MOOCMOOC Friday (and Thursday!)

  1. How might reimagining assessment prompt us to rethink not only our pedagogical processes, but also the law and policy that governs traditional academic environments?
  2. What are some major chances and challenges of MOOC-style learning when it comes to traditional (as opposed to digital) humanities classes, specifically those that focus on such seemingly elusive, long-term outcomes as the honing of close reading and critical thinking skills, as well as sustained writing and research?
  3. How would you describe the desired learning outcomes for this course, the MOOC MOOC? How would you assess and document your own or your peers’ achievement of those outcomes?
  4. Should our ability to assess certain kinds of student work in a MOOC environment determine whether or not we assign that sort of work? If we can’t assess it, can students get credit for it in other ways?
  5. Who should be allowed to enter, observe, and participate in a MOOC? How does the kind of radical openness present in some MOOCs change our pedagogy? Should it change our pedagogy?

So these were Thursdays MOOCMOOCS questions and I ran out of time (and inclination) to answer them.

So my personal opinion is the education field is terrible at assessment. And why do I think this? Well, because of standardization. Great for screws, nuts and bolts (interesting how the process of mechanical standardization began occurring around the same time we began believing that an institutional school setting was necessary for the teaching of children) not so good for humans. The idea that I, as a classroom teacher, have to put on a seven year old child’s report card that they are “limited” because of the requirements of a standard report card is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for formative assessment, which is useful, I just don’t see the need for summative assessment. Children aren’t a turkey I’m pulling out of an oven because it’s done. My most successful teaching units took months and months and I would let students redo assignments over again because how do they learn if they don’t get a second crack at an assignment? What’s the point of 7/10? What does this mean?
I taught Macbeth to my Grade Six students. It was successful because they took ownership of the process. They designed and built the set. They created the invitations, created advertising, built websites. My students learned the craft of writing because I wrote to them as MacBeth and had them reply back as Lady MacBeth (Grade Sixer’s are blood thirsty lot!) and let them explain their reasoning to the class. They learned because I let them take (some) control of their learning (and it didn’t hurt that I had people in to teach how to sword fight and throw fake punches either).

Fast forward several years. I’m in graduate school and I have less control over the final product for a class than my Grade Six students. I am informed that if I make any mistakes in the APA format for papers I will lose a complete grade point (one professor even said they wouldn’t mark it!) It’s telling that for these professors I spent more time checking format than I spent on content.

So let’s re-imagine assessment shall we? It’s about time. Assessment is, when you come down to it, about what you have learned, not standards. It’s about growth.
So when my son was doing his undergrad degree he would send us his papers for an opinion and an edit. Obvious grammar mistakes I would point out as well as organization of paragraphs for flow. But content and the actual writing we left alone. These were his thoughts and ideas. It was obvious that he had not developed his own writing style yet, his “voice”. Four years later he is heading back to school to get his Masters. He started reading his papers again and phoned full of indignation, asking why we let him submit such terribly written papers? My answer: “How do you know they are terrible? Did you get a bad mark?”
His reply, “No, I got a good mark.”
My response, “Were the ideas good?”
His response,”yes.”
“Then why are they bad papers?”
“Because the writing is crap!” 4 years later, what looked like writing gold to him at 22, no longer did. He had matured, continued to read and write, developed a voice and now, by his own self assessment, was recognizing that his skills had developed over time. Writing, like all skills, is a craft that is honed through experience. Education is a journey so why do we continue to assess like it’s a stop at the grocery store with shopping list in hand?

But I can see why trying to use standard assessment in this environment would be difficult. How will you assess the content created within this environment? By volume? By completion of all assignments? Quality, content, successful use of technology, and participation would usually be included. But what if you break the mold? What if just showing up and demonstrating some sort of growth or self acknowledgement were sufficient? Why shouldn’t it be? The fact that we’re out here and participating in a new way of learning should be enough to warrant a “Thank you for leaving your comfort zone and trying something new. How you learn in this environment will now be analyzed and used in a research paper.” Not only that but unfortunately some developers of MOOCs are from the “read my mind” school of assessment and believe that, somehow through telepathy, we all understand what they want.

By the way, the whole if “you can’t assess you can’t assign” is also bs. Spend a little time in the informal world of education (like Museum education) and you’ll realize that.
So yes let’s change how we teach and how we assess. I’m all for that!
So endeth the rant about assessment.

As to Friday’s question, I can see MOOCs being a game changer educationally. Higher education has gradually moved from being about thinking big thoughts (100 years ago) to being partners with industry (now) to being a pure business enterprise (soon). While I loved the Venture lab course DNLE for making me think about education in new ways, I am not sure I am on board with the commercialization of education at all levels. I can already see the applications of this format within a business organization and will most likely be pushing the MOOC model forward for professional collaboration within the business world. As to leadership, it comes to those who lead. Leaders within a class can also be anyone, even within a traditional class setting. It is up to the teacher to decide how much control of the educational process they need to be effective.

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