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Measuring Learning in Blended Courses

Assessment is an important part of any course. We want to make sure that our methods are working and learners are learning things (correctly!).

One of the things that I love about the blended and flipped classroom movements is the focus on assessment through projects, discussion, and other non-test means. Today I’m going to take a brief look at formal and informal assessments, in addition to some best practices for online quizzes.

Formal (Active, Authentic, Creative) Assessment

Formal assessment does not necessarily mean an exam. Instead, students may be asked to:

  • create a portfolio piece (image, audio, lesson plan, the possibilities are endless!)
  • write a research paper
  • design a web site or visual resumeoffice-624749_1280
  • research and present on a topic
  • work with a client to solve a real problem
  • tell a story through writing, audio, or video
  • create a technical drawing or model
  • design and build a prototype
  • provide proof of application to their life/job

Note that any of these assignments could be submitted in person or online. In fact, some (web site, video, etc.) may be more suited to an online submission.

Regardless of the type of assignment, the goal is to replicate, as closely as possible, what application of their new knowledge might look like in the ‘real world’. The key to successful projects and authentic assessments is to set expectations through thorough instructions that include a checklist or rubric. Rubrics should always be shared when a project is assigned and should have measurable criteria.

Informal Assessment

I love informal assessments. I often think that they can hold more insight than a formal one and are a great way for an instructor to see which students need extra support. In addition, informal assessment can also be more fun for students.

tweet-149813_640One idea I like is the use of Twitter. Assign a hashtag for the course and have students tweet answers to questions, summaries of articles, or links to resources they have found. Summarizing complex ideas into 140 characters can be tough!

Kevin Kelly puts forth the idea of the one-sentence summary. For this activity students write one sentence that answers all the important questions – who, does what, to whom (or what), when, where, why, and how. It is important that the instructor feedback for this activity touches on both what the student did grasp and what they did not grasp – either through errors or omission.

Kelly also brings up the idea of student generated test questions that may then be used on a test, if appropriate of course. This also gives the instructor an understanding of what students are and are not grasping.

A Good Old Fashioned Quiz

Of course, sometimes you just need to give a quiz – perhaps if you are offering a course for certification or have 200 students in your class. If this is the case, technology can offer some great resources. Most online quizzing tools, whether built into an LMS or not, offer:

  • Randomization of test itemsforum-27450_1280
  • Assessment time limits
  • Rules for completion (such as requiring completion within one sitting)
  • Support for proctoring

If you do go this route, the University of Central Florida has compiled some great resources for combating cheating and writing effective test questions.  Their blended learning MOOC also shared a great resource on configuring quiz settings.

Regardless of the type of assessment, remember that the point is to make sure students are learning and to gather insight into your effectiveness. Be sure you use assessments not only to assign grades, but also as a way to see what is working and what is not, and then make changes accordingly.

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!


This is my third (and a half) post about blended learning as I work my way through a MOOC on blended learning.

Check out my previous posts on blended learning and my series on flipped learning:

Next time: connecting the online and face-to-face elements

 

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Fostering Interaction

This past week in the blended learning MOOC I’m participating in, we discussed interactions in a blended learning classroom. There are a few key points that I think are important for anyone creating any class, whether blended, online, or completely face to face.

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Types of interactions

There are several types of interactions that students can have in a classroom. They are:

  • Student to content (e.g. reading, homework, reflection)
  • Student to instructor (e.g. lecture, Q&A, feedback from assignments)
  • Student to student (e.g. group work, discussion, peer reviews)

All three types of interaction are important and all should be incorporated in any classroom.

The role of the teacher

A teacher is now rarely thought of as someone up in front of the classroom spewing knowledge and expecting you to take it all in. Active learning, engagement, flipping, and other educational trends have changed that image. There are lots of opinions on what exactly is the role of an instructor.

These include:

Atelier
The teacher is still seen as the expert, critiquing and drawing attention to good and innovative work. Students are learning from the expert and each other. This model works well for art, writing, or other topics where students can gain insight from each other’s work.

Network administrator
In this model the primary role of the teacher is to help students form connections. Students have a large role in driving their own learning. The teacher is there to build the skills they need to make connections, make sure they are on track, and fill in any gaps.

Concierge
Often seen in K-12 classrooms, in this model the instructor provides soft guidance through the use of lecture and external resources while at times allowing the learners more room for exploration.

Curator
The teacher is seen as an expert learner, curating resources and creating a space for exploration. Learners are able to explore freely, but are given materials, concepts, and other resources as a roadmap for learning.

Note that in all of the models students are interacting with content, the instructor, and each other. Students are at least partially responsible for exploring, creating, or otherwise driving their own learning. The role of the instructor, while slightly different in each, is focused on guiding and evaluating learning.

class-302116_1280Fostering engagement and interaction

Both synchronous and asynchronous activities can be used for student expression and engagement. Below are some methods for fostering engagement and interaction in any course.

Method

Uses

Benefits

Asynchronous discussion Any course can make use of asynchronous discussion. Even in technical fields, students may discuss the best methods for solving problems or grade each other’s work. Students have more time to explore an idea and prepare what they want to say. This can lead to deeper discussion and is a huge benefit to students who need extra time due to language, ability, or other factor.
Synchronous discussion Synchronous discussion can happen in a classroom or online via webinars and chat rooms. In very large courses, smaller groups may be used. Each group can then report out one or two key points. This can provide a sense of community and can be easier for an instructor to moderate.
Student
leadership
roles
An instructor may assign roles to students, rotate facilitation of discussion boards, ask students to report back on offline activities, or make each student responsible for researching and sharing information on a particular topic. This allows more student to student interaction, giving students an opportunity to learn from and critique each other. It also encourages students to dive deeper into the material.
Individual
reflection
activities
Students may blog, podcast, create videos, tweet, create an ePortfolio, present to the class, or complete a project. This gives students a chance to reflect and express their thoughts. Students may describe a process, express opinions, or create work based on concepts and theories presented in class. Student to student interactions can be increased by providing a space for peer feedback.
Group work Students may work together on a wiki, a research project, a class presentation, or case studies. This builds community and allows students to learn from each other.

If you need some guidance on how to plan interactions, this list of questions can help.

Check out the previous post on blended learning basics to get started.

If you’re interested in learning more, I would encourage you to sign up for this MOOC.

Next time: Blended Assessments

Questions? Comments? Leave them below!

Swim-Bike-Learn

Yesterday I signed up for my third triathlon.  I did my first tri a few years ago and became hooked.  I don’t have the time (or money) to do more than one a year but I look forward to these events with great enthusiasm.

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My friends and I after last year’s Iron Girl Rocky Gap Sprint Triathlon

To celebrate round number three, I’d like to write one of those cheesy “what my hobby taught me about life” kind of posts. So, here are 6 things that triathlons have taught me about instructional design and, well, life.

1. All big things are just made up of small things

I do sprint triathlons.  They usually take about 2 hours for me to complete. But the thrill of triathlons though is that you can really take each part individually and each piece alone isn’t really that bad.  And, when you’re training for that big day you get to start small and gradually big. In fact, just jumping into something so large can lead to serious injury so starting small is imperative.

So it is with instructional design. Sometimes our projects can take a really. long. time. But in the end, each piece is manageable if you have some small goals along the way.  The key is to make sure that everyone on your team (SMEs, graphic artists if you’re lucky enough to have one, etc.) is aware of those small goals and can celebrate when you reach them.  Not only will this help everyone feel like the work is progressing, but it builds camaraderie and can keep people on task.

2. Practice makes better

I don’t believe in perfect, but I do think the more we practice anything, the better we get. And it’s not just practicing the same routine over and over.  Eventually your body (or mind) will get used to that one thing and your fitness will plateau. Practice means stretching yourself and trying new things.  In triathlon training that means running sprints or hills, swimming quick drills and long distances, and biking new routes.

In instructional design it means continuously challenging yourself to innovate and then learning how to build out those fresh new ideas.

photo 1

Open water swim on Lake Habeeb

3. Practice with others makes much better

The best triathletes have coaches, as in any sport.  I am not nearly that good.  But I still need people to improve.  A running partner who is a little faster than me.  Someone to race up a hill on my bike. On some days I just need someone to give me the extra motivation to get in my workout.

I have talked at length about why community is important in instructional design and I mean it.  You can’t get better at anything without others to push you, motivate you, and give you feedback. Better doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Sometimes practicing with others means reading books or blogs.  Sometimes it means getting inspiration from other people’s projects.  Sometimes it means collaborating or getting feedback on a project from someone else.  It’s not nearly as important how you incorporate others into your practice, as it is that you just do it.

4. Flexibility is key

Two types of flexibility are important in training for triathlons – literal muscle flexibility and some life scheduling flexibility.  It can be difficult to fit in the amount of training that is needed to practice three sports, and do some flexibility and strength training work every week.

Muscle flexibility is also important in instructional design – brain muscles that is. We need to make sure we aren’t getting too caught up in the rigid, power parts of instructional design (our models and theories). In the end, it doesn’t matter how much theory we know or how well we can apply a theory if those aren’t accompanied by some creativity, analytical thinking, and an influx of new ideas.

We also need to be schedule flexible. SMEs don’t always comply with our deadlines, technology issues can ruin a day, and sometimes life just happens. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stick to our deadlines, but rather that we should always build in a cushion when setting goal dates. I always love to under-promise and over-deliver, even on delivery dates.

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The transition area

5. Get the hardest things done first

In triathlons the swim always comes first.  Why? Because you are more likely to drown if you are exhausted from biking and running.  On the same note, the run comes last because, well, you can always walk.

I try to keep that in mind at work as well. I can be a terrible procrastinator, with the excuse that I work well under pressure. But recently I have tried hard to not put off the part you I’m dreading until that after-lunch-I-want-to-nap time. Use the time of day when you have most energy to get the hard things done.  For me this is usually until about 11 am.  In the mornings my mind is more flexible and everything seems a little easier.

6. The only goal that matters is the one I set for myself

Pressure to be the best is all around us and, for myself at least, often the worst of it is pressure we put on ourselves.

The thing is, I will never be a world-class triathlete, and that is ok. What matters is that I am constantly pushing myself to get better physically, mentally, and emotionally so I can handle the challenges thrown at me every day.  This includes making sure I have time with my family and by myself to unwind every day. It means letting go when I have too much on my plate and working harder when life is a little more flexible. It’s about knowing when a project is good enough and not driving myself crazy trying to get to perfect (which is always impossible). I have learned to find confidence in being my best, not the best. It’s so cheesy, and I would have rolled my eyes at this not long ago, but true.

My friend, Kate, looking strong at the finish.

I hope that you have something in your life that challenges you to be your best self.  What lessons have you learned?  Why do you love your hobby?  How does it pour over into your professional life?

And if you are looking for something to help challenge you physically and mentally, I would suggest starting with couch-to-5k program or a sprint triathlon if you already have s few 5k’s under your belt. Trust me, they are much more manageable than you think!

Show some love

Happy Valentine’s Day! In the valentines spirit, this morning I attended a webinar hosted by Kineo on “8 ways to make your learners fall in love”.

I don’t really know how I ended up on the email list for Kineo but I’m glad I did.  They have a lot of great resources for eLearning professionals… like this webinar!  I thought I would summarize a few points here that I really liked.

Go slow and woo with styleposter of smokey the bear that says "only you"

That is, create a learning campaign.  Learning shouldn’t happen in a bubble.  It needs support on the front end (hype) and reinforcement on the back end to make it stick. Think about awareness campaigns (Smokey the bear, This is your brain on drugs) and get creative in how you hype and reinforce your learning experiences.  Repeated small exposures will stay with your learner much better than a one time, 3 hour course.

Gifts are nice

We can talk all we want about intrinsic motivation, but not everyone will be intrinsically motivated to take mandatory courses.  So what are some ways we can give them a little extra push?

Star student blue ribbon stickerSome companies can offer monetary incentives; one example shared was a company that offered a helicopter trip to the person that earns the most points, complete with a leaderboard in the LMS.

But what can you do that won’t cost much? A free way to incentivize is with badges.  They are all the rage these days.  And Mozilla makes it easy for anyone to offer badges that can be posted on social networks.

Another way is through games. Just make sure that the game is actually contributing to learning and is not just a fun and pretty distraction.

Don’t take the love for granted

One of my favorite ideas was getting learners to create something or complete a worksheet that they then discussed with a manager or mentor. This allows some reinforcement of the learning in addition to serving as a knowledge check.

Also:

  • Speak directly to your learner.social media icons
  • Use personalized stories and examples that your learners will relate to.
  • Allow learners to connect with each other through social media or your LMS.

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If you liked these tips and want some more, you can watch a replay of the full webinar on the Kineo website.

Also, earlier this week I got an email from Kineo that gave me $100 off registration for ASTD ICE!  Another great reason to follow this company and others like it.