Tag Archives: PLENK2010

Thoughts on an NWP MOOC

One of the charges for my Flat Classroom Certification was to begin designing a project. While I have a couple  of other ideas that have been taking shape in my head, in the last month or so one idea has been taking serious root. So while it is not an exact fit with the course, the instructors were generous enough to allow me to pitch the following as part of the course. It definitely an idea that has taken hold of a lot of my thinking of late, as I investigate it more. I welcome any and all feedback as I continue developing the idea.

Last year began a genuine fascination with the Massive Open Online Class (MOOC) concept, courtesy of George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Despite my better efforts my initial efforts to participate fell short. Regardless the concept was a fascinating one to me. When this year’s Personal Learning Environments Networks & Knowledge MOOC ran, I jumped back into the fray and this time participated more fully. Participating to the end was considerably more satisfying than my previous attempts and it got me thinking about the applications of this new learning model. Additionally, a team including Siemens, Dave Cormier recently released The MOOC Model for Digital Practice wanting to experiment with them.

I would love to try it with my high school English classes, but there are some limitations when working with minors. Plus, it is harder to imagine as many participants being interested in a course geared toward fourteen to fifteen year-olds. Then it ocurred to me that National Writing Project (NWP) might be the best place to experiment with a modified MOOC application.

The National Writing Project already offers an extensive network of educators across disciplines at all levels, early childhood through university. Moreover, the network is comprised of teacher consultants (TCs) that have already experienced the formative Invitational Summer Institute (ISI). However, there are over 200 local sites offering an ISI, which is the official introduction to the network, and beyond that what local sites can offer is considerably uneven, depending on available resources. While all sites offer some kind of follow-up continuity events, these are point of continual struggle for all local sites.

Consequently, my idea is to adapt the MOOC framework for interested NWP TCs. The idea would be to offer a kind of synthesized packaging of some of the work that affiliated NWP channels are already doing into an Advanced Invitational Summer Institute, of sorts, where the invitation to participate is essentially open. While the target audience would really be designed to appeal to existing TCs, already familiar with the NWP model, and looking for another ISI like experience, it could potentially be a way to enlist and introduce new participants to the NWP network, as well as potential international connections.

There are a lot of potential advantages to this approach, it seems to me.

On a fundamental level, the open nature and scale of an effort like this provides an additional means for interested TCs to be involved in the network on their own terms, pursuant to their own personal interest and goals. Of course, this already exists with available resources, but it is only possible through considerable individual effort navigating all of the various NWP channels and initiatives. Not all local sites have the capacity to provide large-scale guidance throgh the deep resources that already exist and are constantly emerging. One of the goals of an effort like this would be to provide some relatively focused guidance and curation for participants navigating and making sense of their journey with them material and resources.

Due to the great diversity in what each local site can offer in addition to the mainstay ISI, it allows TCs who would like to deepen their experience and connections within the network a chance to do that with a grander set of resources and appeal, while still attempting to emulate aspects of the ISI models of professional development. While a virtual experience, another real advantage is the fertile ground that can emerge for cultivating new and interesting connections that may not have previously been a available or known. It is another step toward extending and strengthening the “National” aspect of the network.

Also, being a virtual experience, it would advance and even explore many aspects of teaching the “New Writing” or “Digital Writing,” an area where NWP has been a clear leader in professional development. A MOOC of this kind would then serve as a grander hub of activity, that would build upon and bring together some of the best offerings of NWP, for example like the work that is done in the E-Anthology, Digital Is, Teachers Teaching Teachers, current Initiative strands, in a guided or facilitated way geared more for the “advanced user” but open to anyone interested. It would provide some focused inquiry on elements of NWP work that many TCs might not know exist or don’t yet have a strong grasp until they have made a more concerted effort to investigate.

The benefits would be in the participating. More than that, I see it as a valuable enhancement or enrichment for interested TCs that may not feel as connected. The open invitation has a lot of appeal to me, and the prospect that people outside NWP or even internationals  might participate is a genuinely exciting possibility. With a variety of ways to participate, individuals have enormous flexibility on the amount, degree, and interest in participation. Additionally, it potentially offers an alternative way towards continuity for building capacity on a larger scale that could benefit the local sites where participants are affiliated. The open nature of it also offers potential to not only eliminate geographical boundaries for existing TCs in larger rural states but enrich already existing efforts in those contexts. The potential content and knowledge that an effort like this could create is worthy of investigation, as well as being a potential boon for NWP related activity and awareness.

If anyone else is interested in this idea, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Catching My Breath & Reflecting as Teacher & Student

Like many in my Flat Classroom Certification cohort, I have to admit that having a week to breathe in the certification course and do catch up really was appreciated. Simultaneously following and participating in PLENK2010, has been arduous and taken a bit of a dip the last two weeks. Plus, I found myself in what an old friend referred to as an assessment bottleneck, which is code for English teachers, meaning I had a load of papers to read. Combined with a few Writing Project initiatives I have going with NWPMWP and BWP, I was feeling like everything was converging at once.

An added benefit, it gave me a little time to do a little reflection both for my work as a teacher and as a student. For one, the timing was great in terms of teaching, as I am approaching a midterm point in the classes I teach. As far as being a student in a couple of courses, it is the midpoint in one and close in another. I often feel like courses should have an equivalent of half-time, a chance for some assessment and adjustments. In this case, it has worked out to be kind of like one.

On the teaching front, I wrote a bit about my grading experiment last week and continue to monitor. However, at this point I have seen enough work from my students to have a much clearer idea about who is meeting expectations and who is not. In fact, I am planning on administering a short survey to gather some of their thoughts about the class more than the grading. I will survey them about the grading later. I am interested to see how their answers, which involve some reflections and self-assessment will match with my initial impressions and assessments. More on this to come.

Also on the teaching front, I am rapidly approaching a transition point, where most of my classes will be wrapping up some existing work and venturing into a new unit of study. I always find the transitions from one unit to another kind of exciting. It is an opportunity to make adjustments based on the growing understanding I have of the current students, while accounting for what has been successful in the past. I am always interested to see how the current students respond to the new material.

As a student, I have felt a bit like I was falling behind the pace. This is certainly the case with the PLENK2010 course. However, I do feel like that course will have a long aftertaste. Considering that it does not have any assessments, other than self-assessment, and my participation is completely based on my own interest, I feel a little less pressure. Plus, I have been a bit more in consumption mode with that line of inquiry, reading a lot of material. In some ways, it is hard to slow down the gathering and reading of material long enough to truly contemplate it in all of its complexity until after it is over. At least, that’s is sometimes how I feel.

However, even if I have not had a chance to collect my thoughts on that material and produce any artifacts of that thinking I still feel engaged and like a participant, just one that has had to slow down and move to the outside and behind the frontrunners. I only wish that I had more time to be even more immersed in it. I am finding the whole massively open online course (MOOC) experience extremely fascinating as a phenomenon. Plus, I am learning a whole lot. Even from my temporary place on the side, it remains exhilarating.

As for the Flat Classroom Certification course, it was the most welcome break. I had been making pretty strong headway in that course and very much feeling like a front runner, getting things done quickly and early. Then, I started running into some communication problems since a few changes to my email configuration. It has left me a little out of the loop for a short time, a problem that took awhile to discern, which I just recently have been able to address.

All in all, it has been a welcome break and I am ready to jump back into the fray more aggressively. I feel like I may have caught a second wind.

Initial Observations on a Grading Experiment

As I have been trying to play a little catch-up with PLENK2010, I have been reading over some material on assessment from last week. This also corresponds with a major professional development initiative at the school in which I work. While the professional development work is progressing somewhat slowly, the material for PLENK2010 has been interesting. However, all of it has simply served to make me reflect more closely on an experiment that I implemented at the beginning of this year, which involves not providing grades for most assignments in my class.

I should clarify that just because I am not putting a mark on the work doesn’t mean that I am not providing just as much or more feedback than I would if there were a grade. It is something that I had been considering for a year or so, particularly after having a few truly trying sections in the last couple of years that seemed obsessively focused on grades. At some point, I got rather tired of arguing with the students about their programmed fixation on any assignment’s grade. So this move was incubating for a while.

While it is still a little early to completely determine whether the results are successful or not, it has provided some interesting developments. The students seem to be making some more progress faster, in the area of writing, than they have in the past. Of course, this could completely be a correlation or even a coincidence and not causal. Yet, there does seem to be the faintest glimmer of light bulbs appearing for many students. There also seems to be a little less reluctance to make mistakes when trying to express their understanding. I keep encouraging them to make mistakes and learn from them. Without the pressure of seeing a mark on a paper or other assignment, there seems to be a greater willingness to do this, although it is a very difficult thing to measure.

Most fascinating to me is the lack of revolt that I got when I presented the plan to the students. I explained that for the first half of the semester particularly they would receive no grades on most assignments. We have the occasional quiz or smaller assignment that is scored, but generally they get back papers with a lot of comments and questions in the margins to help guide their revisions. In exchange, everyone is granted a “B” on monthly progress reports unless I speak with them to the contrary. If they are not meeting a high enough standard of work, I assured them I would speak with them.

Only one student expressed their initial dissatisfaction. When I offered to make an exception for him and provide him with grades with the understanding that might mean he would receive something less than a “B” on a given report, he acquiesced. In fact, after his performance on the first quiz, in which he struggled, he even expressed his gratitude and was more pleased with his decision than ever.

Once I have a greater body of work from them to truly assess a grade, I anticipate sometime towards the end of the semester, I will begin to grade some work in an effort to eliminate confusion and suggest what they might expect for a term grade. Still, that will not be every assignment, but more likely a few select benchmark assignments. Of course, they continue to receive credit for completing the assignments.

I even presented this plan to all the parents that attended our Back-to-School-Night, which is always remarkably well attended. Even they did not protest. Additionally, I gladly welcomed them to make an appointment with me if they wanted to discuss it in greater detail and there has not been a single request. Honestly, I was expecting a heated battle from either or both camps.

What I have learned so far from this experience is how much better I enjoy the classes. I provide feedback that they actually read now. Their writing is generally improving in depth, detail, and overall development. I think they feel less judged. There feels like there is less pressure in the room, as a rule. There certainly is far less outright competition and comparing of marks. I even feel it is improving the teacher-student relationship to a certain degree.

I plan on giving them a survey in the near future to get a sense of what they think about the experience and how they feel about it. There is the definite possibility that their responses will alter my approach more or less while maintaining the plan on the whole. However, I have a hunch that my observations are reasonably accurate. I suppose the students might be inclined to tell me what I want to hear, but I will try to take aim at preventing that. Also, I plan to give another one at the end of the semester, when the experiment is finished. At that point, I think I will have a much sounder sense of what is working and what is not.