Revising my grading rubric for discussion forum participation

After three iterations of the course I’m teaching, I’m revisiting and potentially revising the grading rubric I’m using to assess learner participation in discussion forums.  Back in August, I described the types of discussions in which my students in COSC 1401 Introduction to Computers are asked to participate and posted the grading rubric for assessing their participation.  I have been using that rubric the last three terms (I’m teaching primarily 8 week terms; two last fall and one so far this spring).  But, it’s not quite a perfect fit to how the discussions have progressed and how I want to grade them.  So, I’m revising.  I’m interested in your thoughts on this rubric. Read more

Learning Outcomes ARE NOT Learning Objectives

The simple fact that Learning Outcomes are NOT the same as Learning Objectives is a key principle to “Developing Effective Learning Outcomes & Objectives.”  As noted in that presentation outline,

The differences lie in the level of specificity each provides and the relationship of each to assessment methods and instructional activities.  Failure to understand and accommodate the differences can restrict academic freedom of faculty and complicate institutional efforts to manage curriculum and assessment.

Using the course I teach – COSC 1401 Introduction to Computers – I want to briefly illustrate the difference and the relationship between a learning outcome and a learning objective.  Read more

Problems with Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Last week or so, I came across an older article (December, 2002) from International Society for Performance Improvement that challenged the utility of Bloom’s Taxonomy on several levels.  In short, Dr. Brenda Sugrue argues that Bloom’s Taxonomy is not valid, reliable or practical.  Dr. Sugrue offers two alternatives which both suggest an emphasis on the application and use of knowledge.  I believe there’s a great deal of truth in Dr. Sugrue’s argument, and I have a few additional thoughts. Read more

Stop Quizzing Learners in Second Life!!!!

Finally getting back to this post I started about two weeks ago . . .

This morning/afternoon I attended a workshop that demonstrated a variety of Teaching Tools for Second Life. I absolutely appreciated the workshop and those involved in making it happen: the host institution, the faculty moderator and the facilitator. It’s these kinds of activities that make Second Life of keen interest to educators; there’s simply not another technology that brings everyone into a common workspace like Second Life does.

With that said, as an instructional designer and technologist, I have several significant pedagogical issues with the tools that were demonstrated. Each of the tools I saw demonstrated have, in my opinion, little to no useful place in Second Life. Worse yet, I believe they may actually be counterproductive to the development of quality learning experiences in Second Life. I think this is at the core of the “quality use of Second Life” question. My opinion may be perceived as being too harsh, but I’ll explain.

I don’t want to refer to the tools specifically because I do not want to denigrate the individual tools or the individual who created them; the developer is a fantastic educator for whom I hav ea great deal of professional respect. What I do want to do is to discourage the transfer of traditional assessments and learning tools into a virtual environment which has much greater capabilities and potential.

By and large, our classrooms are much more limited than the real world; it’s not easy or in many cases possible at all for learners to perform a skill in the classroom in the same manner they would perform the same skill in a real-life situation outside of the classroom. For example, in a business entrepreneurship class, it’s not possible to have learners engage the process of actually starting a business; that requires too many actions and resources that lie beyond the capabilities of the classroom. So, we cover the concepts and processes in as much detail and in as innovative ways as possible afforded by textbooks, new media, interactive technologies, classroom activities and the online environment. We then use an assessment instrument of some sort that hopefully provides a valid and reliable estimate of how learners would actually perform if they were to in fact start a business. So, out of necessity, we resort to tools that estimate how a learner would perform in the real world – in an authentic environment once they’ve left the classroom.

The virtual environment, in contrast, creates a unique opportunity to abandon the estimates and the not-so-reasonable-facsimiles of performing real world skills in a real world, authentic environment. In the case of the business entrepreneurship class, it IS possible for learners to actually start a business within a virtual environment, Second Life in particular. They can conduct market research within an actual, living market; they can fabricate actual prototypes of a product; they can bootstrap the business or seek funding for the startup; they can have actual customers purchasing products. Given enough time, they can engage every phase of the business startup process. As an instructional designer, the transfer of classroom tools and assessments that estimate how learners will perform in the real world to the virtual environment is, at best, incongruous, and at worst, counterproductive. They do not belong.

But wait . . . many will say, “We have to have some sort of assessment?!” Right, but I argue that the manner in which we assess learners needs to change; we need to take advantage of the affordances of the new environment. BUT for now, I’ll concede that argument, for argument’s sake. Even if we MUST conduct traditional, exam-type assessment, I ask, “Why do we have to do that within the virtual environment when we already have internet-based tools that do the same thing and perhaps do it much better than any currently-available tool in the virtual space?” Any learner that can access a virtual environment can also access any web-based learning management system that is guaranteed to have an integrated assessment tool. The two environments aren’t and shouldn’t be mutually exclusive; even if we want to teach a class entirely through a virtual environment, that doesn’t mean that ALL activities have to occur within that space. In fact, it’s MUCH more efficient to use both environments; we should leverage the particular strengths of each application.

If that’s not enough, one of the other participants commented, “We need to keep this as simple as possible; many of our students are not strong computer users.” We know that’s true; even strong computer users engage a learning curve within Second Life. Even if there’s disagreement about my arguments above, should we not still leverage the assessment capabilities of LMS’ rather than developing less reliable and more clunky tools to do the same thing in Second Life? for the sake of our learners?

Educause Southwest: Does Your Campus Need a Second Life?

I attended the EDUCAUSE Southwest Regional Conference in Houston, TX; my first session Thursday morning was Does Your Campus Need a Second Life? presented by Ana Gonzalez (SL: Mayela Saenz), Terry Peak (SL: Benotto Bailey) and Phil Youngblood (SL: Vic Michlalak) from the University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio). My live blog notes – with comments/ideas from remote friends – are available online, and my thoughts and reflections are below. This group covered a lot of ground in their 45-50 minutes; do look for the presentation materials to be posted at UIW and the EDUCAUSE session site noted above.

This group noted two situations which are very fortunate when trying to explore Second Life for instructional uses. First, the CIO at UIW asked the instructional technology team to explore Second Life for relevant educational applications; a CIO requesting proactive exploration of any instructional technology seems like it would almost always be a good thing. Second, they began the project with what can fairly be described as a complete team: an instructional designer, a media specialist and a faculty member. As a result, they’ve grounded the work they’ve done on sound instructional theory and have had a successful and very accomplished pilot project that leverages unique capabilities of Second Life. Specifically, Terry spoke specifically about how they’ve used Chickering & Gamson’s 7 Principles as a framework by which to engage Second Life as a hybrid activity within a face-to-face programming/computerscience course, and Phil described a learner centered classroom that includes collaboration with two other classrooms – one in Mexico and one in France.

A couple of ideas I’ve explored recently did enter into the discussion – in shades, at least. First, given the 7 Principles, they did consider Time on Task; they set specific time requirements for completing tasks. Of course, this begs the question I’ve been asking, “To what extent does Second Life distract attention from content materials?” They may be accomplishing the time requirements, but does that account for the distractions encountered?

Directly related to that question, Terry commented that there is a learning curve for Second Life which can be somewhat steep; they had a very short time to overcome it. The UIW course is an upper level computer science/programming course, so the technology experience many of those students likely bring to the course probably mitigated the difficulty of the learning curve. While that raises the “efficiency” question (per Dodge’s PADE formula), Phil indicated that they have had 100% attendance with learners frequently staying after class to work on projects. You’d suspect that Second Life and quality designed instruction could provide an extra source of motivation, but that level of attendance and engagement by learners is extraordinary.

A couple of notable comments and question/answers from the session:

  • You have to have (instructional design/media) support to teach in SL. You can’t do it by yourself.
  • UIW spent a semester working on and planning the course.
  • UIW specifies minimum computer hardware requirements for learners in the course.
  • Learners could opt out of the SL activities in favor of alternative assignments (which also doubled as SL-is-down-assignments) but none took that option.

If you have any questions about the session, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll answer as best I can.

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