EDUC 216: Assessment of Learning Reflection Paper

Ed Note: You know that it’s been a tough quarter for blogging when your last blog post was a reflection paper for your last professional development class. I’m still trying to find a way of balancing my multiple streams of output (facebook, twitter, multiple blogs) and I hope to put more attention onto this blog in the future.

Additional Ed Note:  By creating this post I just learned how to wade through a database to find an old version of the post.  As a nearly finished version magically disappeared from before my eyes.  Experiential learning if I’ve ever seen it.

Assessment of Learning

This quarter I have been privileged to be a part of Jo Nelson’s class on the assessment of learning. For those of you who are unaware, these classes at Lake Washington Technical College are a part of each instructor’s professional development process. While they are often challenging to incorporate into your schedule, I have found that they have been immensely useful in two important ways 1) providing instructors with ideas for content and 2) allowing instructors to interact and commiserate with one another — oftentimes delving into the struggles of dealing with a particular student population. This class was focused on the way in which we can measure whether or not learning is taking place.

As part of this final reflection paper I would like to highlight 3 major takeaways for me from the class:

  1. The importance of proving clear directions to students
  2. The importance (and difficulty) of teaching Global Outcomes to our students
  3. The role of Elluminate in facilitating and online class

Clear Assignment Directions

One of our first assignments in the class was to provide an example of an assignment that we used in the classroom. Our discussion in the classroom at the time was focused around why and how we assess our students. I’ve been using a rubric in my classroom since the first quarter that I taught here (a habit that I picked up from Marie Wilsey’s “Teaching and Facilitating Learning” class), but I have come to feel that I often rely on that rubric to provide assignment expectations for my students. What I have learned is that I need to provide clear directions in multiple forms. I need to provide examples of successful assignments from the past as well as assignments that haven’t been so successful. I need to make sure that students know how much each part of an assignment is worth, even if it is a small assignment. I need to provide adequate instruction for a student to be able to complete the assignment. This is something that I will continue to struggle with — oftentimes I use assignments as both an assessment process and an exercise. I seem them as an opportunity to let my students struggle through a process to help reinforce some things that I have taught them in the classroom. What I need to make sure to do, however, is give my students clear instruction for every step of the process or to make sure that they will have the adequate tools required to complete the task.

The question that this begs however, is whether I am spoon-feeding my students. In class we have discussed a few times whether or not we are providing our students with things that we were not provided with as students. I remember a few times in college where I had to struggle through an assignment, often because my instructor did not give me all of the answers along the way. I think about how one instructor gave me an assignment to strip a movie trailer of all sound and replace it. I was pretty unfamiliar with how to do this and I don’t think that the instructor gave me detailed steps to complete the assignment. But I struggled and eventually figured things out and those things that I learned, I will never forget. I just wonder if there is value in letting our students struggle a little bit. Thoughts?

Global Outcomes

The last portion of our class was devoted to the discussion of Global Outcomes. Global Outcomes are 5 critical skills that each of our students should have before they graduate from the college. They are skills that transcend individual programs and are required for our students to be good, employable citizens in the community. These Global Outcomes are:

  1. Critical Thinking
  2. Teamwork
  3. Intercultural Awareness
  4. Information and Technical Literacy
  5. Communication

While the class discussions gave me some good ideas for potential assignments that I can use in my classroom to assess each of these globals, my more important takeaway is that these globals are something that really need to be taught and not just assessed. During class one week we were discussing Critical Thinking and the entire class had a collective brain freeze in trying to come up with ideas of how to teach critical thinking. I also realized that assignments that I had created to promote critical thinking in my students was failing to do so — but rather just creating opportunities for my students to parrot things that I had taught them. I immediately went and revamped one of these assignments, this time with more exploratory questions aimed at eliciting some reflection from my student. I need to evaluate the process of critical thinking, in the same way that a math instructor wants to check their students “work” and not just their answers.

Elluminate

I think one of the best lessons that I learned this quarter wasn’t about the content at all, but rather the delivery of the class.  The class was fully online.  We met every Wednesday to discuss in a face-to-face environment via Elluminate.  While I have been a participant in an Elluminate session before, it was interesting to see how an entire quarter long class played out through Elluminate sessions.

 

Jo did a great job of keeping us all engaged with the content and making sure that we were all participating in the session.   She asked us by name what we thought about a certain topic and allowed us to fully use the tools that come with Elluminate to fully participate in the class.  That being said, I’m worried about integrating Elluminate into my classroom for a few reasons (many of which we ran across during the quarter):

  • The technological hurdles of making sure that everyone can connect to the session and get their audio and video running
  • Students who participate need to be willing to participate.  Elluminate really requires discussion, and it may be difficult to produce from some of my students.
  • The problem of keeping everyone on track when they are on their computer — I found myself doing a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally do in a face to face class (eating, holding babies, looking up stuff on the Internet) — and I can see how it may be a struggle to keep everyone on task in the classroom.

That being said having taken this class, I know what good can come from an Elluminate session and I am willing to try it in the future.

Closing Thoughts

I’m grateful for the experience that I had this quarter.  Once again, these classes are great for the mere fact that it allows us to peek into each others classrooms to see what teaching techniques we can implement.  It has been a great to get to know some of the faculty that I didn’t know as well as learn some valuable lessons about how I can be a better instructor.