Roundtable Discussion on Assessment

Last week in GRAD-602, Jeff Nugent led an exploration on assessment.  We noted that a distinction can be made between learning for mastery versus the traditional approach that typically leads to sorting and sifting students.  This provided a segway to the evening’s focus on formative and summative assessment.

Assessment WordleIn class, we brainstormed ways in which we have experienced assessment within our disciplines, and tests, quizzes, papers and performance observations were the traditional practices that came to the surface. These forms of assessment, while very important, are often the only means used in teaching for demonstrating what students are learning. They are audits of learning.  What is often overlooked, or given less consideration, are assessment techniques that are aimed at improving student performance and understanding about “how” they are learning. This latter type of assessment, sometimes called formative, provides learners with important feedback about how they are learning and how they can improve what they are doing. This kind of assessment is not an audit of learning, like a test or quiz, but rather an approach to assessment that values learning as an iterative process of growth through loops of practice, performance, and feedback. As Jeanette noted, formative assessment allows students to fail forward.

To illustrate these two notions, Jeff modeled a traditional approach to learning with a quick lesson on “the montilization of Traxoline.”  No talking was allowed, instruction was delivered in a jargon-heavy manner, and then rote memorization was assessed without determining understanding.

The alternate model involved a classic physical science exploration of mass, weight, volume, and displacement with the floating ice cube problem.  A problem was explained, understanding was diagnosed, opportunity was provided for discussion, and prior knowledge was surfaced and made visible using Poll Everywhere.  This process would allow an instructor the opportunity to adjust her or his instruction to ensure mastery.

Our classes only last 100 minutes, and so we (as always) were left with feelings that we did not discuss all that we desired.  So, we sat down around my office table this morning to record another podcast.  In this session, Jeff, David McLeod, and I discuss aspects of power that arise from assessments, the problem with assessing higher order thinking with multiple-choice tests, and dip our toes into the idea of tests as “objective” measures.


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Impact of Prior Knowledge on Teaching

In our GRAD 602 class last week, we spent some time surfacing our students’ beliefs about learning.  As Laura noted in her blog, we “dabbled in the classic ‘See one, do one, teach one.’” From there, we then discussed some of the work of John Bransford on How People Learn, as well as the opening of John Medina‘s presentation on Brain Rules.  Lastly, we showed a section of the documentary A Private Universe, which asked recent Harvard graduates to explain the reason for the seasons.  Twenty-one out of twenty-three incorrectly stated (with conviction) that the reason for the seasons was due to the earth being closer or further from the sun, rather than the tilt of the axis and direct versus indirect sunlight.  The documentary pointed out the strong impact of prior knowledge driven by exaggerated pictures in elementary school textbooks of the earth revolving around the sun in an ellipse rather than a circular orbit.

Orbit Drawing

It was obvious as time ran out that we had made our students uncomfortable.  We hope to move this Thursday into some of the reasons for that discomfort, but it gave us a starting point for this week’s podcast:

{Graphic from ProProfs Flashcards}


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A Conversation on Risk Taking by New Faculty

Flickr CC/NC/SA

It’s Spring Break here at VCU, so no GRAD-602 class this week.  However, as Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I are all here this week…and since the Open VA Conference was cancelled due to a March snow storm, we decided to have another podcast conversation.

Last week in our class, our students discussed a case study around a new faculty and his integration of technology into teaching.  During the class and afterwards in the blogs, a number of students noted that they would not take “such a risky behavior” as trying new ways of teaching in their new job. For instance, one student said, “After reading this case, I was like “Wow, this dude is pretty ballsy!”  I would be scared to do anything this big my first year whether it’s a tenured positions or not.”  In the comments, another said that having students blog was “a radical move”.  We heard similar points in class.

That got Jeff, David and I thinking, and this conversation ensued…

Thoughts?  Reactions?

{Image Credit: kyz}

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A Conversation on Learner Autonomy and Compliance

Sat down with Jeff Nugent and David McLeod, my co-teachers for GRAD-602, to discuss the tension between learner autonomy and learner compliance.  This is planned to be the first in a series of podcasts we three will do for this course.  Good discussion around power, roles, self-directedness, and learning-centered students.

Note: The Skeptical Goat made an appearance….

Spring 2013 GRAD-602 Underway

Again this spring, Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I will be co-teaching GRAD-602 – Teaching, Learning and Technology.  For the first time, we have chosen to run the course in the open rather than using the traditional Blackboard LMS.  Our course website is here.  We have 26 graduate students with us for this learning journey, as well as a former student who wishes to remain engaged, and all will be blogging throughout the course.  You can engage their commentary here (and are invited to do so!).

NOTE: If any of your teaching graduates would be interested in weekly blogging along side our students, let me know so that I can add their blog to our Netvibes portal.

To gage perceptions about educational technology at the start of class, we conducted a pre-course survey.  The responses from 92% that responded were as follows:

Note that challenging students to reconsider their values had mixed results.

Like the values question above, mixed reviews on teaching about higher ideals or issues.

A quarter of the class thought using digital technology in meaningful ways to support learning was “less important”.

A mix of agreement and disagreement over the extent to which there is a crisis of relevance in higher education.

Asked about other roles not mentioned, comments included creating lifelong learners, instilling love of knowledge, and developing critical thinkers.  One metaphor that was interesting was that teaching was similar to an underground newspaper.

The responses were for the most part pretty predictable for a class of masters and doctorate students.  The two items that students found least important were in thinking about their role as teacher, the degree to which they should challenge students to reconsider their values or teach about higher ideals.  “Values” is a value laden word…so it would be interesting to dig deeper and see what some meant by this.  Are disciplines so fact-based that there is little room for interpretation?  Do questions about values and ideals fit with questions of relevance?

I hope some of our students feel free to comment on this blog…and as the semester unfolds, I suspect questions similar to these will surface again.  The first class was a delight – with excellent discussion around the room.  I look forward to the semester unfolding!

{Survey co-developed with Jeff Nugent and David McLeod}




Starting the New Year Open

Happy New Year, everyone.  Welcome to 2013!  I have two “open” new years resolutions.

We have been talking about how the web has become increasingly open, social and participatory for the past four years…yet with the arrival of the MOOC bandwagon last year, “open” took on new significance.  So, as 2013 gets rolling, I and my CTE colleagues are exploring how “open” might change our teaching.

Again this spring, my colleagues Jeff Nugent, David McLeod, and myself will be facilitating a course in our Preparing Future Faculty program called “GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.”  We should have 24 Ph.D candidates or post-docs working on their PFF certification.  As in previous years, we will take our students on an exploration of the social web and the integration of digital technology into teaching at the college level.  Our students will document their journey by blogging on the open web.  In past years, we have used the campus LMS – Blackboard – with links to their blogs in Netvibes.  This year as our first new practice (and resolution), we are moving our LMS to WordPress, so that we can invite the world to join in our weekly conversations.

So check out our website at – and if you or your grad students would like to blog with us and be added to our Netvibes page, let me know!

Two of my students from last summer completed MOOCs from Coursera over the fall, and their enthusiasm has prompted me to try one for myself.  So, as a second new years resolution in the world of open, I have enrolled in Coursera’s E-Learning and Digital Cultures class, to be taught by Jeremy Know, Sian Bayne, Hamish MacLeod, Jenn Ross and Christine Sinclair out of the University of Edinburgh.  The course starts January 28th, runs 5 weeks, and Jeremy tweeted last week that over 32,000 have enrolled so far.  I know that blogging will be a part of the course, and I will be using this blog to chronicle my learning for the course.

I enrolled in mid-December, and a small but very engaged subset of the 32K has already been active in Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other sites.  Sandra Sinfield blogged about this pre-course engagement…and listed the following links (the majority of which have been developed by fellow students, not Coursera or the instructors):

Quoting from Sandra -here are quick links:

Space to think & try some new ideas:
•           Keep a wish list with pictures on Pinterest
•          Join our QuadBlog experiment
•          Study Group for the course
•          Feel overwhelmed? Vent here
We can add ourselves to the
•           Google Map
•           Blog list and:
•           Read the rules
•           edcmooc course page
•           course members who themselves are tutors: Group page
Student room:
•         Facebook group
•         Twitter people on the course           (Course hashtag #edcmooc)
Tech Tools:
•           Tech tools for education
•           What’s your recipe?
Journals, articles and videos all related to this course, and to the wider field of MOOC’s and technology:
The library is online at Diigo; we can add ourselves to the group. Tag any link with edcmooc so it’s easier for us to search: Diigo
First question posted in our ‘classroom’:
Q: What is your definition of “Digital Culture” ?

Wow!  Thanks, Sandra, for creating this resource list!

Sandra mentioned that she was already feeling overwhelmed, and I understand that feeling.  My minimal connections over the holiday break resulted in numerous emails alerting me to FB Group postings and tweets … and this with approximately 150 of us diving in to the social media.  I am wondering if 32,000 (or even a percentage of 32K) will bring my system to its knees!  Obviously, I will be refining my filters and alert settings, but I have a feeling it will be continuous or nothing…this is going to be interesting to try and throttle.  And with the numbers in my Coursera course, will I miss any of the social media from my VCU students in GRAD 602?  I want to play in the sandbox and see what happens…but it will be an interesting spring to say the least!

If any of you who have taken a similar journey have tips and tricks for success, please comment to this post and share them!


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Wrapping Up Summer Course

It has been my privilege to teach the eight-week summer course, ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning – for the VCU School of Education Adult Learning program.  I blogged in late June and early July about teaching this course. Tonight, we wrap up the course with our final session.  Sonja’s comment in her blog this week sums up how several expressed themselves this past week:

When I decided to “check out” ADLT 640 and see what all “the fuss” was about behind “e-learning”, I had no idea how this eight-week summer course, would change and expand my perceptions of my learning environment from a four by four box into world without limits or borders.

I used a rather non-traditional hybrid approach to teaching this course.  We met face-to-face twice a week for the first two weeks, then met online for four weeks, and finally remet face-to-face for the final two weeks.  This meant that we met half of the time face-to-face and half online…though I suspect that my students will say they spent more than half of their time online.  The first two weeks were spent on the theory part of the course, and the month online was focused on the practice part.

Last week, I had the students complete a self-assessment of their mastery of the learning objectives of the course, on a scale of 1 (not confident) to 5 (very confident).  Of twenty-one learning objectives, sixteen averaged above 4 and the remaining five averaged between 3 and 4.  I believe that this confidence flows from the experience they had online.

You can check out the blog posts from the students at our Netvibes portal.  I collected all of their final posts to create this Wordle:

final blog post wordle

It is no accident that “learning” was the top word, but what struck me was how their mental model of learning had appeared to evolve.  One student mentioned in class Tuesday night her “Ah ha” moment of realizing that mobile learning had less to do with devices than it did the mobility of the learner.  In related ways, eLearning has come to mean less the tools and environment by which people connect so much as the connections themselves. Joanne noted in her blog:

Surely at this point in my life I had all the skills I needed in order to learn.  What I wasn’t taking into account, however, was that when you learn as a team, you get more context and meaning behind the terms and ideas.  You start to understand them from a number of perspectives, and that can increase the likelihood that you’ll retain that information and be able to apply it in more ways than just the situations you are familiar with yourself.

Sonja said:

 For me, e-learning is not just about participating in “online” classes.  It is how the user or participant uses not only the internet and the digital tools around them, but how connected the learner allows themselves to be to that information outside the typical or traditional education environment.

And Lindsey had a great observation:

What if the educational shift was focused on universities connecting to one another instead of competing as separate entities? Then, learning and progressing could be a shared endeavor rather than some being front-runners and others left behind. I’m not talking about one school endorsing the other like edx for open courseware. I’m talking about schools offering elearning classes with a more global approach. Each school would still continue to have its relative distinctions, but would collaboratively build more of a connected, global, ecommunity of academia.

One aspect of the class that the students all seemed to like was the collaborative building of a class library.  Each week, each student added a summary and citation to a simple Google Form, that collected their work together.  I bookmarked all of their articles in Diigo.

The 2-week on campus, 4-weeks online, 2-weeks on campus format worked well.  As Joanne noted:

Being back in class this past week solidified my (current) preference for a hybrid construction for classes.  Our four-week online module proved to me how much I can learn in an online environment and how much collaboration can exist without being face-to-face.  However, nothing in those four weeks came close to the rush I felt after two and a half hours of discussion in class on Tuesday and Thursday night.

These eight weeks have flown by, and I will be a little sad to see this class close out tonight.  It has been a positive experience for me as well, and I better understand now why the Department of Education‘s 2010 meta-analysis of eLearning suggested that a blended approach could achieve higher learning outcomes than either a purely online or purely on-campus class.  I think that the 2-4-2 approach I took worked well.  If I was going to go hybrid with a weekly class and weekly online, I suspect my design would be more of a flipped class.  The extended online segment I chose for this class really forced both myself and my students to grapple with the challenges and find the affordances that the online environment can provide.

And not to lose sight, my final two Prezi’s:

Session 6: Emerging Trends

Session 7: mLearning

ADLT640_Session7 on Prezi

My thanks again to some great students! You made this course a very positive experience for me!

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Peanut Butter, Mother Nature and eLearning

Last week my students in ADLT 640 learned some amazing lessons … including some that were not on the syllabus.

Online Banner for Week 3

ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning in Adult Environments – is an eight week summer course that starts a three-course track in the Adult Learning Masters program on teaching with technology.  We spent the first two weeks meeting twice a week (6 hours a week) and exploring the growth and evolution of elearning, as well as the major learning theories (behaviorism, cognivitism, constructivism, and connectivism) and their fit with eLearning.  Each week, the students blogged a reflective piece on what had transpired the previous week.

Last week was Week 3, and was the first of four weeks where the class shifted to a totally online environment.  I used a traditional assignment suggested to me by our Center instructional designer, Joyce Kincannon, to have small groups develop and deliver a lesson online on how to build the perfect PBJ sandwich.  In a normal week, this would have still been a fun activity, but the storms that rolled through Virginia last week made this anything but normal!

A good number of students lost power on Friday.  Some had lost power the previous Monday when smaller storms came through (and some won the prize by losing power twice).  As one student put it:

“It’s been a week of storms: brainstorming the PBJ lesson, stressing up a storm, forming, storming and norming within our group (Levi’s Stages of Group Development), and nature’s trifecta of storms. It didn’t make for the easiest or convenient week but I can say a lot was learned through the chaos. It tested our group’s support, trust, and drive-something that normally may not have shown through so early on in the process.”

Yet, all three teams collaborated online, developed three unique lessons on crafting PBJ sandwiches that were posted to our class wiki on time, and added commentary to each others’ projects.

One student summed up the week this way in our wiki:

“I would love to comment about what I’m learning but I’m too overwhelmed to articulate anything that might make any sense.  In the midst of trying to figure out how to teach the lesson of making the perfect PB & J sandwich (which apparently I don’t know how to do), I am reading emails,fielding questions, participating in chat sessions, looking for materials to include in the presentations, outlining learning objectives, attempting to complete reading assignments, blogging, responding to blogs, researching articles, posting articles, all the while using new applications and methods of communicating which I are new to me.  Yes, I’m learning something: something perhaps about managing stress.  So, if I don’t have a nervous breakdown in the middle of all this, I’ll let you know what I am learning.”

The stress levels were pretty high, and the storms simply added to the stress.  One student completed her assignments by using her phone in a local grocery store that had WiFi (and power).  Another noted in the wiki:

“The past seven days have been a whirlwind of craziness.  Is it strange that I was not so much worried that I didn’t have power at home for two days as I was about not having Internet access at home during that time?”

But as strong as the stress was, the community that formed was stronger.  These students, who had only been together for two weeks, found that they were not alone.  A word that was mentioned often in reflections was “trust”.  As one student noted in the wiki:

“One thing I know for sure, is that my teammates are the BEST!  We had some interesting sandpaper moments with our communication.  But, there was major trust!  And we knew we wouldn’t leave each other behind…  We did our best to work together and I think what we produced reflects a true “team” effort. “

Another said in our wiki:

“I too found myself fretting this week.  Interesting….the switch to online was bumpy.  I’ve taken online classes before & I enjoy online…so why the transition turmoil??  Was I already accustomed to the class organizing my learning??  Had I not spent enough time familiarizing myself with our Bb, Wiki, and assignments??  Was the first assignment being a collaborative one too challenging??  Did I need that sink or swim experience to motivate myself??  Were my expectations out of line??  I think the F2F time really helped the class develop a sense of community & cohesiveness.  Yet, transitioning to this virtual venue left me feeling disorganized & a bit overwhelmed.  I must say however that I did NOT feel isolated.  Support was there.  Interesting that others felt overwhelmed also…a normal reaction??  Something to consider.  I am feeling better now that I sense progress.  Perhaps the transition jitters were abbreviated by the F2F time.  Just surprised that several of us felt anxious…I didn’t expect that following the class time.”

In past classes, I have used a “sink or swim” experience early in my classes to help ease students over their fear of technology.  The manner in which this class jelled online seems to indicate that this type of experience is fruitful in developing community as well.  I would be interested in the thoughts of others regarding this.  Have others seen this as well?

Another interesting lesson for me was how adept these students were at attempting new practices.  Two of the groups used Google+ Hangout for their first time to coordinate their project work.  One group added a roving reporter doing her first podcast to their presentation (and who would not want a roving reporter reviewing PBJ’s?). Two groups used Prezi to present their lesson, while the third used the slideshow feature of Google Docs to present.   There were no expectations set up for their presentations (other than “more than powerpoint), and these students dove in …over their heads in many cases… and helped each other swim in the tech waters.  As Journey Girl noted:

“I recognized my learner-to-learner experience in my technical growth throughout Week 3.  I found myself using software and LMS’s that I wasn’t completely familiar or competent with using.  As a group we decided to use Google+ to have “Hangouts” – a tool for online communication (my first time using).  The file exchange in our team wiki (using Wiki being another first for me) was also used extensively to share information, suggestions, and final contributions.  To describe myself as a novice at using the presentation software, Prezi is putting it mildly.  But we were all “fish out of water” in that respect, nevertheless we all learned to use it and make our contributions when needed; learning from each other as we tried to create a “How to” course lesson.  E-mail and texting were used; in addition to “ol’ reliable” – the telephone, but only to talk each other through technical hiccups.  Every effort was made to do this assignment from “a distance as a collective” through as many electronic devices, tools, available.”

So one student summed up the week this way:

“I never thought about PB&J as much as I have this week!  I learned about it’s history.  I learned about it’s plethora of variations.  I learned about it’s accessories ~ who knew a sandwich could have accessories?!  I learned about it’s nutritional value.  Oh, but the lessons were deeper than just bread…..I learned about asynchronous collaboration, multimedia presentations – design & delivery, Google docs, embedding, Prezi, making crosswords and surveys.  I thought each group did an excellent job – presenting the learner with objectives and even a pre-assessment; using interactive forms of presentation to motivate & pique the learner’s interest; and organizing activities that allowed the learner to assess and/or reflect on their learning.  Perhaps, the desire for a group presentation post learning was a bit ambitious; but, it represented a diverse way of assessing learning.  Just saying…I think we are great 21st century educators!”

Over the next two weeks, these student groups will now be developing their group projects in the areas of online student, online instructor, and online teaching.  They are moving into these projects with a new sense of confidence and commitment.  They collectively have come away with a new appreciation for building adaptability and flexibility into their own eLearning.  I wonder if the same results could have been achieved without the unintended intervention of Mother Nature?  I do not know…but I do know that I got a lot of learning out of PBJ and Mother Nature this past week!

As one student noted – “I totally dreamed about PB&Js last night…”  When is the last time your students dreamed about their lessons?  :-)

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Teaching an eLearning class F2F

Course banner

This summer session, I am teaching an eight-week graduate course in the Adult Education graduate program on the Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration in Adult Environments (ADLT-640) for VCU.  The course was originally designed as a hybrid course, meeting once a week, but I suggested a format change to meet twice a week the first and last two weeks, and go totally online the middle four weeks.  This would give the students a more true “elearning integration” into their own learning.  We just finished up the first two weeks, meeting 3 hours Tuesday and Thursday nights.  My students are an interesting mix of corporate trainers, military trainers, medical trainers and college staff.  This would have been an interesting course to teach online, but I am finding the introductory face-to-face component enjoyable.  We have quickly bonded as a learning community, and while I think that could have occurred online, it certainly occurred much faster starting face-to-face.

We are using Terry Anderson’s (2010) book, The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, as the textbook for this course. I am supplementing the theory portion with material from Linda Harasim‘s (2012) new book, Learning Theory and Online Technologies.  I also used George Siemens‘ (2006) Knowing Knowledge for last night’s class on connectivism.

For the first time, I have completely moved to using Prezi as a tool to keep me on track and provide a more interesting alternative to the typical slide deck.  The adults in my class have enjoyed the change from past classes.  In some ways, it also allows me to keep the class more conversational and to dive out of Prezi onto the web as conversation suggests.

Some interesting take-aways the first two weeks.  Two-thirds of the class have had an online learning experience, and most characterize the experience as “Poor”.  None have taught online before but assume they will.  The energy and excitement have been high as we have looked at the evolution of eLearning and the affordances the web now provides… affordances not available a decade ago.

Here are the first two week’s worth of Prezi’s:




We now move to the online phase of the course.  It will be interesting to see if the engagement continues with as high an energy level as we have had the past two weeks!


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Which Word is Emphasized in “Active Learning”?

This week in our Teaching, Learning and Technology course, GRAD-602, we will explore active learning.  I was delighted that one of our students jumped in to the topic early with her post, “Educators Against Active Learning.” Now, EvoAcademic is not against active learning herself.  Rather, she is commenting about Kevin Mattson‘s 2005 article, “Why ‘Active Learning’ Can Be Perilous To The Profession.”

Mattson’s article appeared to be a rallying cry against administrators for pushing changes in how the professoriate teaches while blaming faculty for poor student performance, particularly when administration does not provide faculty with the resources needed to make substantive change.  He seemed to suggest that calls for active learning such as those by Dee Fink or John Tagg “…illustrates how the burden of active learning is clearly placed on the shoulders of the professoriate.”

The Burden of Active Learning?



I always thought the whole point of active learning was to shift the focus of activity off of the professor and on to the students.  Active learning is about having students solve problems, answer questions, formulate questions of their own, discuss, explain, debate, or brainstorm during class – thereby increasing their engagement with learning.  I certainly saw active learning being modeled when we met at the Future of Education conference and created the poster to the left.  We were “doing”…and the focus was on the learning!  This is just one active learning technique, and Richard Felder illustrates many more in his excellent resources at his website on Student-Centered Teaching and Learning.

I am looking forward to the discussion in class, as I hope to bridge Jeff Nugent’s exploration of How People Learn in the last class with Dee Fink’s concept of Significant Learning.  As EvoAcademic points out:

“[Felder's definition of active learning as] “…anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than simply watching, listening and taking notes.”  So… active learning is anything EXCEPT what many higher education classrooms are currently doing…” 

Linking HPL to Active Learning may help keep the focus off “active” and on to where it belongs, “learning.”  We shall see.

I am wondering if any of you have good advice for new faculty on active learning?

{Photo Credit: NMC}


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