For the introductory statistics course I will teach online next summer, I am planning to use assessment strategies similar to CATs. Our department has general curriculum requirements for students from across majors that need to apply statistics. These departments have provided, through the curriculum requirements, our guidelines to assess students’ performance. At the beginning of the course, I give a succinct but thorough introduction to the course in the syllabus and state clear learning outcomes and expectations. Many types of assignments will be required of the students. For instance, clicker questions, lecture homework, lab quizzes, lab homework, and projects will all be assigned at various times throughout the course. Clicker questions are used to assess whether students understand concepts and applications immediately and motivate interactions in the classroom. Lecture homework and lab homework are necessary for students since, as it is said, practice makes perfect. The projects are good opportunities for students to combine and apply all the materials in the course to real research questions; additionally, it aids in augmenting the students’ writing and communication abilities. Also, these projects will be of benefit for students in diverse majors. Numerical rubrics are provided for students for all assignments. And, of course, we have in class exams for students in statistics. The exams are a traditional and necessary form of assessment in a statistics based class, and also an unfortunate source of high stress for the students. To improve the students’ ability to demonstrate what they know, we make the expectations, assignments, and exams clear.
The good thing about completing an assignment very, very late is that one has the opportunity to peruse, ingest, and contemplate those that have been written before. As I logged on to ScholarBlogs, I had my response mostly written in my head, but then as I read multiple posts, replies, and responses to replies, my ideas about assessment and X-agogies continued to change and grow. I especially enjoyed Marshall’s thoughtful post as well as the back-and-forth discussion between Don and Michael. If this isn’t collaborative learning, I don’t know what is. (Thanks Leah!)
During Module 4 I have started a Word document that now contains several notes about teaching strategies – strategies for every class except for the online course I’m supposed to be focusing on. But as many of you have noted, and Leah has stressed, these ideas apply to all of our teaching, not just to the course we are currently planning. For my large, introductory lecture course, I plan to make some small-ish changes that I think will help with assessing student knowledge and understanding. For example, I like the idea of starting out class on Mondays with a quick (5 min tops) discussion of the ideas that made the largest impression on them from the week before. This will allow me to see what information as well as what teaching strategies stayed with them after a few days of whatever-undergraduates-do-on-the-weekend. Additionally, I plan to rewrite (or really, write) my course objectives to focus on the Relational Tasks from the SOLO taxonomy (analyze, apply, combine, compare, explain causes). This will take what I already thought I was doing and make it fully transparent for the students. I’ve never been very good about writing courses objectives directly. I’m actually toying around with the idea of asking students in our capstone seminar to come up with a list of course objectives on their own. While I won’t necessarily use what they come up with, it will help me see what they think learning in this type of class should be. I can use their ideas as a way to talk about why my own course objectives are meaningful. (And if I can’t articulate that, then I should throw them out.) My plan is to test these changes out over the next two semesters, and see how I can incorporate any of them into my online course next summer.
One last note: I spent much of the time while reading the articles for this week thinking about the two objectives of every college course: developing critical thought and writing abilities. Are these to be assessed traditionally or authentically or both? Or rather, are these means of assessment in themselves?
This week’s readings resulted in a shift of mentality for me and led me to make two major changes to the course/syllabus.
The first is to make it one of the course objectives for students “to exercise and increase autonomy in pursuing self-determined learning in the online environment” (quoted from the revised syllabus). As you have probably heard me saying, I have been struggling with formulating measurable outcomes to include in the syllabus. After reading up on assessment and learning outcomes and watching the JIT video, I do have a better understanding of how to do this – the ABCD method is especially helpful in a concrete way – and can imagine writing a long list of very specific outcomes for each lesson of the course. I have decided, however, not to do that; instead, I will have students reflect on their own learning outcomes throughout the course as a way to cultivate their ability to pursue self-determined learning. More specifically, they will write three reflections, two at the beginning of the course and one anytime before the course ends, to respond to questions that require them to articulate their learning outcomes and examine the effectiveness of their personal learning approach based on their experiences during the previous week. They will post these reflections for their peers to comment on. I will set aside time in the synchronous session to highlight the main themes and discuss them with the students. By doing this, my hope is that students would become more aware of the learning process and will be more willing and able to take charge of pursuing their own learning goals. Do you think this would work, to a certain degree?
A second change I’ve been thinking about as a result of this week’s reading is to make it a “flipped” class. I originally had the idea that synchronous sessions should be devoted mostly to lecturers and organized discussions. Now I wonder – now that students are expected to be more autonomous, if I should enable them to learn on their own before the synchronous sessions via prerecorded VoiceThread lectures, and then when we meet, I will give them questions and tasks to work on. This idea also made me wonder if I should change the format of the course to meeting once a week for 3 hours, so that we would have more time to work together. For this I would need to do more thinking. Maybe this can be addressed as part of the course design assignment.
In any case, I feel that this week’s reading got me to see the challenges posed by the online environment more as an opportunity than a crisis. It was quite inspiring to read about heutagogy, or self-determined learning, and how its approach could be particularly suitable in the e-learning context. The syllabus or course design is still work in progress for me, as I may also adopt assignments that require learner-generated content and learner-defined assessment, but I haven’t quite figured out what to do on those yet.
I have long been troubled by the notion of being self-taught which is expressed in terms like autodidacticism and, more recently, heutagogy (which was new to me and I never would have or could have taught it to myself, wherein lies essence of one of my concerns about heutagogy, itself.) While I can’t retrieve the source from memory, I recall hearing a critic of self taught artists being quoted as saying, “Self-taught painters learn to paint from a person who does not know how to paint.” This represents for me a quiet, gnawing worry that we have come to believe that self-determination of learning is a good thing–an apotheosis of a dimension that begins with pedagogy (teaching children) and passes through androgogy (adult learning which is less passive and more autodidactic) on the way to the ultimate goal of self-determination in heutagogy. My worry here is this: if learners are to learn what they must in order to deal with the exigencies and vicissitudes of life, even if these cannot be anticipated with specificity, there must be someone who has already learned something about doing this who can guide them in developing the capability to do so. Had Leah not provided us with a reading on heutagogy, it would have remained far off my radar for..well..forever. Yet, now that she has directed us toward it, we can think about it and decide, as in my case, that I am not so comfy with it!
So what is my sense of learner self-determination in my online course? I am very much OK with directing students to topics that I feel they must master and having them teach themselves in any way or at any pace they choose so long as they fulfill the assessment rubrics that I develop for them. I am not OK with their deciding what is important or not for them to know. There will, I believe, always be a need for someone to be, at minimum, a “guide on the side” but a guide there must be. As I think about how the notions of self-directed learning can be blended with traditional F2F classes, I do see great potential. As I consider things now with admittedly a small amount of online knowledge and experience, I can see how my own way of thinking about education can be reconciled with modern approaches to distance learning.
I have always felt that the good teacher does not have to know what he or she knows in order to teach, but the good teacher must know what students know or do not know. This allows for the overlay of an invisible rubric over the entire class (as well as individuals in it ) which represents where the learners are at the beginning and where the teacher hopes they will be at the end. All of the activities in the course are then directed at transporting learners (in rubric-ese) from level 1 achievement to level 4.
In my online course, I believe I will still need to get a sense of where the students are at the start and I will want to define clearly for them where they need to be at the end (course goals). I will also want to include formative and summative assessments so I can monitor and evaluate their progress. However, the BIG difference is that I will be widening the range of ways in which they travel to the goals which I as the teacher (ped-agogically) have set. If they wish to heutagogically travel outside of the content set forth and explore ideas in a more self-determined way, I am sure that they will gain much from their experience. In fact, I will want to encourage and reward in some way such “expeditions.”
What would a blended course in abnormal psychology look like? At this point, I feel that it would need to be text-book based since there is much to learn in terms of history, language, theory, and modes of treatment. While many students will just be “stopping in” for the semester, others will ultimately become professionals whose goal it will be to help people. There are many things that these people who may become clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers simply must know! There is no place for pure heutagogy or self-determination here. A self-taught potter’s off-round, leaking coffee cup might be cute in its own primitive way, but would any of us agree to a procedure performed by a “self-taught” cardiovascular surgeon? I use hyperbole here to heighten the contrast, but at a less extreme level, I think what I am saying is that within each online course, there needs to be a all three sorts of learning–pedagogic, androgogic and heutogogic. The traditional classroom, admittedly, leans much too heavily on the first of these and, I believe, creates students who are passive and does not help them grow confident in their own capabilities. The heutagogic extreme, while good for some, would create highly confident people who are dangerously unaware of what they don’t know. (Is there a presidential candidate out there who might fit this description?) The balance among all three would seem to me an ideal place to aim for in online learning.
From the assessment perspective, I will need to include rubrics and assessment methods that address all three modes of learning. Traditional quizzes and exams will help with the specific content that I consider critical to know. This is early in Bloom’s hierarchy. I would also want to provide assignments that would require application and integration such as studying case histories or looking at and analyzing films or literary works. This would also afford opportunities for writing which we know is the one major activity that makes people smarter overall. Finally, I would add an assignment which would be the greatest challenge and which would require autodidacticism and, yes, heutagogic behavior. This would be a project in which, individually or as teams, students attempt to create an entirely new method of classifying abnormal behavior, This is possible because, as a discipline, we are still not sure whether our current approach is adequate. This is reflected in the continuing revisions of our diagnostic system (six since 1952) and in a recent decision by insurance companies to move away from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic system and move toward use of the ICD-10, which is an international classification system for various diseases and disorders. (I know that most of my class-mates may not be familiar with all this and I apologize for placing it here, but we are all androgogic!)
I learned a number of new things from the Assessment readings for our M4. Firstly, I thought about self- assessment, an idea I have worked into some of my courses in an attempt to foster student agency in the learning process. For instance, when I was phasing out the weekly papers as the enrollment numbers swelled in my classes, I tried having them write the paper for the last day of class every week; we then rotated each paper, so every one of them read everyone else’s, added comments, and assigned a mark of check, check minus, or check plus. Including their own. That way they were able to assign themselves a ‘grade’ without contemplating the “what if the professor does not agree with my self-assigned grade?” Students benefitted from this exercise, but I deleted it when I dropped the WR tag from my courses and I got more and more students. I am considering that perhaps a version of this with the VT contributions may be a possibility.
Although I am not completely in the heutagogical realm (as a lifelong learner of foreign languages, including English, I give every new word a kind of moratorium until I feel comfortable using it), I appreciated tremendously both the concept of learning-centered assessment and the life-long learning. I have always set a very high standard for my courses by desiring that students enrolling in them do NOT learn for a test, or for a pretty conversation in a board room (where they prove they can say gazpacho and mean it, too), but by aiming for a long shot grasp of every concept they entertain. I seek for students to know the difference between mise en scene and mise en abyme, between something “absurd” and the Theater of the Absurd, between dress and costume, or between traveling and zoom, not merely to prove to me in a test that they know, and immediately proceed to forget it and about it, to toss it as soon as they delete that seminar file in their computers and throw away their papers. I want them to know, deep down, that their lives have many a mise en scene moment (when they gesticulate and raise a voice to make a point, for instance) as well as mise en abyme moments (when they don’t know what to do with themselves after a depression bout, or the death of a loved one); that they engage dress every morning, but turn to costume for a party or an interview; that they don’t get the lack of logic of their mothers telling them to clean their rooms when they go back home for the holidays, but that they’ll never forget Artaud and La orgástula. And that if their own optical and mental cameras can travel, zoom, and establish great raccord in the movies they are developing in their lives, perhaps there’s hope for a richer poorer world.
Now, how to have this all work in a learning-centered assessment world? First of all, I no longer give tests, and if I do, they focus on their own articulation of an interpretation, not on multiple choice. Even when they are asked by me to show they are familiarizing themselves with facts in their daily discussion, reviews, reaction papers/chats/videos and the final performance project (using elements of vocabulary, grammar, audiovisual elements, languages, and performative expression learned through the semester), I take into account, and I tell them this beforehand, their voice, their take on things, their individual reading of performative pieces. Some students agonize over this, because they are still not ready to let go of their high school models, when they were told what to do; to those, I underscore that I do not accept them to come to my office asking “what do you want me to do/say/write/think?” They are to come to my office to ask questions, to test theories, to engage discussion about these facts they are learning, and then go home and read and write more on them. Not the easiest pedagogy, especially when standardization and inside-the-box-thinking are so overrated, but in the end, at least for some students, it works really well. I’ll keep searching for more sources about this.
Pharmacology is an intensive course in that we cover a large amount of material within 8 weeks. We do block scheduling meaning that the students do 4 weeks of didactic, 4 weeks of clinical and then repeat it, so that 16 weeks of material is covered in 8 weeks. We have a large variety of students, from neonatal to geriatric and have to be generic enough with the content to be relevant to everyone. Some schools teach pharmacology from a pharmacotherapeutics angle meaning that they teach prescribing issues whereas we teach it from a more pharmacology perspective, so really focusing on mechanisms of action. One issue has been misconceptions about the goal of the course.
In the past, the class consisted of 2 exams, a midterm and final and they were open book with some case studies in class. The grades were terrible and students did not review the online material that was available, we could access the stats from ECHO 360. This past year, we did a mix of in class lectures with case studies and also Adobe Connect sessions. We awarded participation points for attending class using in class quizzes that covered the reading. We also added 4 online quizzes and kept the two exams, that were proctored in class and were close book. The grades drastically improved and they seemed to have a better grasp of the content. I would consider this a current strength.
This year, the class is being offered totally online. So in terms of assessments, I think we are going to keep the format of the quizzes and exams. In terms of growth/improvement, I have developed a study guide that outlines the specific learning objectives per module, we are identifying a prototype drug for each class and a sample test question is included for each drug class. For the lectures, I like the idea of using Zaption with embedded questions and have heard that it integrates with Canvas. For case studies, I think using something like VoiceThread might make sense for each specialty. Presenting a case on heart failure and having them work in groups to explain how they might approach the case from their particular perspective would make the material more relevant. Since the objectives for each module are more clearly stated, we are going to develop a standard for the presentations. Maybe starting with a case study, working through the material and then wrapping up the case study. Also, trying to develop higher order questions to ensure mastery of the material.