Online Assessment of Research Projects

I was interviewed about my assessment practices in online environments. You can read the blog post based on the interview.

Here’s some additional reflections regarding my assessment practices in online environments:

What are your main ways of communicating with students when teaching online? How do you ensure that your communication of assessment expectations are clear?

I try to use a variety of ways to communicate and ensure assessment expectations are clarified.  I prepare a detailed syllabus with information about the learning tasks and assessment.  I also use our learning management system (LMS) to communicate with students and share information about assessment.  For example, I organize course materials prior to the commencement of the course and open the course so it’s accessible to students one or two weeks prior to the start date.  In the content area, I provide a section for each of the learning tasks with a detailed rubric clarifying the learning intentions. In addition, I prepare a video where I discuss each of the learning tasks and expectations so the students can review the video prior to or during the first week of class.  I send weekly and sometimes bi-weekly email messages to the students to help clarify expectations.  I also use the News items on the landing page for the course in the LMS to communicate with the whole class.

When providing students with individual feedback, I use email and send direct messages to the students. I try to do this early on and provide students with formative feedback so they know if they are on-track or need to make improvements to their work.  I also post messages to groups of students in the discussion forum to offer commentary and advice when students are working on learning tasks as a group.

Offering drop-in sessions for students is another strategy that I have found useful to help with specific parts of an assignment.  For example, when I noticed students were not accessing current resources and recognized they were not making full use of accessing the databases accessible to them as graduate students, I offered two drop-in sessions at different times.  During the drop-in session I used our web conferencing system to share my desktop and talk through the steps for finding and assessing quality of resources.  I record the drop-in sessions and make them accessible in the LMS for students who were unable to join us.  I also have a few videos pre-recorded and accessible on my YouTube playlist for students and also make these available in the LMS (Dr. Brown’s Playlist).

Another strategy I use to help clarify learning intentions is part of my instructional design.  I organize peer-feedback loops.  This provides students with an opportunity to share draft work with myself as instructor and their peers.  During synchronous sessions, I use breakout rooms and I circulate through the rooms to offer my feedback.  Asynchronously, I organize spaces in the discussion forum for students to share their work and offer feedback to each other.  I also respond to the threads and provide my feedback as well.  We all use the criteria in the rubric to offer feedback and idea improvement.  I find the use of the rubric helps everyone give meaningful feedback that helps move work forward for all.

In the following article, I discuss a strategy I use for offering feedback to students using different mediums:

Brown, B. (2019). One-take productions for student feedback. Education Canada, 59(2), p. 10. Retrieved from https://www.edcan.ca/articles/student-feedback/

What are the biggest challenges associated with giving students a research paper assessment online? How do you manage these challenges? 

In online courses, I also find time is a challenge. Time to create additional resources or use multimedia as part of the assessment process.  For example, I would like to dedicate more time to creating, revising and curating resources to support students when working on their assignments. Resources quickly become outdated as software and other systems are updated. One of the ways I manage this challenge is to lower my expectations in the quality of the video produced. As noted, in my article, One-take productions for student feedback, it is not necessary to spend excess time in editing and polishing videos. Students appreciate conversational style and do not expect professional videos. Similarly, when I offer drop-in sessions.  At first, I thought it was challenging to find time to organize and plan the drop-in sessions.  However, once I started to do this and noted that a less structured approach and with a conversational style was effective, I no longer viewed time as a barrier.  I found drop-in sessions can be 30 minutes in duration and can help students with their specific questions.

Are there any differences in how you design/plan for online assessments compared to face-to-face assessments?  What additional factors do you have to consider?

I design/plan for assessments in a similar way in my face-to-face classes.  Many of the strategies I use online, I have now incorporated in my face-to-face classes. One additional factor in online classes is that I do not see the individual students on a regular basis as I do in a face-to-face class. In online classes, I find myself communicating using written text more than I do in a face-to-face class.  It is important to check-in and make sure students are not mis-interpreting feedback when relying on written text. This is one of the key reasons I started using more multimedia to communicate.

What other advice/tips/insights do you want to share with instructors who are new to teaching and assessing students online?

In addition to the tips I offer in the One-Take Productions article  I suggest dedicating time to instructional design. Prepare the syllabus as well as the online space in the LMS prior to the commencement of the course.  Students appreciate accessing a well-organized online learning space to help clarify course expectations and criteria for assessment.

Book Review – Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms

Joe Feldman provides a vision for equitable grading with a focus on coherence and mastery learning. Drawing on research and interweaving voices of teachers, researchers, school administrators and students, the author defines grading for equity using three pillars: equitable grading is accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational.  Read More – https://www.edcan.ca/articles/grading-for-equity/ 

Brown, B. (2019). Book Review. [Review of the book Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms, by J. Feldman]. Education Canada, 59(1). Retrieved from https://www.edcan.ca/articles/grading-for-equity/

 

 

Designing Group Work in Blended Learning Environments

Brown, B. & Vaughan, N. (2018). Designing group work in blended learning environments. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning, pp. 82-97. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site: https://teachpsych.org/ebooks/useoftech

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss a framework that can guide the development of promising learning designs intended to promote group work and collaborative knowledge building in higher education, specifically in blended learning environments. Today’s learners need newly designed learning experiences leveraging collaboration technologies (Vaughan, 2014). Learners expect to work collaboratively and experience engaging learning experiences (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011). Some argue that professors are ill-equipped to shift from conventional styles of teaching to new technology-rich forms (Becker et al., 2017; EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2017). We argue that using the five principles of the teaching effectiveness framework (Friesen, 2009) to design blended learning environments along with collaboration technologies, instructors can provide students with opportunities to work in groups, collaborate with each other, and amplify their learning experiences. The five core principles of the teaching effectiveness framework include: (1) Teachers are designers of learning; (2) Teachers design worthwhile work; (3) Teachers design assessment to improve student learning and guide teaching; (4) Teachers foster a variety of interdependent relationships; and (5) Teachers improve their practice in the company of their peers. The Teaching Effectiveness Framework provides a lens for designing and assessing learning designs (Friesen, 2009).

Should cell phones be banned from classrooms?

I was invited to respond to a school ban on cellphone use in a CTV two Alberta Primetime interview this week.

The interview was prompted by information about a Toronto middle school ban on cellphones in classrooms – http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/toronto-school-bans-cellphones-from-classrooms-1.3295140

I learned this type of interview is called a double-header interview. In this case, the interviews occurred at the same time but in different locations. I was interviewed at a studio in Calgary and the other participant and host were located in the Edmonton studio.  This meant I was in a broadcast room in Calgary looking at a camera and could not see the host or other participants during the interview.  I could only hear the audio through an earpiece.

As I prepared for the interview, I tried to think of key messages that I wanted to communicate.  Here’s some of the key messages based on research that I have been involved in over many years as well as professional experiences in teaching and leading in K-12 and post-secondary environments:

  • A balanced approach is needed with a focus on learning.
  • Allowing students to use mobile devices and particularly their own mobile devices in schools requires intentional design by the teachers and school administrators.
  • There are benefits for learners of all ages. In research I have been involved in from K-12, we have observed when students are intellectually engaged, they use technology in meaningful ways. Likewise, when students are disengaged in learning, they use technology for non-educational purposes.
  • Learning can be scaffolded where learners are provided with increasing responsibility in using the tools of their day. As educators we have responsibility in designing learning opportunities that are meaningful in a digital age.  We have a responsibility to coach students when they encounter difficulties in learning. We can’t expect students will automatically know how to use technologies responsibly without providing any opportunities for learning WITH technologies in school.
  • When we ban cell phones, we are not promoting balance and we are not promoting learning for today’s students with today’s tools for learning.
  • The fear of managing situations arising from the use of cell phones often moves a school to making decisions such as completely banning these devices instead of dealing with the structural causes or other underlying causes of the misbehaviors and helping youngsters, teachers, school leaders and parents learn from the situations. Banning cell phones avoids the issues.  We can spend time patrolling to make sure the rules are followed or we can spend time designing meaning learning opportunities. Banning cell phones eliminates opportunities for learning and this includes opportunities for learning from our failures.
  • We miss critical learning opportunities both when we ban cell phones and when we allow for unguided and unlimited use. Let’s aim for a balanced approach where we make learning the focus and use the tools in meaningful and ethical ways.

 

Here’s a link to the video:

http://alberta.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1070078&binId=1.2002989&playlistPageNum=1

 

One Word Input

Mentimeter can be used to gather input from a group.  When working with pre-service teachers and helping them design units in small groups, I asked the question “What is the most challenging part of this work?”  Students were invited to provide up to three, one-word responses using a link provided by Mentimeter– or by visiting www.menti.com and using the code provided.

Mentimeter also provides users with a link to show others the result to the question.

I was also able to share the results on my course page using the embedded code provided. I believe this is a great way to visually gather input from students and to show the live results. I plan to use this again.

Check out the Mentimeter site for numerous examples in using this tool to engage audiences and for assessment.

Online Teaching Tip – Instructor-Student Meetings in Adobe Connect

Fostering effective communications with students is critical in online learning environments. One way I create and nurture pedagogical relations with students is through offering flexible communications. Some students prefer to send questions via email or post messages in the discussion forum. However, some students prefer to meet with instructors to discuss assignments. There are many technologies that can facilitate online meetings, such as Skype, Google Hangouts and virtual reality spaces. I prefer to arrange meetings using my virtual office space in Adobe Connect.

 

A virtual office space link can be created just like you would set up any other Adobe Connect session for your class. Once we arrange a convenient time to meet, I send the student a meeting invitation to make sure the meeting is automatically added to my calendar.  I also provide the student with a link to the meeting.

 

In Adobe Connect, you can use the “notes” pod to collaboratively maintain the meeting notes.  Participants in the meeting may also using the microphone or chat box to discuss items during the meeting. At the end of the meeting I select the option to email the pod notes to myself and to the other meeting participants. Using a virtual office for meetings with both audio and written communications has proven to be an effective strategy for instructor-student meetings.  The combination of audio and discussion notes is ideal to make sure all discussion and action items are clearly communicated.

 

Online Teaching Tip – Transparent Feedback Loops

 

Tip: Use the online discussion forum to incorporate transparent feedback loops into learning tasks to provide students with suggestions for improvement.

 

Sharing incomplete and draft work can be a regular and repeated process throughout a course. Students can be organized into small peer review groups (3-4) to share draft work using the online discussion forum in Desire2Learn. Draft work can be shared as an attachment or by inserting an external link (i.e. Google document) in the message thread.  It is also helpful for reviewers when students describe the type of feedback requested using the criteria outlined for the learning task.

 

In these small discussion groups, the feedback process is manageable and students can provide clear and specific feedback to a few peers in the class.  As the instructor, I also review the draft work posted and provide feedback to students.  My feedback might include a brief reply posted in the discussion forum or a more detailed response using track changeshttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadscomments. Additional feedback may be required using email or arranging a virtual meeting using Adobe Connect.

 

Overall, this transparent feedback strategy serves to: 1) provide students with peer and instructor feedback when there is still an opportunity to make changes before submitting the assignment for a grade; 2) clarify learning intentions and any misunderstandings about the criteria for the task; and 3) offer students an opportunity to review the type of feedback peers receive from other students and from the instructor. The following quote from one of my former students demonstrates the value in using transparent feedback loops: “Assessment practices supported my learning and showed me what my next steps are. Quick and helpful feedback was inspiring and exactly what I needed to stay engaged in the course.”

Note: This was also posted in the Teaching & Learning Newsletter, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, November 2015.

 

What is a Collaboratory?

I am currently teaching online courses in graduate programs (M.Ed. and Ed.D programs) that use the term “collaboratory” in the course title.   The term collaboratory is considered a combination of the terms collaboration and laboratory (Lunsford & Bruce, 2001; Wulf, 1993). The courses use a collaboratory approach and learning spaces to support graduate students examine their practice and learning from engaging in meaningful inquiry in the field.

Students in these courses are generally full-time professionals completing graduate programs and are grouped into cohorts or class groupings based on their specializations.  As such, the Collaboratory of Practice courses were designed to support the application of knowledge in real world settings by graduate students in cohorts who investigate and learn from inquiry in the field and examine problems of practice in their workplace or related to their professional work using various research methods and a collaboratory approach.

The collaboratory approach is also considered a fusion of two important developments in contemporary research: communities of practice and collaboration.  Communities of practice are groups of people (in this case cohorts based on specializations) who deepen their knowledge and expertise in an area by engaging in active inquiry.  A collaboratory can also be considered a learning space or laboratory for learning and collaboration.  In this collaborative virtual environment, scholars work together and learn alongside peers in their cohort.  Since students move through many courses with a similar cohort, they develop relationships with cohort members and can build trusting and collaborative relationships.

One strategy used by instructors to help students accomplish work in the course both individually and in collaboration with peers is to organize small groups (~5 members) within the cohort into studio groups (Grego & Thompson, 2008).  Studio groups provide students with an opportunity to collaborate with peers in a writing and sharing space for collaborative knowledge building and idea improvement.  Various online services can be used to support studio group collaboration including threaded discussion forums, shared documents (i.e. Google Docs, presentations, etc.), virtual meeting spaces (i.e. Adobe Connect, Skype, Hangouts, etc.) and other collaborative online spaces. The collaboratory approach and learning spaces used in the Collaboratory of Practice courses serve as a source of active inquiry and learning, an opportunity to respond to contextually based problems of practice, and an opportunity to take an inquiry stance in the company of peers.

Copy of slides from the session “What is a Collaboratory” for EdD graduate students on July 9, 2015 presented with Dr. Brenda Spencer – EdD Collab Lunch Session_Slides

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Advice for Online Learners

I recently asked for contributions to my answer garden to help collect ideas about online learning and to build a word cloud.  The question: What advice would you provide online learners in order to experience success?  Using Twitter and Remind, I invited colleagues to add their ideas to this collaborative answer garden. You can view the contributions at – http:http://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadshttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadsanswergarden.chhttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadsviewhttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploads173871

Similar to other word cloud applications, repeating words or phrases increases the font size. You are invited to add more wordshttp://www.drbarbbrown.com/wp-content/uploadsphrases keeping within the 40 character limit or go ahead and create your own answer garden.

 

Facilitating Online Courses

The Teaching Assistantship Preparation Program (TAPP) is designed to provide educational development for graduate students about the role and responsibilities of the work as a graduate assistant in teaching.

I was invited by the Office of Teaching and Learning to lead a session for TAPP on Wednesday, February 25th from 11 a.m. to noon. The session will focus on how to facilitate online courses. Topics in the session include instructional design, synchronous and asynchronous communications, tools for student interactivity, cultivating a scholarly community of inquiry, organizing online spaces, developing instructor presence, and formative assessment strategies.

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