Podcast #13 Data Mining & Students: A Conversation with Chris Gilliard & Hugh Culik

Formative Assessment Podcasts

Hugh Culik has been a high school English teacher, a novelist, a grant writer, an English Professor and Chair of the University of Detroit Mercy, English Department, Executive Director of the Upper Peninsula’s Bonifas Art Center, and has been an instructor at Macomb Community College for the past seven years. Throughout these lives, he has frequently published about the relationship of mathematics and literature.

He credits Chris Gilliard for a large part of his skepticism about “digital culture.”

Chris Gilliard has been a professor for 20 years, teaching writing, literature, and digital studies at a variety of institutions, including Purdue University, Michigan State University, the University of Detroit, and currently Macomb Community College. His students have gone on to graduate programs at a variety of schools: University of Colorado, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, Columbia, University of Chicago, and elsewhere. Chris is interested in questions of privacy, surveillance, data mining, and the rise in our algorithmically determined future.

Chris and Hugh are part of a group of scholars and activists who are concerned with the ways ed tech companies have made their way into the classroom in ways that not only erode student privacy and make student data available to advertisers and other “third parties”, but also have the potential to create permanent profiles of students in the name of personalized learning.

This podcast is also available on iTunes


Contact Info:

Chris Gilliard’s email

Hugh Culik email


Electronic Privacy Information Center

Fordham University: Center for Law and Information Policy

Dana Boyd

The Black Box Society

Audrey Watters




Formative Assessment


In thinking about formative assessment, we have found the work of Margaret Heritage (2007) to be particularly helpful.  Heritage describes formative assessment as an organized and planned process used to “gather evidence about learning.”  In this process, the data gathered about student learning are analyzed in order to determine students’ skills and understandings so the teacher can then shape learning activities to better support the students as they move towards their learning goal.  Heritage writes that, “In formative assessment, students are active participants with their teachers, sharing learning goals and understanding how their learning is progressing, what next steps they need to take, and how to take them” (p. 141).

Heritage then describes three primary types of formative assessment:  “on-the-fly assessment, planned-for interaction, and curriculum-embedded assessment” (p. 141).  On-the-fly assessments take place in the moment of instruction, for example when a teacher notices a student misconception about an important concept and uses a Stop and Jot writing exercise to quickly gather information on the prevalence of this misunderstanding across the whole class. Planned-for-interactions are moments built into lesson plans where the teacher gathers information about student understanding in order to inform instructional moves going forward in the lesson.  This might involve, for example, planned small group discussions about a key question or process in the lesson followed by groups presenting a graphic organizer representing their thinking.  The teacher can then make informed choices about  re-teaching important ideas or moving forward in the lesson.  Curriculum-embedded formative assessments are, as suggested in their name, built into curricula or instructional sequences and are placed at important points in learning progressions to provide teachers and students with insight into the thinking and learning taking place.

Finally, Heritage identifies four “core elements” of formative assessment:

  • identifying the “gap,”
  • feedback, and
  • student involvement,
  • learning progressions (p. 141)

Formative assessment first needs to “identify the gap,” or evaluate a where a student currently is with respect to some pre-determined goal for learning activity.  Formative assessment also has to include feedback, and this feedback needs to be geared towards helping the student move closer to the learning goal.   As already implied, the student needs to be involved in this process, and very importantly, aware that this is the process taking place.  In other words, students need to know about the learning goal, they need to know where they stand, and they need feedback that is is designed to help them achieve the learning goal.  Underlying of all of these other core elements is the notion of learning progressions;  the final learning goal needs to have identified sub-goals so that the students can set short-terms learning goals they can achieve as they advance and learn.

Heritage, M.  (2007).  Formative Assessment:  What do teachers need to know and do?  Phi Delta Kappan 89(2):  140-145.