Tag Archives: MOOC

Education Evolutions Newsletter #13

It was a little harder to find decidedly more positive pieces for this week, as some of that is a bit in the beholder. Hopefully, this selection does not require a dark soundtrack, perhaps a bit more like jazz.

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Here are four curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

  • When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools – The Atlantic – Timothy D. Walker  (11 minute read)
    Walker is a Massachusetts native living and working in Finland as a teacher. In this piece, he characterizes three teachers from Finland now working in American schools and documents their experiences. Considering how Finland is widely considered the best school system in the international scoring tables, it is interesting to see their first-hand difficulties with the way our American system is structured. Also interesting is the inclusion of long-time standards advocate Marc Tucker who writes a regular column for EdWeek. While he is considered an expert in education policies and practices from abroad, Tucker’s warning at the end of the article seems rather alarmingly dramatic.

  • Why Identity and Emotion are Central To Motivating the Teen BrainKQED’s MindShiftEmmeline Zhao  (7 minute read)
    While there might not be anything truly revolutionary in this article, it does a nice job of consolidating a lot of emerging understanding about the adolescent brain. Perhaps its primary value is in a kind of reframing that enables to see certain kinds of challenges as genuine opportunities. It certainly provides soft support for the notion of students driving a lot of their own learning through setting their own goals involving their own interests, something many high schools have a difficult time embracing institutionally. There is increasingly little doubt that it is a profoundly romantic period in life, in the purest sense.

  • This Is Not An EssayModern LearnersLee Skallerup Bessette (11 minute read)
    I have a hunch that I read this once upon a time, since it was written in 2014, although it resurfaced recently as it might as well be required reading. I wish I had written this piece myself for so many reasons. Skallerup Bessette gets right to the heart of a dark disservice that we do to students far too often. Rigid, narrow demands and negative reinforcement are just part of a constellation of associations with writing for students and yet more than ever before they are “writing.” It might not be what teachers want or like but, as Skallerup Bessette observes, “They learn, they teach, they offer their own feedback, they fail, and they try again. And we often actively work in schools to devalue, undermine, and even try to get students to unlearn these skills.” We can meet students where they are or force them to meet us where we are. I know which one I would choose.

  • It Turns Out Spending More Probably Does Improve EducationThe New York Times – Kevin Carey and Elizabeth A. Harris  (8 minute read)
    There is an element of this article that strikes a kind of cynicism, a well-who-doesn’t-know that kind of response. Yet the research profiled in this piece provides the kind of substantive data as evidence for the claim. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much, there has been a lot less hard evidence in support of this than we might realize. Of course, the researchers are still using tests as a metric because schools are all about testing, right? Still, what research like this does is support the eye-test, what we see all around us, which can at times be the best kind of research and use of data. Not surprisingly, the requisite charter supporter questions the findings and seems almost dismissive. It frustrates me to no end how often journalists, in an attempt to be “balanced” include just anyone with an opposing view regardless of whether they have any warrants for their views or not.

Advertisements

At the Beginning of the Personal Learning MOOC

Image: Personal Learning - title slideI have registered for Stephen Downes Personal Learning MOOC (#NRC01PL) even though I am juggling a few balls already. Since I am beginning an accredited course with some colleagues, as well, it may all be a bit much, but I really like Downes’ and company’s work and try to pay enough attention to remain aware, at the least.

Having tried some edX courses in the past, the open version of the environment was pretty familiar. Navigating the environment is not really a problem. I am not sure how much I actually like it. However, I am not sure how much I like any course management system.

What is a bit more tricky is that at the moment the edX course site is not mature enough as the course hub. By that, I mean that it has not been preloaded with a lot of content, that I can tell. It seems to be evolving in real-time. Downes is getting used to the system at the same time as the participants.

Of course, the course site will never include every resource available for the class. That is not really the problem, but there are a handful of streams already where the main content is made available. There is the course site, daily email newsletter, Downes’ blog and YouTube channel, as well as any additional tools employed, like Diigo.

It would be nice if that was all clearly collected within the edX course site. I suspect that will improve over time. It seems as though I am not the only one that is contemplating this either.

Here are some of my thoughts. I know it is all the start of an experiment, which is fine. Being a cMOOC always carries a bit of an experimental quality, I think. It is one of the appeals. I know through experience that there is no way to keep up with everything that happens in a MOOC, although that has always made me uneasy. There is never enough time to keep up with all the fascinating things that cMOOCs are so great at creating and aggregating.

Yet, I already feel a bit like I am bound to miss something important or forget to look in multiple places for some of the basic information related tot he course. Given that I am also starting a paid course for work that will undoubtedly take a bit more precedence, I worry about how much I will be able to stay connected.

I have liked all the cMOOCs I have ever followed, despite feeling like I struggle to stick with them. In the beginning, I would get overwhelmed very quickly and it took a few attempts before getting a better feel for how to manage my own involvement. Of course, so many things can interfere, like a traditional paid-for-course through a university, which has always frustrated me a bit. Still, those are the credits that have more currency in my current environment.

More than anything, I am hoping to pick up some methods and tools for better collecting, managing, and sharing my personal learning. It is something I have struggled with and never been completely satisfied with for awhile. I am particularly hoping to find out more about gRSShopper and how to possibly employ that as a possible tool.

Similar to Jenny Mackness, I suppose I am not sure how completely active I will be just yet, but as always I begin with the highest of hopes.

The Only Assessment that Matters

Photo: Inverse #2

Inverse 2 – cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Andy Houghton

A fellow National Writing Project colleague and friend Paul Allison and I were talking once upon a time, when he posed a question very close to this, “In the end, self-assessment is the only assessment that really matters isn’t it?” That may not be exactly what he said, but that is how I like to remember it. Plus, it certainly captures the spirit of the brief exchange. The sentiment resonated so strongly with me it has remained ever since.

We all must live with ourselves an awfully long time, more than anyone else certainly has to live with us. That’s for sure. It is not uncommon for me share comments like these and stress the importance of reflection and self-assessment with my students.

A Brief Anecdote on Student Self-Assessment

A few years ago, I received the most remarkable student self-assessment I have ever read, as part of an end-of-semester writing portfolio. Also, I have to admit being a little disconcerted when I saw myself quoted in a student paper, but this student simply gets it and gets it on a deeper level than I ever would have imagined. It also seemed to highlight a lot of the issues that have been shared and discussed in this MOOC. Here is an excerpt.

Through the course of the year, I have been writing down bits of conversations, words, and tips that I have heard in English class. Some are funny, some are weird, and some really stick with me. On October 28th, you said, “[Self-assessment] is really the only assessment that matters.” Is it? Through the course of the year, I grew more and more at home with this statement. If I know I am doing the best I can, then everything else is secondary. “Any time you’re focused on the grade, you are off target,” you said on February 14th [and has] always been a hard concept for me to wrap my head around. Through the year, though, these quotes bloomed into significant meaning. Whenever I write, like now for instance, it needs to just be the best I can do. My goal is to make my point and prove it in my writing, not simply to reach 600 words. This is a way that I have grown as both a student and a person, because as my mindset in school shifted, so did my outlook on the rest of my life.

Keep in mind this is from a former ninth grade student. It remains my favorite, most fascinating student self-assessment I have ever received. It broke all expectations. In fact, reading something like this, written by a student, makes a lot of the slogging through drafts as an English teacher, a whole lot less daunting.

My Latest Plan for a Self-Assessment

I am about to wrap a narrative writing unit with my ninth grade students, which I have already mined for examples for Beyond Letter Grades. Heavily influenced by George Hillocks’ Narrative Writing: Learning a New Model for Teaching, I have been using a lot of the methodology outlined in that title ever since reading it.

Beginning with a pre-test audit to be written in a one hour class, students were given the following prompt right from Hillocks: Write a story about an event that is important to you for some reason. Write about it in as much detail as you can so that someone reading it will be able to see what you saw and feel what you felt.

This week students will submit their anchor summative assignment, which they have had a couple of weeks to develop. Later in the week, they will take the post-test, another hour in class writing task, with the same pre-test prompt. In between, they have completed a handful of what I like to call rehearsal assignments, practicing specific narrative techniques listed in this rubric, also something I have adapted from Hillocks.

I have deliberately kept only a handful of broad categories to be assessed. Using this rubric, I already scored the pre-test, and will also use it to score the summative narrative task and the post-test.

Prior to assigning the summative narrative task, I issued and reviewed the rubric with students, in an effort to key them explicitly into the skills and technique I am hoping that they will demonstrate, despite routinely highlighting them in classroom instruction and various reading selections.

Once they have done a round of peer feedback and submitted the summative narrative task and completed the post-test, I am going to have students conduct a self-assessment.

  1. I will ask each student to score their summative narrative task with the rubric, prior to submitting it.
  2. I will hand each student their pre-test and ask them to score it with the rubric.
  3. I will hand each student their post-test and again ask them to score it with the rubric.
  4. I will then ask them to write narrative feedback about the difference between the two scores, specifically focusing on what they have identified as improvement and why.

I am considering sharing the scores I gave each student on both the pre-test and post-test, and asking them to consider any potential discrepancies between their scores and mine, but I am still undecided on this point.

Turning Summative into Formative

Since I have students complete an end-of-semester writing portfolio, this exercise will be good preparation for a more general, reflective self-assessment that accompanies the portfolio, like the student excerpt included above. Keeping with a broader strategy of looping many of the tasks and skills over the length of the course, this narrative self-assessment becomes a rehearsal for the portfolio one.

All three assessments then become fair game for revision, thus transforming a summative assessment into a formative one. Students may choose which piece that they would ultimately like to include in the portfolio. Since each one is a story, it can become more difficult to decide which story they want to revise, develop further, and include as their best of the narrative bunch along with the other modes and genres that comprise the portfolio.

Coda

In the end, I am blending a number of concepts celebrated in this class in my teaching practice, sometimes in a number of simultaneous ways. Occasionally, I wonder if it can become too complicated for my students. However, the only thing I am truly concerned about is that students are able to learn, improve, and demonstrate their learning in a few different ways. This is also a message that I repeatedly try to impress upon them over the length of the course.

Attempting many alternative assessment methods requires a pretty substantial initial investment of time and energy in developing relationships,  setting expectations, and building trust. It may be a bit ambitious, but I can say that the results have been relatively successful, especially as I continue to refine and advance my reasons, approach, and methods.