of the International Association of Computerized Adaptive Testing (IACAT). She currently serves on the board of directors for the Association of Test Publishers (ATP), and she is also a member of the board of directors for Smart Sparrow and of the advisory board for Duolingo.
She earned her doctorate in mathematics from Otto von Guericke University of Magdeburg, Germany, and her Master of Science degree in mathematics from the University of Bucharest, Romania.