About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Example of assessment part 2: Blended course

I taught an intensive course on computer supported writing across the curriculum. This was a one week course (8 hours a day) followed by 2 weeks of independent work. In this class, I had students from primary-adult education from language arts, history, science, and foreign language areas. In addition, the majority of the students were working professionals.

It was important, because of the diversity of the class, to incorporate variety and choice in the assessment tool. In addition, because the course was part of a educational technology institute, it was important that students demonstrated some technological ability, but appropriate for their own situation. For example, if a student worked in an environment in which certain technology was blocked, it would be a useless to have them demonstrate the use of that technology as it would be irrelevant in their work. Finally, in all of my assessments for education classes, it is important that students demonstrate their understanding of WHY they make choices and are able to justify it with research.

The following is the assessment tool I used for that class:

E-portfolio: (50%) Students will need to demonstrate their understanding of the course concepts by putting together an e-portfolio of their own completed examples of work they did in class (while we might begin the work in class, they may not be completed until after the course in finished). The portfolio should include a finished piece that demonstrates: 1) CSW (computer supported writing) that develops communication skills, 2) CSW that demonstrates writing to learn, 3) Collaborative CSW, 4) CSW appropriate for your level of teaching and discipline (or a discipline you are interested in), 5) research or data collection in CSW, 6) an analysis of CSW technology, 7) an example of hypertext, 8) a CSW assessment tool. In addition to the completed pieces, students will need to include explanations as to how each of pieces meet the criteria for each required element (e.g. what makes a piece a hypertext and how does your finished product meet that criteria). We will discuss this further in class (separate handout and rubric).

Learning Blog
: (25%) Students will need to reflect on class discussions, activities, and required readings for each day (both readings due before and after the class) and write a blog that addresses each day’s questions (listed above). Students should label each post with the day and topic, with a total of 5 separate posts. The blogs will be used to evaluate your understanding of the course concepts AND readings, therefore, it is important they you reference the readings in your reflection.

Project: (25%): You will be given some time in class to work on this; however, this time might not be sufficient to complete the project during class.

Option A: Students can put together a CSW project that can be used in their classroom. This might include a lesson plan integrating CSW software, the development of a CSW software or website, a wiki or blog that outlines guidelines or compares CSW software attributes, a prototype of an OWL (online writing lab) or the design for a research project on CSW. In addition to the project, students will write a two to three page justification for the project and its design, based on readings.


Option B: Students may conduct a literature review on a topic in CSW and write a summary (6-10 pages) of major findings, issues, and gaps in the literature. Students need to have at least 10 resources and should use a standard style format (APA, University of Chicago, MLA, etc…).

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Examples of multiple assessments: traditional course

As promised, below is an example of the assessments I used for a college course on Speech Presentation and Composition. The goal of the assessments is to let students have some choice to work on areas they may need help. As this is a required entry course for the major, I have students coming in with a wide range of skills. Some have very good oral presentation skills, some have very good speech writing skills, others have very good skills but inappropriate for professional communication, while others (many in fact) have public speaking anxiety, and a few have no public speaking skills or experience (especially those from inner city public schools). As a result, it is important for the students to work on those skills they feel they need.

There is a core of mandatory assignments I use for students to demonstrate their ability to prepare, write, and present speeches. Students that only hand in these mandatory assignments doing a good job demonstrating their abilities will pass, but not excell in the class. Students can bring up their grade by doing as many of the optional assignments up to 200 points. Students can off-set problems with mandatory assignments (often freezing on the first or second speech) with extra credit assignments.

Note that many of the mandatory assignments are used to assess student's understanding of the core concepts they need by the end of the course, while the optional assessments are more reflective and targeted towards an individual's own needs. The optional assignments use reflection for students to assess their own abilities and come up with their own plans on how to improve. It also allows students to practice skills they have learned in the mandatory assignments, especially if they had trouble with the mandatory assignments (e.g. audience analysis and audience impact analysis work sheets).

I find the assessment in this class works like a dialogue between the student and instructor. In addition, I provide my students with a number of formts to choose from to demonstrate their knowledge including blogs, YouTube, face to face interaction, and work sheets.

Assessment tools

(Total Maximum Possible Points=775 Points)

(25 pts) Audience Analysis: Conduct an audience analysis for speech I using the worksheet attached at the end of this assignment handout (also available on WebCT). You should try to identify multiple audiences in the class for your hometown. This might be based on geographic locations (upstate/downstate, rural/urban, regions of New York state and out of stators), type of student (major/non-major, commuters/residents, older/younger students), or life-style (travelers/non-travelers, partiers/non-partiers, single/couple/family).

(25 pts) Audience Impact analysis for speech II. Students must fill out a worksheet (attached at the end of this handout and available on WebCT) analyzing the impact various speech points on the intended audiences.

(4 speeches, Speech evaluations for 5 students assigned by the teacher, written manuscript for Speech II, References for Speech III):

Speech I (50 pts): Your Hometown
Audience: Classmates Time: 5-7 minutes
Purpose: You want to inform you classmates about your hometown. You may include graphics (computer, posters, handouts). This is an informal speech.

Speech II (100 pts): Your Hometown
Audience: Professional Group interested in Hometown Time: 3 minutes
Purpose: You may decide which professional group you are delivering the speech to depending on your interests and town (i.e. investors, economic development group, town council, school board, press). You will be presenting on your hometown, but specific speech points and message will depend on your audience analysis. The speech will be a formal informative and persuasive speech and you must make sure that all the information in the speech manuscript is delivered accurately to the audience. You will not be allowed to use graphics or visuals as supporting information. Some of the information you will be presenting will be new, so you may have to persuade the audience to listen to you.

(25 pts) Typed copy of complete speech II (see above).

Speech III (150 pts): Persuasive Speech. Topic will be assigned randomly based on student suggestions.
Audience: Opponents of the topic Time: 3-5 minutes

Students will be asked to write down a persuasive speech topic. These topics may be modified depending on complexity of subject given the time constraints of the speech (i.e. only parts of complex issues may be used), the duplication of a topic, or the class position (choosing the contrary position of an issue upon which the entire class is in agreement, e.g. taxes should be lowered would be changed to taxes should not be lowered). Each student will randomly choose a topic. Students will also be given specific audiences that are opponents of the topic. The specifics of the speech should be based on the analysis of the history of the issue, the audience’s position, and the action expected from the audience.

References (25 pts) Make a list of at least 10 references that will be used to prepare speech III. The references should include at least one magazine, one reference book, an internet source, and a personal interview reference. Each reference should be listed using an approved citation method (APA, MLA, University of Chicago). After each citation you should note which side the reference supports and the purpose of the reference (inform, persuade, evoke).

Example: Research Question: Our school should use less group activities

Barker, V., Abrams, J., Tiyaamornwong, V., Seibold, D., Duggan, A., Park, H., & Sebastian, M. (2000). New contexts for relational communication in groups. Small Group Research, 31 (4) 470-503. For group activities: inform.

Mary Smith. Interview October 23, 2004. SUNY Communication major. Against group activities: evoke.

Note: Your text has citation styles in Appendix B

In addition to the 10 references, answer the following questions:

1. What are the (at least 2) positions?
2. How did the “debate” begin?
3. How has it been addressed in the past?
4. Has each side had equal voice?
5. What do the two sides agree on? Has this changed over time?
6. What do the two sides disagree on? Has this changed over time?
7. What have been some of proposed options to resolve this issue? (list at least one from each side)

This information will be used to help you prepare your speech.

Speech IV (200 pts): Final Speech
Audience: Choice of students appropriate to Speech Time: 7-10 minutes

Topic: The speech topic will be a pitch to a group for any topic you want. You will try to persuade the audience on an issue (change in policy, purchase a product, hire your company, vote for a candidate or piece of legislation).

Audience: You will need to identify the specific audiences based on your specific topic. However, it is assumed that each audience will include each of the following three groups:

1. Policy Makers: these could be CEO’s of companies, industry leaders, law-makers, regulators, government officials, social leaders
2. Mainstream listeners: this group has never really been involved with the issue directly. They may have some general ideas or opinions based on second-hand information (magazines, TV, public discussion). Most likely, these will be your secondary audience.
3. Those directly affected by your pitch: This group could be divided two ways: those that will be positively affected and those that will be negatively affected. Both of these groups may have a very powerful voice with the policy makers, or may have historically been ignored by the policy makers.

Format: You may choose whichever format you feel is appropriate for your subject and audiences. You may use graphics, posters, handouts, other people; you may inform, persuade or evoke; you may use any of the information organizational formats we have covered (cause and effect, problem solution, spatial, chronologic, hierarchical, comparative) and any of the reasoning (direct, indirect, causal, analogical).

The following questions might help you to focus on what needs to go into your speech: (Extra Credit, 10pts: type up the answers to the questions.)

1. What role have policy makers had in the past to establish the issue you would like to change? How might they be affected if they do implement the change? What assumptions have they made about the mainstream listeners and those affected by the change? How were those assumptions formed (what is the history of the change)?
2. What would the average person know about this issue? Where would they get their information from? How would that information bias (positive or negative) you proposal? How would you be able to use or overcome those biases? How will the change affect the average listener? Do you think they will understand the implications? How will that affect the way your speech is organized?
3. Have those that will be affected by your pitch ever had a voice in the policy making on this issue? Why or why not? How will that affect the way in which you approach the issue? What assumptions do they have about the issue? Why? If the impact is negative, how will you get them to accept it? What reasoning can you use? What type of supporting information? If the impact is positive, will this audience believe you based on past experience?

Speech Evaluations: There are 4 different evaluation sheets each speech (forms at the end of this handout). For each speech, students will be assigned 5 students to evaluate. These evaluation sheets will need to be filled out, handed into the teacher for grading (5 pts each for the first speech, 10 pts each for the following 3 speeches), then given to the speaker as feedback. Please review the syllabus for course conduct expectations when giving feedback.

Additional Assignments (Maximum possible points=325)

Students can submit as many assignments as they want earning up to 200 points in total. For example, students can submit all the assignments, receiving credit for 207 points out of 325. Only 200 points will count toward their final grade.
Speech evaluation

Students need to present a typed :

(25 pts) Speech Analysis
. Review the speech by Christopher deCharms, Looking inside the brain in real time (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/christopher_decharms_scans_the_brain_in_real_time.html) and answer the following questions:
• What is the general purpose of the speech? What is the specific purpose of the speech?
• What are some of the non-verbal communication cues he uses to make his point(s)? What obstacles does he need to overcome in giving his speech? How effective is he in overcoming those obstacles? Why or why not? How does he establish credibility? How does he interact with the audience?
• What type of introduction does he use? What type of conclusion? Are they effective? Why or why not? What assumptions does he make about the audience? How does that effect his speech?
• What does he do well in the speech? If you were to give him suggestions for improvement, what would they be?

(25 pts each) Randy Pausch
(Last Lecture: Achieving Your Dreams) http://www.youtube.com/user/carnegiemellonu and Barack Obama’s (Jan. 10, 2009) http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/barackobama/barackobamaweeklytransition10.htm speeches (each will be graded separately).
• What is the general purpose of the speech? What is the specific purpose of the speech? List at least 3 speech points the speaker makes. What supporting information does the speaker use to make the point? What type of reasoning (ethos, pathos, or logos) does the speaker use? How does the speaker arrange the supporting information? What style of speech does the speaker use? Why? How does the speaker interact with the audience? How does the speaker establish creditability? What assumptions does the speaker make about the audience? How does that affect the type of speech chosen? How does it affect audience interaction? What does the speaker want the audience to do? How do you know this?
• Compare the written speech to the audio/video. How does the speaker use his/her voice the alter the speech? What are the differences between how the speech can be interpreted when reading it and when listening to it? Why?

(50 pts) Video, podcast, or CD of Speech II
. Students may prepare a Video, podcast, or CD of Speech II. They will then do a self-analysis of their speech, identifying speech points, organization of ideas, and effectiveness of the speech given their identified audience. They are expected to make suggestions based on their review of the tape. This should be a 1-2 page (double spaced) analysis.

(25 pts) Audience Impact Analysis: Conduct an audience impact analysis for speech III-IV using the worksheet attached at the end of this handout.

(75 pts) A self-analysis blog
in which students will analyze each of their first three speeches after reviewing student and professor feedback. Students need to set up a blog, or use their own separate blog space and give me the URL address. The blog will include four separate entries: Speech I, Speech II, Speech III, and What I have learned. Each entry should include a description of preparation of the speech, including assumptions made about the audience, analysis of speaker’s perception of the speech, analysis of teacher and student feedback, similarities and differences in perceptions between each group, outline of how this will impact the speaker’s next speech (i.e. changes in style, assumptions, and/or preparation). The last module should include your analysis of how you have improved, what areas you still need to work on, and how your analysis of others speakers have changed due to class assignments.

(25 pts) Students may attend or watch a formal speech (i.e. on campus speaker or presidential campaign speeches) and answer the following questions:

• What is the speaker’s position? How do you know that? What type of reasoning does the speaker use? What type of supporting information? Is the support relevant? Reliable? Representative? What bias does the speaker have? Is this implicit or explicit?
• How does the speaker motivate the listener? What type of appeal does the speaker use? Does this appeal work for you? Why or why not? Is the appeal appropriate for the audience? Why or why not? Is the appeal appropriate for the message? Why or why not?
• What credentials does the speaker have? How does the speaker establish credibility? How does the speaker establish rapport with the audience? How affective is the speaker in establishing creditability and rapport?
• What does the speaker want the listener to do? Is this explicit or implicit? Does the speaker have an ethical or moral stance? How do you know? If you had to make suggestions in improving this speech, what would they be? What was affective about this speech?

(50 pts) Diversity interview. Step I:

Imagine that you want to find a pen pal on the internet. Write a description of yourself in 30 words or less in the space below:

Step II

Locate someone outside of the class to interview that does not match the characteristics you used to describe yourself in step I.

Before interviewing them, reflect on the following questions:

What is your culture? Which groups do you identify with? How does that affect your communication? How does this affect who you speak to and how?
What assumptions do you make about the other person’s culture?
What assumptions do you make about the other person based on their culture?

Step III

Find out the following information in your interview:

What are the perceived similarities between the two cultures?
What are the perceived differences?
How can you tell the difference between a personal belief and a group’s belief?
What is the best way to find out about the culture?
What is the most unfamiliar part of your culture to the person being interviewed? (What do they have trouble understanding about your culture?)
What is the best part of your culture according to the person being interviewed? Why?
Can they give an example of conflict between your culture and their culture? How do they handle that situation?

Step IV

After you have interviewed this person, I want you to reflect on the following questions:

How did your assumptions affect your interview?
Were you able to learn anything new about that person?
What (if anything) surprised you about their answers?
How could this information help you in composing speeches for diverse audiences? Audiences of a different culture than your own?

(25 pts) Speech IV References
: Identify 10 sources as you did for Module 3. In addition to identifying the position of the author and the reason for the resource (inform, evoke, or persuade), identify which groups the author(s) would represent and their position on change. As in Module 4, write a brief summary of the history of the issue, the various positions, how the policy or issue was originally established, and who has had a voice in the process?

Extra Credit (Maximum Total Points=60)

Students can submit as many extra credit assignments as they want earning up to 40 extra credit points.

(10 pts each) Self Evaluation. Students will fill out an evaluation sheet for their own speech.

(10 pts) Speech IV typed focus questions. Type up the answers to the questions.

1. What role have policy makers had in the past to establish the issue you would like to change? How might they be affected if they do implement the change? What assumptions have they made about the mainstream listeners and those affected by the change? How were those assumptions formed (what is the history of the change)?
2. What would the average person know about this issue? Where would they get their information from? How would that information bias (positive or negative) you proposal? How would you be able to use or overcome those biases? How will the change affect the average listener? Do you think they will understand the implications? How will that affect the way your speech is organized?
3. Have those that will be affected by the change ever had a voice in the policy making on this issue? Why or why not? How will that affect the way in which you approach the issue? What assumptions do they have about the issue? Why? If the impact is negative, how will you get them to accept it? What reasoning can you use? What type of supporting information? If the impact is positive, will this audience believe you based on past experience?

(10 pts) Visuals
. Review your evaluations from Speech III and the visuals. Type up the answers to the following questions:

1. How did the visuals contribute and/or hinder your presentation? Your message? Audience reaction?
2. How would you change your visuals to improve your presentation?
3. What rules could you develop for creating effective visuals for your presentations?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Incorporating assessment into a constructivism based instructional design

Michael Hanley's 15th and 16th installment of instructional design had me thinking about assessment. In the two installments, Michael introduces a flexible instructional design model that fits will with constructivism. However, as I commented on his blog, there is little discussion of what assessment tools can be used that will maintain the level of flexible learning. He asked if I had any suggestions.

In fact, when I teach introduction to distance learning, this is an area that I work at developing with my students. The following is a compilation of the notes I give my students with some additional updates based on my own experience:

The assessment-learning connection

Sometimes, students need to be pushed to go beyond their comfort zone. If we want our students to succeed in the real world, at some point they will need to learn how to take initiative and risks. Those are the employees that are rewarded with promotions and greater responsibilities. However, there will be some students (for a variety of reasons including lack of confidence, maturity, background, personality) that will always avoid risk of failure. Constructivist activities, especially those designed for distance learning, generally allow students to step out of these fears into a supportive environment that allows them to risk failure as long as there are supports in place to help them if they do fail. These supports include instructional support (either preparing them for the experience or using the experience as a stepping stone for further targeted instruction), emotional support (empowering students when they make mistakes rather than leaving them with a sense of humiliation, building confidence by finding success in making mistakes or errors and learning from them or working through them), community support (making sure members know what their role is and creating an atmosphere that will build trust), and support in setting goals and processes to achieve them (helping students to make choices that are presented to them, helping them to develop time management skills with a timeline or structure within which to work, giving clear expectations for any activity and being flexible--or not--depending on the student needs).

In looking at assessment, there often is little attention given to trust and trust-building activities. Often assessment and evaluation leave students feeling "set-up" initially, feeling betrayed. This is something that can happen much easier in distance learning than in a traditional class, as there are no social cues as can be found in a traditional class room. It is important, therefore, that any constructivist learning instructional design with an analysis of the current level of trust between the various "presences"--teacher, students, community, and discipline (Phillips). In all instructional designs, the designer should analyze (either implicitly or explicitly) how trust will be impacted, supported, maintained, and developed. You may need to explicitly identify assessments and activities that will undermine trust (e.g. a reflective blog on identifying weaknesses and solutions for a group that can be seen by a supervisor and used in promotional considerations).

Looking at the variety of activities that can be used in a flexible instructional design like the models proposed by Phillips and Sims & Jones (2002), there needs to be a variety of ways to assess learning. The differences in activities help to provide different types of learning for different learning needs. Likewise, different types of assessment will address the different ways that people apply their learning and demonstrate their knowledge.

Assessment Tools

We all know the traditional ways that we assess learning in the classroom: quizzes (multiple choice), joint projects, etc... In the classroom, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, we can see the class dynamics; we have social cues to indicate to us when a student "gets it". But this is not always true in distributed, distance, or adult learning. Technology can distort feedback (both receiving and giving). In addition, the time delay for feedback can be both positive (giving time for students to reflect) and negative (frustrating students when they are stuck with no visible means of support). So, for distance learning, not only is it important to determine the best way to assess student learning (what did they really learn and how well did they learn it) but also the best way to provide evaluation so administrators, parents, employers, other faculty, and the students themselves understand how well they met the expected outcomes and those areas in which there needs to be improvement. As assessment tools are chosen and created, try to think of these questions: how can the learning activity be justified to all stakeholders (e.g. the $500 spent on a video conference with the Baseball Hall of Fame)? What type of feedback will help focus student learning? What did students really learn (e.g. in addition to the content, perhaps communication and technology skills, problem solving and group skills, and understanding of the world outside of the classroom) and how can this be documented? How will the skills students have learned benefit them in their future? Did the learning activity allow them to use what they have learned immediately, or will there be a delay (need to practice or reflection, for example) before they can demonstrate their understanding? Will assessment be a part of the learning or is it used to measure learning for outside stakeholders?

If we follow the advice given by constructivist researchers, the best activities for learning are ill-defined, action based, with multiple possible outcomes. As such, will a multiple choice test be appropriate to measure student learning and outcomes? The reality is that our current educational system requires that we test in a time efficient way, which is multiple choice or "objective" testing. As a result, as teachers, we feel compelled to use these tests to prepare our students. So how do we resolve these competing forces?

In a traditional classroom, where there are pressures for standardized test scores, therefore, a combination of assessment tools can be used. Follow-up classroom activities that lead to objective testing with student presentations on what has been learned, application of constructivist concepts to a traditional classroom activity, and application of constructivist skills (critical thinking, situating learning, perspective taking) in other contexts that fit a traditional classroom assessment requirement.

In non-traditional classrooms (i.e. online learning, self-directed learning), on the other hand, assessment tools must match the teaching approach: reflective journals, online discussions, group work and presentations, projects, papers. Grading rubrics help to guide students in terms of expectations. Written feedback from both instructors and peers also help to establish expectations and perceived learning outcomes. I use written feedback and a holistic approach to grading (which is used on your SAT, GRE, and GMAT written sections). Others feel more comfortable using a rubric, especially when there are multiple instructors for the same class or course. More and more, I have seen departments that work together in training and developing group standards through feedback and triangulating grading among evaluators.

A number of researchers have also suggested including student input in developing the assessment tools (McLoughlin & Luca, 2001). The co-creation of assessment tools means students are not only constructing their learning, but they are aware as they do so of how they will be able to demonstrate their level of learning and stakeholders' expectations.

Some samples of alternative assessment that was developed by my students can be found on my web page in the right hand margin under Evaluation Rubrics. Over the next few posts I will include some examples of how I incorporate flexibility into my own assessments and the guidelines I use for my own assessment tools.


McLoughlin, C. & Luca, J. (2001). Quality in online delivery: What does it mean for assessment in e-learning environments? Available at: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne01/pdf/papers/mcloughlinc2.pdf

Phillips, R. (2004). The design dimensions of e-learning. Presented December, 2004 at ASCILITE Conference in Perth, Australia. Available at http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/pdf/phillips.pdf

Sims, R., & Jones, D. (2002). Continuous Improvement Through Shared Understanding: Reconceptualising Instructional Design for Online Learning. Proceedings of the 2002 ascilite conference: winds of change in the sea of learning: charting the course of digital education. Internet: Available from: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland02/proceedings/papers/162.pdf

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Experiential Learning

Michael Hanley has had a great series on Instructional Design. The 13th posting had a model which reminded me a lot of the Kolb Model of experiential learning. So I decided to post here a part of my Dissertation Proposal on Kolb's model:

Kolb’s experiential learning model is one explanation of how individuals might learn from their experience (Kolb, 1984). There are four basic stages to Kolb’s model. In the first stage, concrete experience, an individual experiences some phenomenon, such as a meeting, collaborative process, training, or reading new product material. Kolb also identifies this stage as one of problem finding. During the next two stages, reflective observation and abstract conceptualization, the individual reconstructs the experience internally and develops hypotheses or generalizations that can be used in future situations. In other words, individuals ask questions and look for answers during these two stages. In the final stage, active experimentation, individuals apply their generalizations or hypotheses to diverse contexts, reformulating their generalizations based on the outcomes as they repeat the cycle for each context. The final stage, Kolb also categorized as the portrayal of knowledge, in which concepts are verified, developed in a way to communicate to others, and explored through various contexts and situations so they eventually will be incorporated into new concrete experiences.

Kolb (1984) also distinguished between two types of knowledge: apprehension and comprehension. Apprehensive knowledge is the intuitive process that happens as we experience the world. Apprehensive knowledge makes us aware of what we are experiencing and perceive our world, although it may not have meaning. Comprehensive knowledge is the abstract ideas and understanding we create based on our experience. “Apprehension of experience is a personal subjective process that cannot be known by others except by the communication to them of the comprehensions that we use to describe our immediate experience. Comprehension, on the other hand, is an objective social process, a tool of culture”(p. 105). It is the apprehensive knowledge, communicated through shared concepts, known as concepts or comprehensive knowledge, that companies would like to capture since this is the intangible know-how that an individual brings to a situation. Putting this into the context of Kolb’s model, it is possible that the collaborative writing process helps individuals create a deeper level of apprehensive knowledge through social interaction that requires apprehensive knowledge be transformed to comprehensive knowledge. Transforming personal knowledge that is a result of experience (apprehensive knowledge) into social knowledge requires common symbols, culture, social structures, and images; in other words, comprehensive knowledge. Likewise, comprehensive knowledge is irrelevant without personal knowledge or experience (apprehensive knowledge) to mediate understanding (Kolb). The collaborative writing process may give group members the opportunity to utilize both apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge. If language works as a medium of thought through the use of inner speech, as a mediator of thought through discourse, and as a tool though the generation of thoughts and knowledge systems (Nelson, 1996), in studying collaborative writing, there is a chance to understand the multiple use of language in developing thoughts, apprehensive, and comprehensive knowledge, at the individual and group level.

Kolb, David. Experiential Learning: Experience as a the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood-Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1984.

Nelson, Katherine. Language in Cognitive Development: The Emergence of the Mediated Mind. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Do you hoard knowledge?

My son told me yesterday on a walk that his teacher complained that he could recall the most inconsequential pieces of information and would include them on his history essays. This lead me to think about the many times people are amazed at the pieces of information that I can recall. And yet, last week when I played a memory card game with my 4 year-old niece and son, I couldn't remember where any of the matching cards were actually placed (much to my son's amusement and advantage as he snapped up the pair).

Tony Karrer has had a number of posts on effective search skills, PLN's, skills needed for knowledge workers, and skimming/scanning for information. This got me to thinking, do I hoard information the way some people hoard coffee or paper products? Am I unable to access my short term memory because:
  1. I have so many useless facts in my head (such as where all of the Natural Gas Pipelines are connected in the US, including producers, distributers, and major end users) I can't keep other facts in there unless they are interesting to me?
  2. I need time to sort and sift through all the facts I have that I just put new information on top of the pile "for future reference" (like the piles of readings on my desk)
  3. I don't really need to remember it, but I don't want to get rid of it in case I need it in the future. Therefore, it really doesn't get thrown away (out of my memory) but is damaged because of all the other useless facts in there weighing it down. This is why I am always one card away from the correct card.
Why do we hoard?
There are two types of hoarders of material objects. The first time hoard because they were deprived as a child and there is always an unconscious fear of shortage in the future. The other type usually have an addiction or psychological disorder in which they feel more secure with the material objects around them.

Do we do the same with information? Anyone who has ever been caught short in a meeting or had their job affected because of lack of knowledge wants to make sure that will never happen again. As a result, he or she will try to find excess information and background/understanding so as to not be caught unawares (and having to admit to not knowing). Others feel comfortable "knowing" and use internet searches and time to find out more information as a way to avoid work or situations they don't enjoy (in other words procrastination).

So how do we know if we are hoarding information? How do we "let it go" so the collecting knowledge does not turn into the problematic "hoarding information"?

The social aspects of hoarding

The problem with hoarding is that consumers are taking products away from others that may need it. This creates a shortage and poor distribution of resources. If we hoard knowledge, we will are keeping it from others that might need it rather than sharing it. We also might be misusing our own skills that would be better used for both individual and group uses.

To avoid hoarding knowledge, therefore, we should:
  1. Share our knowledge through social software such as blogs, community software such as blogs, and social bookmarking programs such as delicious
  2. Be aware of our knowledge needs and not make impulse "searches" for information that might be interesting but really never useful.
  3. Find alternative places to "store" our knowledge (or access knowledge) for the future. But limit the number of "places."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Using Nings for classes

I've been reviewing my use of the Ning for this semester and trying to analyze the results. This is just a first pass through analysis. However, I was much more pleased with the use of the Ning than I was with the courseware our school uses.

How it was used:

I used the ning as a resource for my classes. Both sections of the course on speech presentation used the same Ning. My purpose, as I explained to my classes, for the use of the Ning was to answer questions about coursework and assignments. I also kept all of the student blog assignments in one place and students were able to upload videos of their presentations on the Ning.

The advantages:

  1. Students were much more interactive on line, often jumping in with answers to other students' questions. This meant that I did not have to monitor the Ning several times a day so students would have answers to the questions. However, I did find they wanted my reenforcement, so I would post something like, "that's correct. Thanks for the help."
  2. As the administrator, I was able to review videos without making them public. I had difficulty accessing YouTube private settings and many of my students did not want to upload their work for public display.
  3. I was able to have all of my students blogs in one place. In addition, some blogs were read by others in the class (even though they did not comment) and the "popularity" feature on Ning allowed me to see which ones were being read.
  4. There seemed to be a greater level of community. Students would leave messages for each other (which I could see), sometimes class related, other times just personnel. For example, one of the student's found another's paper from another class. She contacted the student through the Ning and made arrangments to return the paper.
  5. I was able to send mass emails to the email addressed identified by the students (rather than the office school email) which meant they were more apt to get and read the emails.
  6. Many students created a personal profile that helped to create a sense of identity outside of class.


  1. I still needed to keep on top of the Ning and show a strong presence. Towards the end of the semester, especially, students stopped using it unless I told them I was posting something.
  2. The two classes stayed pretty separate on the Ning which tells me that the community on the Ning is just an extension of the community developed in the classroom. Therefore, I think it is important to create a sense of community in the classroom for the Ning to work.
  3. Some of the features on the Ning didn't work with some of the computers (i.e. some of the videos took so much time to upload that they "timed out", the discussion threads feature). Because Nings aren't supported by our school, we, the users, were on our own.
  4. Sometimes, when there was a lot of activity on the Ning, it was hard to keep track of that activity. I could imagine this might have been the same with the students.
  5. I feel that the upgraded version might have had features I would have preferred, but as I am only an adjunct, I don't have an budget to invest in such software.

Overall, I much preferred the Ning over other web-based software I've used for my classes in the last 6 years. My overall favorite ever was the now defunct Prometheus. I have yet to see the syllabus features that this program had. My favorite was an automatic date feature in which the instructor would put in the dates of the classes or the start and ending date along with the days the class met, and a template would be generated. It was simple then to fill in the information for each class including readings, assignments, and links to resources for the class. After, the instructor could add files and notes about the class.

I would strongly recommend the Ning of in classes. I will be using it next semester, hopefully trying some new things as I get used to each of the features of the software.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where is your time spent?

In response to the Learning Circuit Blog question of the month: How do you spend your time, I wish I could answer. I know how I THINK I spend my time, but then when I review it, it all goes out the window.

So here is the closest to a typical day when I am teaching:

I go into the office after dropping my kids off at school and check emails, class sites (nings, courseware, blogs, delicious), and mail that may have come through interoffice mail. I also download and print assignments students have submitted. I don't download on my own computer because of viruses and supplies (let the university deal with the crashed system). I look for resources for the class I am teaching, organizing them on delicious or in a powerpoint (I update links). I begin to plan for the next class, looking for resources I can use. I make copies of in class activities or resources in case students don't bring their own (there are always a few that will forget to download from the class site). If I have time, I'll read through some of the blogs (and respond to them) that are listed on my igoogle.

After I teach, I return home and turn on my computer. I will look at my general email, finish looking at and commenting on 2 or 3 blogs from my igoogle while I make lunch. Then I will work on my dissertation. Right now I am in the process of analyzing data and finding literature to update my proposal. I might search through google scholar, go to the online library section, search for the journal and article or request online for the digital article through interlibrary loan (online).

I then try to take a walk before the kids come home. Once the kids are home, I don't have access to the computer, but I will monitor their computer use, including looking over my son's facebook interaction and keeping my daughter limited to the few safe gaming sites she enjoys when they aren't doing their homework. Most evenings, the kids have some sport or school event to go to. If not, occasionally, we'll watch a missed episode of a TV show via the internet. Or we might watch TV at night together. In between, I'll check my email 2-3 times a night or if I'm really bored, I'll check to see if there are any replies to the blog postings (this will usually only take 5 minutes or so).

On the days that I'm not teaching, I work on my dissertation until noon. Every hour or so I'll take a break, read a blog and post a comment or a blog posting. I noticed that I tend to post on Mondays and Thursdays. I'm not sure why. Maybe Monday because I will have had little access or time for the computer or myself, and it is "my time". After noon, I will vary what I do, taking time to exercise, reading a blog, or just "looking around" the internet. Sometimes I'll just read during this time. The day is the same after the kids get home.

I think that the blogging and searching the internet sometimes allows my mind to wonder into areas I'm really interested in and takes me away from the pressures of school and work. On the other hand, I have to be careful I don't take too much time to "wander" so I am procrastinating what I need to do (like starting dinner), speaking of which...

(Later). What do I do less of now? Planning for my classes. I now can be more spontaneous with my class, addressing issues as they come up as I will have a group of resources I can access during class. For example, whereas before I might have to have a powerpoint I am using in class, I can create the powerpoint as we work as a class and load it to the Ning or Courseware for my students to access later (sort of like uploading the chalkboard). I can also use a video clip to illustrate something my students might be having trouble with. This doesn't mean I am less prepared, but rather I don't have to have a static lesson plan (or handouts that take time to copy) to work from.

I also spend less time reinventing the wheel. I can work off of what I did the last time I taught the class. Finally, I watch TV less, especially the news. I can go to the internet now and find just those episodes or reports I'm interested in (rather than sitting through stuff I don't care about to get to the stuff I like).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Creating standards and assessing learning

Results of the New York State Math test, a standardized test given to children in grades 3-8 (8-14 year olds), was announced yesterday. What was amazing was the analysis of what these test scores meant and why students in the NY City area had done so well. Theories included that the test was too predictable to the fact that New York City schools were now under control of the Mayor. Surprisingly, the fact that a new formula to calculate state aid and greater investment into urban schools was never mentioned! This despite the fact that grades increased in all urban areas.

What this demonstrates is that it is difficult to assess learning solely on the basis of a standardized test results. Even more important, there was no analysis of what standards students were meeting and the impact that would have on higher ed and workplace readiness. Instead, Merryll Tisch, chanceler of the New York State Board of Regents announced that perhaps the passing score should be raised.

What do standardized assessments really measure?

A standardized test if designed correctly, measures the retrieval of information set out by the curriculum. In some cases, it may measure performance of a standard (i.e. the lab section of the NY state science test). However, often it measures the knowledge of processes rather than a level of understanding in performing a task.

For a standardized test to be successful, it should:

1) Be aligned with the stated standards
2) Have some sort of mechanism to ensure consistent evaluation and grading
3) Ignore other learning or knowledge that has not been defined in the standards

Standardized tests do not always have to be an objective test. For example, the GRE has a critical writing component in which evaluators are trained and each written answer is evaluated by 3 different people to ensure consistency in grading.

Standardized tests therefore do not grade a student's learning, but rather if they are familiar with the intended material, content, or curriculum the standards reflect. They also do not measure if the standards will prepare a student for college or the workplace if the standards do not reflect the skills needed. (See the related article on the White House push to improve curriculum to prepare students for the 21st Century).

Finally, I would think that the goal of assessment would be to have a high maintained level of passing as it demonstrates that more and more students are achieving the stated standards. However, from Chancellor Tisch's comments it would appear that either the standards are inadequate (which is why students need remedial classes) or it is being used to rate students, excluding a certain % (which is why the passing score would be raised). Standards should be changed if they no longer are aligned with the needs of the learning outcomes, not because "too many passed the test."

Choosing a better way to assess

It seems that there is a disconnect between

1) learning standards and learning outcome needs
2) what is methods of measuring learning and instructional design
3) knowledge and application of that knowledge in multiple contexts
4) having content and understanding the content

The first step in any instructional design should be to establish learning goals and develop measures to assess learning outcomes. In developing these learning goals, it is not enough to identify what someone should "know" or be "familiar with" unless these are aligned with how learning will be used.

For example, training for new regulations in the insurance industry can use standards such as "know" or "be familiar with" because it is knowledge of the regulations that is important to regulatory agencies.

However, training for FERMA personnel in procedures for first responders for a natural disaster will need to have an understanding of the context and environments in which they will be working. In addition, there is a level of tacit knowledge which will need to be used (they need to know the practice of disaster relief, not just the process).

A good example of melding these two types of assessment can be found in the driver's test. The first stage, getting the learner's permit, requires a written test about the laws required for driving. The road test, taken after practical training, looks at a driver's ability to assess the driving conditions, react to changes in the driving environment, and showing judgment in using certain driving skills based on environmental conditions. A student who is driving too closely so that they need to slam on their breaks when someone in front makes a quick stop is assessed differently than someone that slams on their breaks when ever they are startled. Both are slamming on the breaks, but in the second case, when there is no environmental reason, there would be a perception of less driving skill and knowledge.

Monday, June 1, 2009

School of the Future

As my daughter enters high school, she will be transitioning into a new way of learning. Especially important is the way that Math and Science will be taught.
Among the differences between her current school and new school:
  • Projects as a source of learning
  • Interdisciplinary curriculum and integrated learning (i.e. math and science are taught together and writing is taught in context across the curriculum)
  • Integration of technology within the curriculum
  • Technology is used as a tool for learning, not learned as a tool
  • Group work
  • Parental and community involvement
  • Focus on learning, not on "tests"
  • Student accountibility for their own learning (assessment is much more involved)
  • School to work, high school to university transition

For the first time in a long time, my daughter is excited about science and math class. In addition, she will be learning Chinese. The only misgiving she has (which is the same for all those entering high school) is the social climate. As the year goes on, I will be blogging about her experience, especially in the context of my work at the two colleges/universities where I will be teaching business and communication courses (the transition into the workplace).

I just wish that all disciplines would begin to use these same principles in their teaching. I am hoping the Chinese instruction will make the real life connection like science and math. It would be nice if a push were made to improve teaching in all disciplines and new forms of assessment were created as this administration begins to take up the topic of educational reform. I have seen to progress science and math has made with the investment made during the last administration. Now lets improve creativity and innovation with the same investment in the arts and humanity.