(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

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Authentic & Sustainable Assessment: openly brainstorming workshop ideas

I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop with a colleague on “alternative assessment” and I have chosen to make my part of it about authentic and sustainable assessment. I plan to ask participants to brainstorm ways to modify their current assessments to make them more authentic/sustainable. (My colleague will then discuss pedagogical strategies for implementing these abstract ideas that I will discuss).

Thought I’d write this post to share my thoughts so far and see if anyone out here has good examples they’ve done in their courses that I could share. Also any ideas you have for making the workshop activities more interesting. I could then, in sharing these ideas, show by example why a sustainable, authentic piece of writing (like this blog post) can help develop ideas (and share with a wider audience) beyond doing the research all on my own and not sharing it. Does that make sense? Would this be considered crowdsourcing my workshop? (I already have books and of course google full of ideas I could use, but I have discovered I can sometimes get much more valuable stuff from people directly, like here or on twitter).

I just saw this wonderful statement by Dave Cormier where he is encouraging “blind sharing” because

It is next to impossible for you to know before you’ve shared whether it’s going to be useful to someone else.

So true. Now, moving on so I can “blind share” and encourage you to share.

So how do i define my terms?

Authentic assessment is one where learners try “real-world” applications of what they are learning. Two definitions mentioned in the Authentic Assessment Toolbox are:

A form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills — Jon Mueller

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” — Grant Wiggins — (Wiggins, 1993, p. 229).

One way to look at it is to consider important skills/tasks/values a “professional” in the field does, and design an assessment close to that.
An example pf a very bad assessment was my First Aid training with the Red Cross many years ago – it was a multiple choice exam. This in no way tests anyone’s ability to perform CPR under stress. A more authentic assessment would be to simulate an emergency situation and have volunteers react. The simulation, of course, would not test the volunteer’s courage and confidence to act under real conditions (quite difficult to test in an artificial environment) but at least it tests their CPR skills directly! A truly authentic alternative to this would be difficult to do in practice (e.g. Leave them on lifeguard duty and watch them from afar! ) but I have to assume that real professional life-savers (e.g. Medical people, firefighters, etc.) get more rigorous and authentic assessments than volunteers at the Red Cross.

A good continuum used in the Authentic Assessment Toolbox is this below:

Traditional ——————————————— Authentic

Selecting a Response ———————————— Performing a Task

Contrived ————————————————————— Real-life

Recall/Recognition ——————————- Construction/Application

Teacher-structured ————————————- Student-structured

Indirect Evidence ——————————————– Direct Evidence

(Note: the word “performance” can be tricky to use because it sometimes has behaviorist connotations and neoliberal ones: i.e. The emphasis is on showing a measurable skill rather than learning it deeply; however, in this context, i think the emphasis means ability to do something rather than theoretically select an appropriate response on a test).

(And in case you’re asking why I didn’t just get examples from that same website – many of the links I followed are not working).

Sustainable Assessment is an idea I got from #flsustain, Nottingham’s Sustainability, Society and You MOOC. According to Speight the author of “Learning for Sustainability” (free, open book, downloadable from here)

assessment strategies should be carefully planned to ensure that what is assessed is the development of the individual rather than their performance. … to focus upon a journey rather than a moment. A sustainable method of assessment is one that can do ‘double or triple-duty’ – it is appropriate and valid for the learning involved, takes the long view (thus making a contribution to society), and also meets the academic requirements of the university.

As part of the MOOC, I wrote the following:

Sustainability has connotations of continuity and of doing things in a holistic manner. Because my interest is in education, I am particularly interested in sustainable learning: how to design our learning environment and community and activities in ways that use sustainable methods and materials, and also promote sustainable/ongoing learning that continues seamlessly beyond any course-constrained time and space. I am just now learning how ideas of open education fit within this framework.

My personal approach to sustainable assessment has been to have all or most of my students’ work on their blogs so others outside the course can benefit. Because the content is on blogs, I am more intentional about making it useful for others beyond the course, and have invited my international networks (aka my online friends) to interact with my students via their blogs and Twitter, to everyone’s delight 🙂

Community-based learning, when done well can be both an authentic and sustainable form of assessment: learners work with real communities in their real problems, and hopefully create something that will have benefit beyond just the course, hopefully something that could endure beyond that time and space.

And just one closing quote inspired by Sean Michael Morris’ latest post on Keep Learning:

as teachers we can never be certain that our students will choose the same walls we choose for them…the space of learning is more fluid and adaptable than we might have planned on

(Disclaimer: i am quoting him slightly out of context, but it still fits brilliantly here).

This blog post, and the workshop it prepares for, is an invitation to expand our teaching beyond the walls… And I am inviting you to post suggestions in the comments! Thanks in advance!

Update: some resources from Twitter (thanks to Andrew M and Sarah S):
I was reminded of Herrington’s work (strange I did not think of it even though I cite her often in my thesis!) and pointed to this website on authentic learning, which has an authentic assessment and also points to this other good resource from UW-Stout
Another resource was HE Academy, which apparently has good projects with sustainability at their core (have not checked them out yet; hoping they are sustainable approaches to assessing learning, rather than approaches to assessing sustainability)


6 Teaching Ideas Inspired by MOOCs

I have written previously that I believe teachers can use MOOCs for professional development. Here, i share briefly some ideas i plan to try in my own course that inspired me from MOOCs I took or am taking.

1. Syllabus negotiated via Google doc
I have always had a negotiable syllabus, but I never thought to actually put the syllabus online in a space where students could comment on it throughout the semester. This idea is inspired by Cathy Davidson’s #FutureEd (MOOC yet to start). (#rhizo14, below, also gives me ideas for how far to negotiate with learners… But that is another blog post).

2. Sustainable assessment
This I learned from #flsustain, Nottingham’s Sustainability, Society and You. I sometimes try to make my assessments authentic (i.e. something relevant and useful to the learner’s life beyond class). I now think I should not have any assessments that do not directly influence the learner outside class. No assignments handed in to me. Only assessments that make sense to learners outside class. When I teach teachers, this means something they will either use in their class, for their school, or their professional development. Something they might want to do again or use again beyond the class. Hosted on a platform they can continue to use. E.g. Blog or wiki or other social media

3. Allow multiple approaches for connecting
I am learning a lot from #rhizo14 (Rhizomatic learning) beyond this, but I think it has been great to negotiate my way around learning via different social media for one course, and since i teach ed tech, my students could benefit from this on a meta-level (exploring multiple intelligences, learning new technologies,comparing their learning potential) – another sustainable form of learning! So i might have my students blog for one week, use twitter for an assignment the next, have a facebook and/or G+ group (unsure they need both) – and then let them choose freely among those (and the Moodle discussion board) for their preferred platform for later weeks.
(To be fair, this idea started for me with #edcmooc below, including giving students annotated content to choose to read/watch, but I participated in more platforms in #rhizo14, so the idea grew)

4. Digital artefact as project
This I learned from #edcmooc, eLearning and Digital Cultures (Edinburgh) – the final project was a digital artefact of our choice that represented learning in the course. I liked the freedom and simplicity of the prompt, though it was actually an assignment that required reflection. I learned from some of the shortcomings of it, too. It asked a little too much (in the peer assessment criteria – which i think in my case should be negotiated) and i would also add one thing (suggested by Sandra Sinfield after i raised the issue in the discussion forum): allow the learner space to explain why or how they think their artefact met the goals of the project. I also think they can ask for a couple of additional criteria to be assessed on that are valuable to THEM personally. I also learned to give learners space to explore some new technologies before the final project to help them choose among possibilities.

5. Quadblogging
This one I learned from Ary and Maddie, CTAs in #edcmooc – have students blog in groups of 4 such that each blogs for a week while others comment and help support and promote, then they rotate. I might do it slightly differently, but along those lines so students who have different commitments throughout the semester do not feel pressured to blog weekly.

6. Medium-term synchronous collaborative events
This one I learned from the #readmake project, not a MOOC, but a 2-day collaborative writing event on a google doc, with a Twitter hashtag on the side. I am not a big fan of synchronous communication online (love it when it is convenient and it works, like today with #rhizo14 folks, but it is rare for me to be able to participate, and infrastructure in Egypt is choppy). Sooo the idea of all people using twitter and some collaborative platform like a wiki to work on something over a short time period of a few days (but not just within 1-2 hours) sounds more doable. It allows for some immediacy but also some reflection and allows for people’s busy schedules and tech glitches.

Will I be able to do this all next semester? See #1: i will negotiate with my students and see! Every semester is different. Will it all work? See #3: some will work better for certain people than others! So the only certainty is uncertainty… As we have been saying somewhere in #rhizo14… Facebook was it?


What’s wrong with FutureLearn?

I want to reflect on my discomfort with FutureLearn as an online learning platform. I love the MOOC I am currently taking on it, offered by U of Nottingham, focusing on sustainability. I love the teaching staff, participants, reflective exercises and the content. But I am frustrated with the
FutureLearn platform.

I think there are two main things that are bothering me:

1. The linearity of the content, the way it is presented boxed up and sequential, where you tick boxes that you’ve finished each part. I would not like this in a normal course I am taking, but I really dislike it in a MOOC, where I am likely to want to dip in and out of different parts. I know I can still do so, but it is more difficult to differentiate the resources from the discussions from the assessments. I can’t see a big picture and this does not suit my learning style.

2. The discussions. I hate that there are no separate discussions that can be a) learner-initiated, and b) searched, threaded, and organized in some better way to allow people to truly interact. The idea of “following” people misses the point that sometimes you want to “follow” a thread and see if people are responding to you (Coursera does this better)

As it stands, I am occasionally dipping into the online discussions if I find anything worth responding to in the top five or so posts by others, or if I have some burning comment to add.

I am resisting following the content sequentially (even though sometimes the sequence makes sense… But I need the flexibility)

Otherwise, I think I will focus more on Twitter and blogging, and see if the facebook group turns out well. At least the Twitter and blogging aspects can be a form of advocacy for sustainability beyond the course.

But FutureLearn: i am so disappointed in the platform. I have experienced many others (WebCT, Moodle, Blackboard, Coursera, Canvas) and this is one of the most uncomfortable for me. I was expecting better because i have great experiences with UK online education (my MEd from U of Sheffield, and Edinburgh’s #edcmooc on Coursera), and i thought a UK MOOc platform would be as thoughtful as those experiences, but I don’t like it.

I’m not alone in this, am I? Someone posted on Twitter questioning the sustainability of the MOOC when you find 100s of comments on each topic each day. This is no surprise first week of a MOOC and I expect them to dwindle down over the weeks… But still.. There should have been a better design to help folks deal with info overload. This is a small problem with 20 students but a huge problem with a MOOC

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Sustainability to me

This post is for the Sustainability MOOC #flsustain

I actually wrote this paragraph a while ago when i was reading Sarah Speight’s book “learning for sustainability”, so i am now posting it publicly:

Sustainability has connotations of continuity and of doing things in a holistic manner. Because my interest is in education, I am particularly interested in sustainable learning: how to design our learning environment and community and activities in ways that use sustainable methods and materials, and also promote sustainable/ongoing learning that continues seamlessly beyond any course-constrained time and space. I am just now learning how ideas of open education fit within this framework.

On another note, more recent thoughts:

i think sustainability is also a frame of mind and approach to life, a philosophy. I say this and see that it sounds elitist, because i think historically, people may have approached sustainability from a pragmatic standpoint.

I think much current talk of sustainability comes from elites (many of whom would have created the problems we all now face), and some of the solutions they come up with now may no be the best or easiest for the less privileged… I want to think of concrete examples of this as the course goes forward and to look at sustainability critically, even though emotionally, i want to embrace it.

I have written two previous posts on sustainability, one on sustainable assessment
And one that has a video connecting empathy with sustainability

I hope to have more to reflect on as i understand sustainability more and interact with other participants

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MOOCaholic manifesto: how to manage when you are overMOOCed

Right. So in case you are crazy like me and plan to take several simultaneous MOOCs whilst also holding down a full-time job and maintaing some semblance of a family at home with a kid/s… I will assume you are already a hyper-networked individual who is also a lifelong learner…

Here are some tips:

1. Do your ownthing. You don’t HAVE to finish each MOOC, do each assignment, read every reading. It’s not like you did that in every course you paid for, did you??? Oh, you did? Well, you’re not paying for this one, you are doing it for yourself, so do only what will be useful for yourself! If a particular reading goes over your head or bores you, ignore it. If a Google Hangout comes at an inconvenient time, just skip it (and watch the recording later, or not!) I finished a MOOC once where i almost never watched the lectures, but i did the quizzes and assignments and some of the readings and saw some of the powerpoints. I learned a lot of what I wanted to learn. I took another MOOC where i was not crazy about the content but had some great interaction in the online discussion.

2. Find synergies between different things you’re doing, either between MOOCs or between a MOOC and your work. I actually did all three once, when I did the assignment of #edcmooc as a video reflecting on the MOOC’s themes with regards to the #readmake project, and posted that video as part of #readmake AND presented it to my colleagues at work! I am thinking that in future, I might for example blog about the topic, but also maybe post part of that text in discussion forums as well. Beforehand, I used to tweet my quick thoughts, then build them into a fuller idea for a discussion board posting

3. Network. I have found that maybe one of the most useful aspects of a MOOC that fits with one’s area of work (vs. one that meets only a personal interest) is that you can network with people whom you might want to keep knowing and learning from/with in future.

4. Get others at work excited and participating in the same MOOC and use it as group professional development (I am still working on that one, but I think it will happen one day, as I become more discriminating about which MOOCs are likely to be most useful and still be manageable)

(Added in March 2014 after taking rhizo14):
5. Find your favorite social media platform that the MOOC is using (twitter,facebook, g+, blogging, or combo) and have your mobile device notify you of changes (e.g. Responses to your tweets, facebook posts, etc.)

6. Set your goals for why you’re taking the MOOC (but feel free to modify them later!)

Some other tips on a more logistical front:

1. Read or watch videos while commuting… If you can. I think most folks already do that
2. If you can get your hands on the material for the MOOC beforehand, start reading or skimming thru it in advance. It’ll help you know if you’re going to like the content of the MOOC, and give you a headstart when the MOOC itself starts
3. Keep some sort of mobile device near your bed in case you get bouts of insomnia (which I do all the time) and feel like some late-night MOOCing.

Last tip: relaaaaaax and enjoy it. Happy MOOCing

P.S. in case you hadn’t noticed, this ain’t no manifesto, but i thought it would be a cool title!


Learning for Sustainability: on sustainable assessment #flsustain

I use this post to note my favorite quotes/ideas on “sustainable assessment” from the book “Learning for Sustainability”, which is one of the texts for the FutureLearn MOOC offered by U of Nottingham.

Whole paragraph quoted:

assessment strategies should be carefully planned to ensure that what is assessed is the development of the individual rather than their performance. Assessment might span several modules, again to focus upon a journey rather than a moment. A sustainable method of assessment is one that can do ‘double or triple-duty’ – it is appropriate and valid for the learning involved, takes the long view (thus making a contribution to society), and also meets the academic requirements of the university.

(emphasis mine)

And just reading the views in this book about sustainability as a frame of mind for thinking about pedagogy made me realize it coincides with a lot of what my own teaching philosophy involves (and as it evolves): ideas of authentic assessment, focus on the learning process rather than measurable outcomes, and ideas related to open education.

I was initially taking the MOOC on sustainability because I am teaching a module within a course where students will be developing educational games about sustainability. Now, I am thinking the MOOC will also help in another teacher education course I teach related to ethical, legal, social and human issues in the use of educational technology.

If you’re interested in the book, it is available to view/download here

The MOOC itself is available here