Tag Archive | assessment

Thoughts on Teaching – Why Change the Way We Teach? – 6/10/2019

I was struck by a paragraph in a blog post I was reading today and had to post.

Dr. David Pace, writing in the Decoding the Ivory Tower blog, wrote the following in his blog post, “Addicted to the Curve:”

An unconscious residue of this earlier stage in the development of our institutions of higher education is the assumption that an instructor has only two options – to maintain high standards or to betray the honor of the discipline by “dumbing down” the material. Such a belief system has the secondary benefit of insulating instructors from the notion that they might have an obligation to actually adjust their teaching strategies to increase the number of students who have access to the knowledge that they are hoarding.

I have only recently started following the blog, and so I have not gone back and read what he has posted in the past. In fact, in full disclosure, this is the first post I have actually read from the blog. I am familiar with him largely through his work on the Scholarship on Teaching and Learning (SoTL).

That paragraph, and really the whole post, really spoke to what I have been pursuing and continue to pursue in my reimagining of how I teach. I am very familiar with the example he had earlier in the post — “‘We grade on the curve,’ they said. ‘The best exams get ‘As,’ the worst get ‘Fs,’ and the rest are spread out in between. How else would we know what grade to give each student?'” I remember my grad school days where I would spread out student papers in order of quality on my apartment floor, and then I would give the papers furthest to the left in front of me the highest grades and just go down from there to the lowest on the right. In other words, I graded the papers in the relative sense with each other – the best getting the highest grade, and all down from there. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that, but it was an example I saw in my own grading, back in the pre-rubric days and back when I largely just gave that grade to the students with minimal feedback, and, if asked to justify the grade, would have had little more to say except that, in relation to others in the class, that’s where the paper fell.

This same idea was in a recent Tea for Teaching episode that I was listening to. In the episode “Writing Better Writing Assignments,” Dr. Heather Pool said, “And so, my experience as an undergrad was I got a lot of papers that had a letter grade and like the occasional ‘Good’ or ‘What?’ in the comments, and that was pretty much it. I had no idea what I needed to do to get an A and I wanted to get an A.” This was exactly what I was giving students, and it is still what I see happen a lot.

The argument (which is what I liked about Dr. Pace’s take on it) that doing anything different would be “dumbing down” the material is one I have heard many times. That, if I don’t hold my students to incredibly high standards by making sure that not many of them do well, then I am just “spoonfeeding” them the material. But in most of the cases where I have heard this, there is little effort made to help the students to do well. It is a sink-or-swim condition. The students are assumed to have the skills they need to succeed, and any inability on their part to meet the expectations of the class are taken as them just not being good enough. The responsibility is taken off of the teacher and put on the student. If they fail a multiple-choice test, they didn’t study hard enough. If they can’t write a paper, they are poor writers. If they can’t complete a project or pay attention in class, they are just lazy. They are not agents of their own, they are instead just pawns in the machine of higher education, where the best come out the other end while everyone else gets ground down.

This idea was also discussed in a book I am currently reading, An Urgency of Teachers by Sean Michael Morris and Jesse Stommel. In their introduction, they discuss Paulo Freire’s notion from Pedagogy of the Oppressed that this type of eduction is the banking model, where it is a “one-sided transactional relationship, in which teachers are seen as content experts and students are positioned as sub-human receptacles” (4). Sub-human receptacles. Pawns. Whatever it makes them, it is certainly not what I am looking for in teaching.

So, back to what Dr. Pace said, I do not want to “insulating [myself] from the notion that [I} might have an obligation to actually adjust [my] teaching strategies to increase the number of students who have access to the knowledge that [I am] hoarding.” In fact, I want to be able to raise my students up and give them the skills to succeed. I am not “dumbing down” my content but teaching my subject and the skills necessary to understand and succeed.I have been working on this for years, and I am still working on it. I can only say it is a work in progress now, and I hope that I continue in this direction and do not turn my back on it when it does get hard or frustrating.

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What I Do – Part 1 – Online Courses – Teaching the Content

I was at a 5-year-old’s birthday party this past weekend, and a parent asked what I do. When I responded that I teach history at a community college, he proceeded to tell me about his own experience. He came to this country as a senior in high school and had to take American history to graduate. He then went off to college and took American history there the next year. His comment was that he thought it was a waste of time to take college-level history, as it was just a repeat of what he had been taught in high school. That further convinced me that my approach to teaching college-level history is heading in the right direction, as I know that my class is nowhere near just a repeat of what the students would have gotten in high school. In fact, the top comment that I get in my discussion forums is how the students have not heard much of anything that I teach before coming to my class.

That brings me to the first part here of what I do in the online teaching environment for history. For a long time, teaching history has been focused around the narrative, with the feeling that, if you do not speak about every single detail of American history that you can squeeze in, then you are failing to do your job. I hear that from my colleagues here and elsewhere that, every time we are asked to do something besides teaching the narrative, we are taking time away from what we are supposed to be doing. When I get to Part 2 of this series, talking about my hybrid courses, I will talk about a course where I have started the break with the narrative approach to history. However, for Part 1 here, my online course is still largely a narrative course.

What makes my course different from a high school course is: What narrative are you teaching? My students have to cover the material in multiple different ways online, getting the narrative from multiple sources and perspectives.

In the old style, the narrative came from two sources — the instructor and the textbook. The instructor presented the “true” content for the course, and the textbook covered all the cracks where the instructor either did not have enough time or did not present on topics he or she wasn’t all that interested in. These two sources largely matched in approach, and student success in class came in how closely they could match the instructor and textbook approaches on their multiple-choice and essay exams.

I have so many different perspectives in my class that there is no single source of information. As well, throughout all of it, I do not insist on a coverage model at all, as we will have some material that we will spend a lot of time on and others that we will not. At the base, here are the sources that my students have:

  • My lectures (presented in both a Word document and as audio podcasts)
  • The textbook (1-2 chapters each week)
  • 7-10 primary sources with detailed assessments on each through the semester
  • Crash Course US History videos from YouTube
  • 10-20 additional resources on the web each week.
    • These are basically anything I can find for free on the web that has a stable link that covers some subject related to that week. These include:
      • documentaries
      • podcasts
      • newspaper articles
      • magazine articles
      • journal articles
      • slideshows
      • online museum exhibits

The only part of the above that is not required are the additional resources, but I know that students are reading them because of what they talk about in the discussion forums (which will be a later post). I will have one student post what they find interesting in a resource, and then another student will say that inspired them to read/watch/listen to the resource. Then, they post about it, triggering another couple of students, and so forth.

It is a lot of material, but, of course, in an online course, I can ask for them to do that material and hope they do it. I try to have assessments tied to all of it except the additional resources, whether it be in textbook quizzes, assessments on primary sources, or broad-based essay questions that cover the lectures and Crash Course Videos. The evidence overall shows that students are definitely accessing some of it, with the better students accessing all of it.

I feel that the coverage that I give them works well, as I hear from them regularly. I have a lot of avenues for students to talk to me about their progress in the course, and they find the material manageable and interesting, which means I am meeting the goal I am looking for.

As I move forward in developing material, I do want to do more.

  • First, I am looking to redo my lectures. They are the ones that I first developed in teaching American history almost 15 years ago, and I know they are dated. They are largely still on the coverage model, and updating them would allow me to have the lectures be more of a deep dive into the interesting material for the subject and allow the textbook to remain as the one source still tied to the coverage.
  • Second, I would like to diversify my assessments to focus more on the skills that I am looking for students to learn rather than just their memorization of the material. I have been fairly successful so far in doing that, but I know I could do more (which I will discuss in the assessment part of this discussion of what I do).

For right now, I am moderately happy with my content coverage, and, if I could do that first one, especially, I think I would have my online history course in a very good place.

Do any of you who read this teach history or another introductory subject? What do you remember from when you took introductory history?

Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 3, Part 2 – 4/9/2015

This is the second half of day 3 of the Texas Distance Learning Association conference.  I broke day 3 in half to keep it from getting too long.  So, this will cover the post-lunch sessions.

Building Effective Assessments in Online Courses

Presenters – Four Texas A&M representatives – three from Texas A&M Central Texas and one from Texas A&M Texarkana

Why is assessment important?  Assessment should be aimed at a process to help the students understand and improve their learning.  We should gain insight into student learning and development, professional effectiveness and program quality.

Forms of assessment – assessment “of” learning and assessment “for” learning

Formative assessment – gathering evidence to improve learning for the purpose of improving learning

Summative assessment – gathering evidence of student achievement to show student competence or program effectiveness.

Components of assessment – clear purpose, clear targets, sound design, effective communication, and student involvement.

  • Clear Purpose:
    • Who – student, teacher, parent
    • How – formative/summative
    • What – information, type?
  • Clear Targets
    • Do instructors understand what they are trying to assess?
    • What do they want students to learn?
  • Sound Design
    • Have assessments been designed to match the learning targets?
    • Has an appropriate method been selected and has it gone through a planning and development review?
  • Effective Communication
    • Does information provided from assessment practices allow for the development of instruction?
    • Can results be recorded and managed properly?
    • Can it be used as effective feedback?
  • Student Involvement
    • Do assessment efforts communicate the necessary information back to students, such as: learning targets, constructive feedback, learning progress

And yes, this is basically what the slides were.  The rest was largely bashing faculty for not using the tools out there, not knowing what they are assessing, being unwilling to work with what is there, and being at fault for everything.  It is interesting to see this from the perspective of the instructional designers, where we are all intransigent faculty who seem to come out as incompetent in their eyes.  Again, this is funny from my perspective, as we do not have instructional designers where I am, and I have to learn everything on my own the best that I can.

The solutions are all aimed at four-year universities as well.  What they say is goad faculty into doing this by pointing out that it is tied into tenure.  They also assume that we have big instructional design departments.  There was little actual discussion of actual assessments that are running and working, just the broad ideas.

And there we go – one of the last questions – somebody actually asked what assessments you have seen that actually work.

Tune In: Integration and Support for Harmonious Online Learning

Presenters: multiple

Tilly Slaten – San Jacinto College – Distance Learning Coordinator

Atomic Learning – online resources for distance learning students – help support dual credit students especially who don’t have the resources to make it up to campus

Julia Allen – Learning Technologist – Texas A&M University-Texarkana

Using it for professional development for faculty and to help unprepared online students so that faculty did not spend their time remediating.

Atomic Learning – just-in-time training (<3 minute) on 250+ different platforms, both aimed at faculty training and for student help. Can be completed anywhere at any time.  Training can be assigned and progress can be tracked.  Can even get certificates of completion.

Then, she made the mistake of only showing that it worked with Blackboard.  No indication made as to compatibility with anything else.

Wade Ashby – Hardin-Simmons University – Blackboard Admin

Atomic Learning – quick turnaround support – self-service support

As a note, nobody has talked about price yet – the website for Atomic Learning talks about getting a campus quote, meaning that it is not something practical for us to use at all.  In theory, this could be useful, but since it costs money and everyone is only talking about Blackboard, it is basally irrelevant.  Could be useful and cool otherwise. Ah . . . they just said that it does integrate with Moodle.

And, I won a shirt.  A Large shirt, meaning it doesn’t fit me.  But I won something.

Using Technology to Engage Students: Online AND Face-to-Face

And, I asked them, and they are not really going to talk about blogs, which is what I wanted to see.  So, I am going to head out to beat traffic.  Day 3 is over for me.

Thoughts at a Conference – Texas Distance Learning Association, Day 3, Part 1 – 4/9/2015

The second full day (third overall day) at the conference (Texas Distance Learning Association) started early for me.  To beat traffic, I got here quite early.  There was no scheduled breakfast, but, luckily, there were some basic muffins and drinks, so that carton of yogurt hours earlier got a supplement before the session started.  I have taken advantage of the quiet time of getting here early to clear some stuff out of my inbox and do some general grading for my classes, so it was not a waste of time by any means.  Today looks like a fuller schedule of sessions than yesterday, and more of them appear to be directly focused on the teaching side of things.  So I am hoping for some good content today.

Roundtable: Instructional Design: Solutions and Resources

A general discussion and networking opportunity – no focused guidance but an open-ended discussion

First major question raised – standardization vs. instructor freedom in design

TXDLA putting together a MOOC on teaching people how to teach online.  Also proposing a certification track for instructional design.  Question also about do they need their own certifications or should they be a repository of what is out there and worthwhile.

One of the things discussed was the question of instructional design when most of us who teach were never actually taught how to teach.  We are experts in our subject, but we are not taught how to put together things like student learning outcomes, cross-course competencies, and the like.

Another funny thing, of course, is that I’m in the room with instructional designers who are talking about the struggles they have with faculty and such, and as I just noted, we don’t actually have instructional designer at all.  So, it ends up being a funny conversation because people are talking about having instructional designers and how to make it a priority for instructors to get instruction on how to teach, especially to teach online, as we simply do not have it.

Assessments that Rock

Presenter – Sheree Webb – Instructional Designer – Tyler Junior College

OK.  It has not started yet, but here’s a good sign – there’s a history assessment up on the screen before we get started.  This might be directly relevant in the best way.

The question of what our students actually retain out of our classes – assessments chosen well give you the best ability to choose what students retain.  Since they are so focused on what is on the test, giving them assessments that aim at what you want them to get out of the course makes it more likely they will retain that information.

The question of the assessment not matching the learning outcomes.  The example given were the traditional history multiple choice tests that are so incredibly poor at focusing the students on what they should learn.  Who cares if they can recall random facts in history.  Recall (or as I call it in my class, memorize, regurgitate, and forget) questions are poor assessments of student success.  Are we really so poor in teaching history that what we want the students to be able to do out of the class is recall random irrelevant facts or do we want them to be able to do higher-level learning?  I just get so frustrated at the way history is taught, like multiple choice exams matter.  That we should care whether they can recall the facts has always seemed to me to be a base level of teaching history.  Of course, the argument on the other side is that you have to understand the facts to be bale to make the connections.  But, I just wonder if any of us really believe that the students completing a multiple-choice exam actually shows that they do understand that material, or have they just memorized and forgotten?

Assessment level – you want to give frequent assessments – Frequent assessments keep students engaged in the course and help them gauge how they are doing.  Recommendation – at least one formative assessment a week.  Formative means – quizzes, short essays, debates, discussion forums, short case studies, reflection questions, questions or problems with the answers posted.  Keep they engaged on a regular basis and have them be assessing their progress as they go along.

Authentic Assessment – Real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.  Could be – performing a task, real-life situations, construction/application, student-centered, and direct evidence.  This doesn’t mean you can’t do traditional assessment – selecting a response, contrived, recall/recognition, teacher-centered, and indirect evidence.  You need a combination of the two, but you need to have authentic assessment, which is often left out.

You Have Me at Hello

Presenter – Dr. Wendy Conaway – Ashford University – Assistant Professor

This one is intended to discuss the introduction forum in online classes and how it can increase student engagement.  This may not go well, as there seems to be technical issues in getting going here.  This has happened more often than not in my sessions here, as everyone seems to be having some sort of problem getting the provided computers to do what they are supposed to do.

I wonder at what point you give up on a session?  Is there a 15-minute rule on a 50-minute session?

Discussing first impressions – how we connect with students throughout the course.  We represent us, the course in general, and for students who are in a course with us the first time, it can shape how they feel about the whole college.  We represent all of the courses if we are the first ones that we encounter.  It also can give you the benefit of the doubt with the students later in the semester.

Instruction Forum – a place to create social presence – creating a persona and creating a connection between you and the students.

Introduction forums promotes a sense of community – opportunity to share and learn about each other.  People here require their students to respond to others – getting to know them.  I can’t imagine doing this.  I have eliminated mandatory responses in my classes, and I certainly would not include it here.

Introduction forums help student engagement – it helps to alleviate anxiety and can be motivating to participate.  Helps with student retention as well, keeping the students in the course.

I am going to break here for lunch and go ahead and post this one up for the first half of the conference.  I will post the second half at the end of the day.

Thoughts on Education – 2/12/2012 – Is Technology the Solution?

I haven’t had much time to sit down and think about education since Thursday.  It’s funny how the weekends slip away from you.  I do have a big backlog of articles after having not done them on either Thursday or Friday, so I’m going to stick with more reviews today.  I haven’t quite figured out what’s a good mix here, more of my own stuff or more article reviews.  Of course, even in the article reviews, I am including a lot of my own thoughts as well.  Right now, I’m doing article reviews when I get 4-5 articles I want to look at.  However, I do look at so many places for information through the week, that it is honestly quite hard not to have that many articles to examine.

Using Technology to Learn More Efficiently

OK, so to start, just ignore the large Jessica Simpson lookalike on the page there, as distracting as her stare is there.  I was interested in the article from the title, which is what gets me to save most of them for review later.  So, often as I’m sitting down here to write about them, I am reading them for the first time as well.  Sometimes they are so irrelevant or don’t do what I want that I simply don’t do anything with them at all, such as this one today.  This one almost got a delete as well, but the concept is at least interesting, even if it links up to an older style of learning that I don’t want to encourage in my own classroom — flash cards.  The article profiles a company that is digitizing flash cards and remaking them to encourage better retention and more honest use of flash cards.  The more compelling idea is the creation of a schedule and the push for accountability to the students to complete their work.  As the article notes, this is really an attempt to reduce the unproductive cramming before an exam and open up a broader studying schedule.  However, the ultimate limitation here is the students.  They are the ones who have to make the decision not to cram at the last minute, and I have a feeling that the students who would do this with this program would be the same ones who would be least likely to put off all of their learning to the last minute anyway.  Still, I’m all for accountability, especially if it could be integrated with that idea from yesterday on using Google Docs to gauge student progress.  So, maybe as a tool that an instructor could put together and release to the student, this could work.

The Gamified Classroom (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

“Today, students are expected to pay attention and learn in an environment that is completely foreign to them. In their personal time they are active participants with the information they consume; whether it be video games or working on their Facebook profile, students spend their free time contributing to, and feeling engaged by, a larger system. Yet in the classroom setting, the majority of teachers will still expect students to sit there and listen attentively, occasionally answering a question after quietly raising their hand. Is it any wonder that students don’t feel engaged by their classwork?”

This, again, goes back to the issues I’ve talked about in several other posts, especially the last one.  If we are talking about student engagement, then I think we are failing with the lecture model, especially to the most current generation of students, which is who this article series concerns.  I just have to look out at my own classes on lecture days to see the problems, with maybe 1/3 paying active attention, 1/3 paying occasional attention, and 1/3 completely disengaged from the material.  Of course, is gamification the answer?  Of course not.  But can we learn something from this educational trend?  Very likely.  Perhaps it can bring in greater engagement and even foster creativity rather than rote learning.

The role of technology can both help and hinder learning.  The article refers to a number of ways that technology can help engagement, through having the students involved in project based learning and higher levels of engagement, using both apps and clickers.  What is interesting is what the author sees as one way that technology is reducing that engagement as well, the smartboard.  I’ve not seen that criticism before, as the smartboard is often held up as one of the prime ways to engage students.  “Unfortunately, our classroom is often filled with technology that only exists to better enable old styles of teaching, the biggest culprit being the smartboard. Though it has a veneer of interactivity, smartboards serve only as a conduit for lecture based learning. They sit in front of an entire classroom and allow a teacher to present un-differentiated material to the entire group. Even their “interactive” capabilities serve only the student called upon to represent the class at the board.”  I have been suspicious of smartboards as a save-all, but I had never really been able to figure out why I didn’t like them.  I find this argument compelling.  From my own point of view, they seem to just be a new version of the chalk board, offering nothing more than you can find with the method.

“In schools, our students should be using technology to collaborate together on projects, present their ideas to their peers, research information quickly, or to hone the countless other skills that they will need in the 21st century workplace–regardless of the hardware they will be using in the future. If we’re just using tech to teach them the same old lessons. . . we’re wasting its potential. Students are already using these skills when they blog, post a video to YouTube, or edit a wiki about their favorite video game. They already have these skills; we have to show them how to use them productively and not just for entertainment. This is where Gamification comes in. Games are an important piece of the puzzle–they are how we get students interested in using these tools in the classroom environment.”  I agree.  Ha!  What I always tell my students not to do, present a big quotation and say they agree, but I guess I’ll hold myself to a lower standard than them.  Still, I think this is an insightful look at the problems with just throwing technology at the problem.  You can’t just hand teachers technology and expect them to transform everything.  Technology is not the solution, although effective teaching with effective technology could be part of the solution.

The last two Parts of the series deal with how this might take place in practice.  I’m not going to go through all of that here, as the information is diverse and hard to summarize.  So, check it out if you’re interested.  I think what is most interesting is the push for self-pacing and self-motivation for students.  Tying completion to rewards beyond simple grades and pushing the students to do more.  This is an interesting idea, but I do wonder if our students are ready for this.  That is always the problem with these articles, that they project these things into an ideal world where students are not motivated because we aren’t motivating them.  Yet, the real problem is often much more complex.  Our students are as varied as can be, and the reasons for motivation or lack of motivation are varied in the same way.  How do you motivate students who are working two jobs, taking care of kids, sick, taking care of sick family members, in school only because their parents think they should, in school only because they think the should, and so forth.  In other words, when students aren’t required to be there, such as at college, how does this push differ?  Something to think about.

The loss of solitude in schools

And, I’ll close for today with an opposite view.  Here, the author is warning against the push for project-centered education, one where we emphasize interaction and group work over individual absorption of material.  She makes the case that education is inherently a solitary process, where we engage with and absorb difficult material until we learn it.  As she says, the emphasis on group work and interaction produces students that “become dependent on small-group activity and intolerant of extended presentations, quiet work, or whole-class discussions.”  In other words, they forget how to learn on their own.

She also notes that the push away from the “sage on the stage” can be just as damaging for students.  “Students need their sages; they need teachers who actually teach, and they need something to take in. A teacher who knows the subject and presents it well can give students something to carry in their minds.”  I have never done much with small group work, so I can’t say one way or another how this works.  I have generally done either lecture or discussions.  I don’t know how to evaluate small group work, and so I have not done it.  Perhaps this is short-sighted of me, but I just don’t know how to give a grade for group work that is not just on the end project.  In other words, how do you hold everyone accountable?  I know, from talking with my wife and remembering my own experiences, that group work is inherently unequal and very frustrating for those who want to do a good job, as they generally end up doing most of it.  I don’t want to put students in that position, and have never been much for this idea.  I could be convinced otherwise, but I am skeptical on the idea of small group work.  I know that many of the changes I’m looking at making involve small group work, but I just don’t know what to do with it.

Anyway, enough for today.  Please let me know what you think or if you have any responses to the ideas I’m presenting, as I don’t want to be working in a vacuum on this.

Thoughts on Education – 2/7/2012 – Evaluation and Assessment

Sorry for yesterday’s lack of a post.  I decided to take the evening off and watch some shows with my wife and then go to bed early.  We were watching In Search of Myths & Heroes from the BBC on Netflix.  We watched 2 of the 4 episodes last night, one on Shangri-La and one on King Arthur.  Not the most groundbreaking show in the world, but I did enjoy it.  We had watched an earlier episode on The Queen of Sheba, but I didn’t really pay enough attention to that one to saymuch one way or another.  The fourth myth is going to be Jason and the Argonauts.

On to education.  I had another conversation with my Dean today regarding the future of the educational system.  I had remarked that I have seen a larger number of students already skipping class than normal at this time of the semester.  Informally, I have heard the same from other colleagues as well.  It is always an interesting phenomenon, as to when students stop coming.  I’ve had about 1/4 not showing up already, which is a bit early, as that level of absence usually doesn’t come until after the first major graded assignment, which is still over a week away for me.  What is also interesting, as I’m thinking about it here, is that my highest level of attendance is always in my smallest section.  I get 1/4-1/3 loss in attendance over the course of the semester in a 40-person class, but I will have perfect or near-perfect attendance in my two-way video section that only features 15 students directly in front of me.  I wonder if that’s another advantage of smaller classes, in that there are fewer places to hide, so more people come.  Just a theory.  Anyway, from there, our conversation turned to hybrid classes and the problem of evaluation/assessment.  He presented a compelling idea that we have discussed before, namely simplifying down the grading standards.  Right now, we use a 5-point system, A-F to determine a person’s grade in the class.  Yet, some of those grades are basically useless.  The D is a grade that means nothing.  You don’t fail if you get one and have to appear in front of the Academic Appeals committee, but you don’t get any real credit for the D and have to repeat the class.  There’s also a case to be made that a B or C aren’t all that different.  That does not mean that they aren’t different now, but that, in reality, both basically mean satisfactory completion and mastery of the material.  Then, an A is excellent.  So, what if we went to a model where instead of A-F, we just had three grades — Excellent, Satisfactory/Mastery, Failure.  As my Dean said, those are the real grades that matter to the students.  Most are just looking for satisfactory, while a few really want to push it the extra mile into Excellent.  The rest will Fail.  Any thoughts on that?

Another interesting idea that we discussed is how you would evaluate on that scale.  Actually, we talked about the whole evaluation/assessment process.  The problem with any class that moves beyond just a standard model for assessment (quizzes, tests, essays, etc.) is that the grading automatically becomes more subjective at that point.  Instead of being able to point to a number that the student earned, you have to look instead at a feeling about the student from the performance of the student in the class.  I can’t take credit for this, as my Dean is the one to give this example, but I like it, so I am repeating it here.  The example is that if I go through a semester with a group of students, doing primarily discussion and class work as the fundamental assessment, then I will, at the end of the semester, be asked to assign a grade.  It will be a grade that will be hard to justify, as I would not be able to tell someone coming in a specific number grade that the student earned.  Yet, I would be able to evaluate the progress and aptitude of the student well, as I interacted with that student over the course of an entire semester, having that student talk, discuss, evaluate, participate, and create different projects, discussion, and writing.  I would be very confident in the grade that I gave the student, but I would not be able to justify it in the traditional manner.  However, if I was to give a student a B or Satisfactory, I would be confident in that evaluation.  My Dean also pointed out that I could probably ask colleagues to come in and evaluate that student or ask how that student presented him or herself in their classes, and they would probably come to a similar conclusion.  And, what is my justification, really?  Ten years of teaching experience certainly is a part of it.  Ten years of evaluating students works as well.  A further discussion we had as part of this dealt with the new state standards coming down the pipeline.  Again, they are meant to be evaluated quantitatively, but the essence of them is qualitative and subjective.  Making the students jump through hoops to get the right number grade is one way to do it, but if you had some system that was more subjective yet acceptable would be interesting as well.

I don’t know really.  It was a long, productive talk that we had, and my mind is still processing some of it.  I was going to do some article reviews as well here, but I’ve gotten so caught up in thinking about this that I think I’m going to go ahead and close here for the day.  I have articles and can talk about them tomorrow.

Thoughts on Education – 2/4/12

I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and think about education.  Not because I’ve been doing other important things but because I have exactly not been doing other important things.  I tend to try and take some time off when I get the chance during the week, and the last 24 hours or so was that.  The time off will vanish as I get closer to my first big set of assignments due in about a week and a half, but right now, there’s time to take a break in the week every once in a while.  So, I’m blogging now with regard to the articles that I have saved up over the last couple of days.

 

“The Admiring Ignorant”

I liked this blog post a lot regarding the tempering of optimism that initially comes from teaching as you realize how difficult it is to retain that feeling that you are going to change the world.  William was warned by a professor of his in grad school that each year “the students seemed lazier, the job of teaching them harder. And much less rewarding.”  He, like so many of us thought that we could make that difference and be different as well, but then, he was confronted with the reality of the situation, captured well in this paragraph:

“The pedagogue in me gently corrects students’ misconceptions. The educated person in me shakes his head and laughs at such fundamental misunderstandings. But sometimes, the part of me who has to grade the papers — the part of me who is conscious of the 14-hour workdays, the amount of effort I’m putting into this job of educating these students — wonders ‘Is this really what I ought to be doing with my life? Is it possible to really make a difference in these lives?'”  I would imagine that any of us in teaching has come across that many, many times.  We get astounded at the ways that students can mess something up, at the base ignorance that is out there.  We share the funny stories with each other, and we shake our heads.  I do it all the time, it seems.  And, as we say, it seems to get worse year by year.

Again to return to the post here, he says, “‘I had so much respect for my own professors,’ I tell myself. ‘Yet these students seem to be mocking my efforts.'”  But then he actually goes back and remembers what he did in classes, skipping, not paying attention, scraping by at the last minute on papers, not really studying for tests, etc. and thinks that maybe we just see it differently because we are in the position of authority and that it was just a situation of us forgetting or willfully ignoring what our fellow students (and us) were really like back then.  I think I was good, but I can remember slacking off and doing things I shouldn’t do in class.  It’s just that those things are obvious in a different way now, with technology, etc.  Back then, if you doodled on your page or something like that, it wasn’t as obvious you were doing things you shouldn’t be doing.  Now, we see a laptop or cell phone and we automatically assume that they are not paying attention.

So, what am I trying to say about the article?  I’m not exactly sure.  I liked reading it and could easily identify with it.  Does it help explain anything?  I don’t know.  I always try to avoid saying the students get worse every year because I fundamentally don’t think that’s true.  In the historical sense, I think that the real issue is that we always have that glow looking back through rose-colored glasses that things were better in the past (even if only last semester!) than they are now, and we willingly forget what things were like when we were in their seats.

I think, also, that we are too willing to blame technology for the problems today.  The methods of slacking and not paying attention and not doing work have changed, but I’m not sure that the amount of those things have changed all that much.  I think that’s the point of the post more than anything else, and I have to say that I agree.  I invite technology in my classroom, with the full expectation that students will use it and abuse it.  I do this because I also think that it can enhance the classroom, although I’m still working on ways to ensure that it does more of the latter than the former.  I just think that outright bans on technology are wrong-headed and punishing in ways that may not be intentional or expected.  My wire, for example, has been using her laptop in class to record her teachers’ lectures so that she can listen to them later.  And she really does listen to them later.  Yet, she has a teacher now that keeps her from doing that by banning technology.  So, here’s a student who not only is going to listen and take notes but will even go back and listen several times more to the material, and she can’t at this point.  Just a single example, but I think blanket bans end up hurting as much as they help.  (And, cue stepping off of the soapbox . . .)

 

Difference Engine:  Let the Games Begin 

Interactive Textbooks.  OK.  I want to see one.  Where can I find a true interactive textbook?  One designed for college students, whether in my subject area or not?  This is the big promise of iBooks and all of the stuff Apple is doing.  Now I want to see it.  Do I lack patience in this, yes!  I want change and I want it now!

Here’s what The Economist says about it:  “Done properly, interactive textbooks offer not only video tutorials, more personalised instruction, just-in-time hints and homework help, but also instant access to assessment tools, teaching resources and the ability to network socially with students elsewhere. Using tools for highlighting and annotating virtual flash-cards, students can select information within the text and store it for later revision. Searching public databases, direct from within the textbook, is also possible. At school, students can sync with their teachers’ computers, to hand in their quiz results and homework for marking.”  Of course, the question is, will it be “done properly?”  And, if you provide those options, will students use them?  That’s the big question that always comes up with new technology.

So, again, I want an interactive textbook now.  I want one set up for college history.  I’ll run a class test on it tomorrow.  Let’s get this moving, as I think it has a lot of potential, but if we just screw around, that potential will be lost.

By the way, since it is mentioned in this article (and just about everywhere else), has anyone tried using the Khan Academy?  With college students?

 

What Higher Education Can Learn from Video Games

I like the idea here, but the article is a bit shallow on ideas.  I like the idea of “gamification,” one of those ideas floating around now of including games in the learning process to make students more engaged.  This is probably because I like playing games so much myself.  I like the idea of using something that a lot of people already enjoy doing, playing games, and harnessing that energy to a learning environment.  How this could be done for a more ethereal subject realm like the humanities and social sciences is not all that obvious, and how you would assess learning in a gaming environment is even less obvious, but I am intrigued by the idea.

To me, this is the most interesting reason for it:  “Compared to traditional, lecture approaches learning where students sit passively either in a classroom or training boardroom to learn the workplace procedures by memory without any real-life interaction; game-based learning lets individuals learn the facts by testing (via practice and failure) until we commit it, not only memory, but also understand the howís and whys of our success in a real-life situation.”

 

5 Foundational Principles for Course Design

Two very interesting ideas out of this one, ironically enough, neither of them is at the center of the article.

First comes from the first paragraph, which grabbed me immediately.  “The big secret amongst many of us who work in online learning is that we are not all that wild about online courses. Sure, we think online courses can be great, and can fill an important need, but what really gets us excited is learning.”  Undoubtedly true.  I did not get started teaching online because I thought it would solve all of the world’s problems or bring a real new and different way to my teaching.  I did it because that’s what was required of my job.  I think I’m pretty decent at teaching online, but I will be the first to admit that there’s a lot I don’t know at all about it.  I always feel like my online courses are experimental, and I am never very satisfied with them.  Of course, I feel that about my regular courses as well, so that’s not a very good comparison.

I then found the end of the article to raise an interesting point along this very line.  The article goes through how you put some principles together as you try to create a new online course.  It advocates 5 principles, as stated in the title of the article.  They’re nothing spectacular and woefully under-explained in the article, but I found the final paragraph to raise an interesting point that I have talked with others about:  “To my knowledge, this sort of detailed course proposal and course delivery review and support methodology is not standard in most of our on-ground classes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow diffuse these resources and methods throughout our curriculum?”  Yes, exactly.  We think all the time about online classes, and we have a whole evaluation setup for them at my community college.  Yet nobody evaluates the content and presentation of our face-to-face classes in the same way.  We see much more scrutiny in online courses, and the question raised about why is one that doesn’t get asked often enough.

 

Anyway, I think that’s good for today.  I’ll see what crosses my computer in the next day or so to see if I have more articles to talk about or if I will move on to another subject tomorrow.