17 December, 2009

Assessing Student Performance in Online Classes

Lisa Lane posted some of her experiences about assessment in online environments that are very relevant to my classes.  Assumptions made by her students are pretty much the same ones mine have:

  • Anything called a test or quiz is important.
  • Anything called discussion you can miss.
  • The textbook is the heart of the class and should be read carefully.
  • Anything called an assessment could go one way or another.
  • If it’s online, it’s self-paced and you don’t need to “show up”.
  • All online classes are in Blackboard.
Lisa is particularly concerned about the second point because like me, she wants students to extend their understanding of the topic at hand through discussion in forums.

In terms of course design, I don’t consider the discussion 20% of the course, just 20% of the grade. It’s more like half the class, because it’s the processing and sharing of the knowledge learned via presentation and reading. It’s the heart, not a side activity. It’s lower stakes (not 50% of the grade)  because I want the students to feel free to explore.

This seems simple enough, but my experience corroborates Lisa's - the students just don't get it.

I have found a way to resolve this problem, at least partially. From the beginning of my courses I make it clear that grades will be based on summative assessment only, and that all other activities are formative and for that reason are not graded. For the first few times I gave online classes, this caused so much confusion because students didn’t know where to focus their energy. So, I decided to give a mark to each activity, a number according to its value. I keep this on a Google spreadsheet linked to the Moodle so it is always up to date and visible to students. That changed everything because students can’t stand to see a low number, even if it doesn’t count towards the grade.

Also, if a discussion is designed to last 2 weeks and it is worth 6 points (marks), then I assign 3 to the first week and 3 to the second week. This gets students to participate more constantly and not just at the end of the designated period for that discussion.

I have told them that because activities are formative, they can be improved by going over my feedback and the rubrics. This of course means being flexible with due dates and very patient with problems each student has in doing assignments on time. It has motivated them to interact more with me, with classmates and with the rubrics and it has focused their attention, even if it is inadvertently, on the learning process - writing, editing, consulting, re-writing, re-editing, consulting again - and less on the grade itself.

It is kind of sad to use numbers for this purpose, but it seems to be a language symbol that communicates a message far clearer than many of my attempts to explain and motivate.

14 December, 2009

Internet Access and Online Courses in Ecuador

Training teachers to give online classes has many challenges.  One of the greatest here in Ecuador is the simple fact that so few people have experience with or even access to the Internet.

The Ecuadorian Census Bureau just published a report indicating that 41% of Ecuadorians have used a computer at some point in their lives and 25% have used the Internet.

Of those who have used the Internet, 40% did so from a public place like a cyber cafĂ© as they are called here, 20% from their home and 20% from their work.  The rest reported connecting from a variety of other places.

Further, of those who use the Internet, 46% of them do so for educational purposes, while 7% do so to work.

Here in the city of Guayaquil, 48% of all homes have a telephone line, while 9% have access to the Internet.

Lastly, statistics suggest that the number of Internet users is rising due to increasing access by mobile phone, especially among urban youth. 

So, the obvious question is: who will be my student's students? Or, how possible is it to offer a series of online classes for university students under such circumstances?  Many students seem interested, especially those from provincial cities who otherwise do not have access to high-quality education, but it remains to be seen if they will actually register for the programs and how successful they will be.

Another question I have is how possible is it to take an online class using a mobile phone as the main interface with the course?

In any case, online courses are an opportunity to raise educational standards and give more students access to a wider variety of programs, and that is definitely a step in the right direction.

13 December, 2009

Inaugural Post

My name is Justin Scoggin and I am a teacher trainer at Universidad Casa Grande in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Through this blog I aim to chronicle and reflect on the process of training University teachers to design and deliver online classes. Some of them have previously given their classes on site and are learning to redesign them for online delivery while others will be giving their classes for the first time online. 

The training program consists of five 7-week modules.  
  • The first module introduces teachers to relevant web 2.0 tools, 
  • the second to Moodle and syllabus design,
  • the third  to activity design,
  • the fourth to assessment strategies, both of activities and of entire courses,
  • and the fifth module introduces teachers to basic facilitating strategies.
The first module began in November 2009 and the last module is scheduled to finish in July of 2010.