Measuring Student Collaboration through Digital Assessment

measuring 21st century skills and student collaboration through digital assessment

The demand for authentic assessment has seen school leaders around the world turn to technology to gain deeper insight into student success and to measure student learning in real-world contexts. More and more, educators are looking for ways to assess 21st century skills, or “career-readiness skills” which include deeper learning competencies like critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, and problem solving. 

These types of competencies, have been traditionally difficult to measure in the past, and until recently have not been incorporated into standard curriculums for assessment. But today, advancements in digital assessment tools allow educators to create and deliver multi-step questions that require students to showcase their collaborative thinking.

Using Technology to Assess Collaboration 

While there are many nuanced definitions for collaboration, there are a number of skills tied to the competency that the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment notes are consistently highlighted, including:

  • The ability to plan and make group decisions
  • The ability to communicate ideas, understand different perspectives and elaborate  on another team member’s work
  • The ability to contribute resources and ideas
  • Reflecting on, monitoring and adjusting processes to the benefit of the group

Oftentimes, collaborative assignments can become unbalanced, where a group may end up relying on the strongest member to carry the majority of the weight. This makes assessing meaningful collaboration a challenge. Fortunately, in a digital context, assessment tools that support the QTI standard and PCIs can redefine how we measure this 21st-century skill. 

Portable Custom Interactions

According to the Center for Assessment, there are several considerations that should be taken into account regarding the sophistication of assessment questions in order to measure collaborative skills in a meaningful way. 

“​​Assessment tasks should be sufficiently complex and offer sufficient challenge to encourage joint, collaborative activity. Overly simplistic, routine, or trivial tasks do not require students to collaborate by negotiating ideas or pooling resources, ideas, and efforts.” – Carla Evans, Ph.D. National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment

Portable Custom Interactions undoubtedly open the door for these possibilities. 

Portable Custom Interactions (PCIs) have gained prominence in assessment over the past decade, as they enable multi-step, authentic problem solving activities that provide rich data insights and can be tied directly to students’ 21st century skills. PCIs are more complex, technology enhanced assessment questions that have shown significant promise for helping educators understand student collaboration. 

A Practical Approach

In France, education leaders at DEPP, the Directorate for Statistics of the French Ministry of Education, rely heavily on PCIs in their assessments to measure higher-order thinking and collaborative approaches to problem solving. Using the TAO assessment platform, one stand-out PCI that they have developed with social psychologists is a chatbot assessment item designed to measure both creativity and collaboration. 

In this item, a student interacts with an Avatar, and their task is to co-create a story in collaboration with it. The Avatar makes propositions to the student, which they can then accept or reject. To highlight collaboration, students must explain their reasoning for accepting or rejecting the Avatar’s proposition as they build the story.


measuring student collaboration through a chatbot PCI


DEPP notes that his approach to measuring collaboration has been introduced fairly recently, and they are still collecting data from the PCI. However, it’s already clear to them that the data they are collecting will be crucial to assessing deeper 21st century competencies.


As educators and policy makers have identified the ability to collaborate as an important outcome rather than a means to teaching, they’ve begun placing a focus on measuring the quality of collaborative actions students partake in. By using assessment technology like PCIs, the possibilities for deepening the understanding of how students acquire and use this skill are limitless. 

Contact us to find out how TAO enables you to create and share complex PCIs to measure 21st century skills. And download our case study detailing the French Ministry’s use of PCIs to connect the dots between teaching, learning and assessment.


download the case study detailing DEPP's use of PCIs