Monday, November 5, 2012

BlendKit 2012 Week 3

Week 3 Readings Reflections: Assessment
     Assessment has been a gray area in my courses.  For one thing, the study of History—as opposed to the objective exam civics that passes for historical study in most secondary schools—calls for high order thinking.  For another, objective questions take an inordinate amount of time to make up and make cheating too tempting. 
* How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating?
     I use a constellation of brief essay papers, discussions, and essay exams.  These challenge the student to describe a term (who, what, when, where, why), situate events in chains of cause-and-effect, and account for significance, covering a range of levels.
In a follow-up paragraph, students are asked to write a personal reaction to the document or narrative that they have read, and here most seem to find it easy to develop their ideas or relate an aspect of constitutional history, the American Revolution, or the China Trade to their own lives.  The whole essay is structured to balance student learning, and student control, in the language of
Hoffman and Lowe (January 2011).  In addition, the coursework is structured to reduce cheating to negligible levels; papers are submitted online and I can easily Google suspicious phrasings.  The most common challenge that students ask about is keeping their writing to the one-page suggested length; they are free to write more, and I have seen seven-page offerings for this one-page assignment.
* What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases?
When I began online assignments (submitting papers and exams via email or Canvas), I expected only that this was another option for students.  The benefits have astonished me.  Not only is the quality of essay-writing far better, but it turns out that digital papers are far easier to grade (and this I did not anticipate).  Furthermore, we can now use the papers as a jumping-off point for asynchronous online discussion.  Biases?  Hmmmmm.
* What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your blended learning course?
I would not use an auto-scored quiz, and the formula I am using seems to offer students an interesting intellectual challenge.
    How will you implement formal and informal assessments of learning into your blended learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination?
            Overall, this week’s readings have been the most problematic in thinking about ways of adapting my courses to a blended format.  The readings on a transfer of learning strategy, emphasizing application “to something tangible or if it can’t be used in real life,” does not seem directly relevant to the study of History or, rather, what we study is “real life,” although in the past.  Certainly, though, it has been true in my courses that “[t]echnology is useful in simplifying this task of transferring the learning strategy.”  In this case, by utilizing Canvas to display my PowerPoint lectures and historic documents, I do not have to cover as much material during class time, and my students are not rushed in note-taking, enabling them to think more about the issues that we are discussing. 
            What I had not given much thought to is the argument that “[s]upplying examples to read as text online or offline proves to be helpful.”  Although I generally supply model answers for the misterm and final essay exams, I do so often as an afterthought and in response to student requests.  Nor had I considered using Bloom’s taxonomy to inspire alternative design strategies.  As part of my foray into blended teaching, then, I will be exploring fresh design strategies and incorporating the tools suggested in the Week 3 readings.

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