Blendkit2012 Weeks 3 and 4

BlendKit logoI fell behind in BlendKit 2012 for the simple reasons many of my students fall behind in some of my classes – life intervened.  I managed to keep up the first two weeks, but in the past two, I attended SLOAN-C’s International Conference on Online Learning, our Center started a new Learning Path for online learning, and we held a strategic planning retreat.  Layer on top contractors adding an addition to my home as well as continuing to engage in our own fully online faculty development program, and I flat ran out of time.  So here it is, early Sunday, and I am catching up.  Sounds just like some comments some of my students have made, but the beauty of BlendKit is that one can actually catch up!  And I need to since the final week starts tomorrow!

SLOAN-C’s conference was an opportunity to once again meet Kelvin Thompson face-to-face, as well as several others taking BlendKit.  We did a meet-up one afternoon.  While I had never met any of the other participants, there was a natural community associated with this course and a common experience.  I hope this community continues…I certainly added some new “faces” to my Twitter network.

In Week 3, the topic was Blended Assessments.  The readings covered both formal and informal assessments.  Kelvin’s questions to ponder included:

  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?

Good questions…but viewed primarily through the lens of the instructor (which makes sense).  It is just that in recent weeks, I have been thinking about the cognitive and teaching presence of students as much as my own. None of these questions raise the issues of self- and peer-assessment.  Something to ponder as well!

In undergraduate blended business leadership courses that I have taught, I used randomized questions in timed tests every 2 weeks to cover reading assignments, but I always included essay questions to push higher level thinking.  The LMS graded the randomized questions and I graded the essays…and I typically had about 80 students each term.  That worked for me, but it could be problematic if the numbers rose substantially.  Marcus Messner gave a talk this week at our online course showcase, and in his class of 200-300 students, he alternates quizzes with discussions every other week, giving equal points to both (with two TA’s to help with grading).  I like his approach and think it would work equally well in a blended course.

In my graduate courses, I tend to not use quizzes, and instead use weekly blogging for a significant portion of the assessment, based on a course rubric.  This is in line with the assessment strategies Kelvin noted in the reading.  One of the things I have done recently in graduate classes is put the rubric up in a class wiki or Google Doc and let the students suggest improvements over how they are being assessed.

If there is a buzz word (besides MOOC) in the higher ed blogosphere, it is probably “open.”  One of the questions I began to ponder in this reading is assessment in an open environment.  Blackboard is certainly not open, so are there processes for creating the kind of randomized quizzes from the reading in a gaming atmosphere that could be open to the world?  Sebastian Thrun seems to have solved this…but I do not have his AI background.  Thoughts from other BlendKit folks?  Daphne Koller mentioned peer-assessment for the kinds of essays I do, but she has a critical mass of students.  Would it work for the relatively small numbers in most blended courses?

More questions to ponder!

For week 4, we moved to a review of blended content and assignments.  To me, this is the heart of the issue for blended courses – matching content and assignments with physical and virtual environments so that both enhance learning.  Kelvin’s questions to ponder included:

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?
  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?
  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?
  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

Figure retrieved from

Kelvin provided this figure in the reading to demonstrate how technology expands the walls of a blended class.  As he noted:

Experts and resources outside of the university are readily available for educators to use. For example, a psychology course directing learners to view a presentation of the Stanford Prison Experiment is much more vivid and meaningful than reading an article about the experiment alone. Technology can open doors closed by geographical distance or time.”

In my summer hybrid course, I provided much of the content during the first two weeks, but during the middle four weeks, the students were turned loose to explore and create.  The collaborative work they did online created more powerful learning (in my opinion…backed by their blog comments – see previous posts).

Marcus closed his showcase session by noting that he wanted to open his course to the world next spring.  The prospect of “open” is exciting and one I want to explore as well.  Participating in BlendKit2012 has given me some great new ideas!  I look forward to wrapping the course up next week.

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