Monday, October 8, 2012

BlendKit - Assessment

 It's week 3 of 5 in BlendKit2012, and this week's readings are on the topic of assessment (a pretty important topic if you ask me!). Thus far the contributions of my fellow participants have been pretty interesting to read as well (keep it up! :-)  ). In any case, this week's readings give the reader a quick overview of the testing types that an online environment affords, talks (briefly) about the importance of defining expectations (i.e. setting up grading rubrics) and  talks a bit about informal assessments.  This week's questions to keep in the back of your head are as follows:
  • 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?

Coming from an instructional design background most of this stuff was not new to me, but it was exciting, nevertheless, to have a quick refresher :-) My program does not currently require a course in assessment  for its graduates (gasp!) but that may be changing :-) I took the course because I thought it was important.  As far as assessment goes I prefer to allot a lot of the final score of the course on authentic assessment activities†.

Now, if I were to be teaching courses that required more rote information acquisition (dates, numbers, places for example) like history, or introductory biology, I might be giving more points to auto-scored tests and quizzes; but I think that at the graduate level (and upper level undergrad for that matter) there ought to be more of an emphasis on synthesis and actually doing something with the knowledge.  Even in my introductory course on research methods I didn't have quizzes (although that was an option) because the doing was more important to me than knowing which method to use out-of-context. :-)

That said, I do like informal assessments, like self-check quizzes that can be auto-graded in an LMS, and give students feedback on how they are doing. This is how I am approaching the auto-graded coursera quizzes that I am taking as part of the courses I am taking: self-check on comprehension.  My only problem with incorporating them in my courses is a philosophical problem of giving credit for informal assessments and doing so with final course grade points. I don't want them to be a carrot, because the carrot is supposed to be the assessments that are "real" assessments of their knowledge.  I don't want it to be a stick, because then they can be punitive. I also don't like them to be the dessert (my metaphor for extra credit) because I don't want to give extra credit.  So how does one deal with this issue?  Any thoughts or comments on giving credit (counting toward a final grade) for just doing something? As a new teacher it seems too much like giving credit for just showing up.

Finally, a good reminder for me: student generated test questions. I think that these can be good to both (1) motivate students to study and do well on exams, since you as the instructor are putting them in a place of authority and giving them the respect to choose questions; and (2) get students in the "thing like a test creator" mood which can point out the important things about the chapter.

An aside note on proctoring: I started a job this year where our online students (located all around the world) took a final comprehensive exam via Blackboard and they needed to find their own proctor, which our department vetted. All I can say is "wow". The process of finding, vetting, and paying 30 or so proctors every May is a major time consumption and monetarily costly issue!  This December we are trying out an online proctoring company.  If you are designing assessments that require a proctor, think of the costs associated with it as well, not just the money, but also staff time :-)

† I work with graduate students.
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