Archives: July 2015

The Joy of Assessment

The classes I teach—primarily sophomore comp—call for a ton of assessment via written assignments, most with significant (or, when the work is excellent, minimal) written feedback. I typically type my responses into blackboard. This way, students get feedback individually, as quicly as possible—and they don’t face the challenge of having to read my handwriting. I also offer in-class feedback on some work, and feedback orally during meetings in my office. It amazes me how often I have to tell them to take notes. It amazes me even more how often they elect not to make the changes I suggest.

The biggest challenge I face is the time it takes to respond to everything effectively. I have tweaked my approach over the years, offering more feedback on assignments that need to be really well done in order to ensure the following assignments have a solid foundation (for example, research questions, claims, outlines) and less on those assignments that students won’t be revisiting (like a synthesis assignment—unless it’s done incorrectly). Some colleagues have students do a form of self-assessment or peer assessment, but I haven’t given that much thought as yet. I’m dubious as to the value of it, though I’m interested in learning more.

We also have what we refer to as Unit 4—Argument in Translation. We have students take some aspect of the argument in their 11+ page paper (usually not all of it) and translate it into a different medium, such as infographic, video, Prezi, etc. This is quite a valuable exercise, though we don’t have time to explore it in the ways I would like. That means the grading is also fairly straightforward. If it’s good (it usually is) they get full points. If it’s clear they half-assed it, or it’s riddled with errors, they get less.

Something I have been wanting to try for a while now is one of those systems that lets you show a question on the screen and have students individually pick the correct answer—and then showing results on screen. In the olden days (2+ years ago), we would use clickers for that; nowadays, we can use students’ laptops, cell phones, tablets, etc. I finally found the time and the impetus this summer. I wanted to deliver an online quiz for my students about the correct use of semicolons, colons, brackets, parentheses, ellipses, em dashes, and en dashes: advanced punctuation of the sort every college graduate ought to know, but (almost) no one actually teaches.

Finding an effective tool was no small task, especially because I needed separate tools for my in-person and online classes. Different approaches to the teaching part, too. What I tried with my online class was to assign them to read specific sections in our manual (short sections!), and then take the test through Blackboard. Technologically, this worked fine, and it fed the answers straight into the gradebook, which was nice. The scores, though? OUCH! Sigh.

For the in-person class, I talked them through all of the punctuation rules, and then used Socrative. I will let you find it and explore it if you’re interested in details, but I will note that it’s not terribly attractive or snazzy, and you have to pay if you have more than X students (25, maybe? I had less.). We also had some technical issues: one student, in particular, had repeated problems with entering her answers. I was able to look at her screen, and it was not user error. Possibly her laptop, though?

But, here’s the really cool thing: they liked it. Said it was fun. I suggested we stop halfway through (it was time-consuming as we discussed all of the answers where there seemed to be some real confusion), and they wanted to keep going. So weird! But YAY. The final screen shows which students had the highest scores, too, so I could award them extra credit. It was a great experience all-around.

What I will do differently next time for the in-person students is to use the same ol’ worksheet on the day I teach them about punctuation, and then use Socrative (or something similar) later in the semester, with advance notice, for an in-class quiz. And I think I’ll offer extra credit for anyone who scores above a 90, as added incentive.

For the online students? Hmmm. Maybe if I build a tool that walks them through the rules with examples and quick quizzes, followed by a longer quiz. But really, who has time for that? Another sigh. Maybe next summer, when I’m “off.”

Online Teaching Update

The online class I was teaching this summer is over–huzzah! It went well–better than I expected, actually. The students were generally very motivated and engaged, and participated in discussions, group work, and other assignments. Of course, there could have been more discussion, but that’s usually the case. And I definitely need a better tool for conversation!

I was especially pleased with how well students completed a group project, particularly given that I didn’t offer them a ton of time in which to complete it. I suggested a number of ways for them to communicate, but since many of them were out of state and out of the country–and thus in different time zones–most of their communication took place via e-mail. The project was specifically designed to facilitate their breaking the assignment into chunks, which they all seemed to do. The end results, and the discussion around them, were fantastic.

Interestingly, my in-person group balked at the notion of doing group work, given the same amount of time. I like to be flexible, so I gave them each their own projects to do. This actually entailed doing more work, but they were happier, and I was glad to have them do it. One unfortunate side effect was that, if a student was unclear about what to do and/or didn’t follow directions, they got to fail in front of the class. In practice, that was…unfortunate.

Overall, the experience was a positive one. It’s offered/offering me an opportunity to reconsider how I teach in person as well as online, which will be beneficial. I think online classes make it easier, in a way, to lecture, which is not something I do a lot of in person. (And I don’t see it as a good thing.) I will continue to work on finding more interactive ways to teach various subjects, both in person and online. I’ve come to think that using documents with embedded audio will be beneficial, in that it allows them to have and review and print the doc, while also letting me explain the content more granularly. We shall see how that goes.

I did try building a presentation in Canva, but MAN, it was frustrating. I kept wanting to twiddle things, and it wouldn’t let me. Super pretty, but…no. Can’t do it. So, there’s several hours of work down the tubes. Oh well. I should be able to transfer some of that work into another format, though. Not sure which one, yet. I’m focusing on another project right now. Well, several of them, really. But they’re SECRET. Shhhhh.