Blendkit week 3: Blended Assessments of Learning

The Blendkit readings focus on assessment this week, and the question of when, why and how instructors will use online and face-to-face assessment strategies. Much of the text focused on discussions of quizzes/exams and the ways in which instructors might use online options for quizzes/exams. When it comes to teaching composition, I don’t really use quizzes or exams. Actually, I don’t use multiple choice exams ever, and I only use an essay exam in Composition I because it is required for departmental assessment purposes. I focus my assessment on writing projects instead: essays, of course, but also informal writings (including emails to me, brainstorming for major projects, and reading responses) and major projects that take the form of group presentations or multimedia projects (making videos, websites, or something else).

“Authentic Tasks” AKA “let’s be rhetorical”

Given the assignments I use in my composition classes, the “projects/authentic tasks” and “defining expectations” sections of the readings were most interesting to me. The “projects/authentic tasks” section focused on the notion of assessing students’ understanding of concepts by asking them to apply these concepts to a real-world task. In other words (in the language of my discipline), assignments should be rhetorical: we should be giving students a real (or as real as possible) audience, purpose/goal, and genre/form to work with. There’s nothing wrong with traditional essay assignments in composition (I do assign them), but I find that students appreciate being given a rhetorical situation (audience, purpose/goal, genre) that they can actually imagine happening to work with. In my Comp I class, for example, the first major project is a group project in which students research a writing or grammatical concept that they will then present to their classmates. The concepts come from a first-day student information sheet that every student in the class fills out, so the potential topics come from the class (rather than being dreamed up by me). Students then sign up for groups and choose a concept. The project itself asks the group to create a handout and multimedia presentation of some kind for their classmates about this concept, and the final grade comes after students present the concept to their classmates (handout, presentation, class activity). Here’s the kicker: the class gives each group feedback on their presentation using a project rubric I designed, and those comments/that feedback account for 50% of the group’s project grade (my comments/rubric make up the other %50). In other words, the students have a very real audience–their classmates–and their purpose is to successfully teach their classmates a course concept. I find that many students appreciate that the project grade relies on feedback from multiple sources rather than coming from me as some omnipotent grading goddess. In addition, I find that allowing students to offer feedback to each other makes them more adept at offering peer response feedback on other projects, and it makes them more comfortable with analyzing and critiquing published texts. You can find a current version of this assignment here, on my Fall 12 Comp I course blog. You can also find the rubric I use for this assignment at the end of the assignment page, or feel free to contact me for a pdf file of the rubric instead!

Rubrics and Assessment

I’ve already addressed this a bit in the previous paragraph, but I also find that project rubrics are quite useful when it comes to responding to student work online. My students turn in all of their major projects via the D2L dropbox (with the exception of the essay exam, and that is a whole other section of this post), and I use the comment feature in Word or the notes feature in powerpoint to respond to drafts. When students turn in projects other than traditional essays, they must turn in a writer’s memo, which is a piece of reflective writing in which students talk to me about the process they went through to create their draft–the good, the bad, and the ugly (I do, in fact, also require these memos in shortened form with traditional essays, too). I then use the writer’s memo as an opportunity to write back to the student about projects that take a form other than an essay (such as a video, prezi, or website). In addition to these holistic comments, though, I find rubrics to be a useful tool to show students what needs improvement and what is going well in their projects. Rubrics are usually easy to read, and I’ve had students tell me that the rubrics combined with my comments create a well-rounded narrative of how I’ve assessed their work. I also ask my students to create their own rubrics as part of the final project in Comp I: while I create rubrics for each of the other major projects, the final project asks students to create/revise a text into a genre of their choosing for an audience and purpose of their choosing. Given this information, I also ask students to design a rubric to accompany their project, which I will use to assess the draft they turn in. Being asked to design their own rubric also pushes students to be much clearer about their intended audience(s) and purpose(s)/goal(s) in this final project, which I always like to see.

I don’t see my assessment methods changing too much in a blended course, since so much of what I do is already online commenting/assessing. I do see a use for having students post some informal writing responses on discussion boards for points, which will also encourage interaction between students, too.

Essay Exam–to facilitate online or in person?

My main concern when it comes to online assessment for Comp I has to do with facilitating the required in-class essay exam. In a typical f2f environment, all students enrolled in comp I at SWOSU must take an essay exam at the same time of semester, using prompts created by a committee of instructors. The exam takes two class periods, during which time students must choose one question/prompt from a list and write an essay in response to that prompt. The essays are then collected and scored by two different instructors in a blind reading (and care is taken to make sure that instructors are not scoring their own students, though that cannot always be avoided). We then average the two scores (which run on a scale of 1-10, F-A), and that grade is given to the student. The weight of the grade is up to the individual instructor, but every Comp I course must include the essay exam as one of five major projects required in the curriculum.

We are currently running the first entirely online version of comp I this semester, and the main concern has been with how to facilitate this essay exam; as of right now, we are using ProctorU to monitor students while they write their exams. This option costs the students extra money, and I’m not sure how I feel about the added “Big Brother” feel of the whole process: students must show the proctor an ID using a web camera, then face the camera while the proctor decides whether or not the student “matches” the ID they showed, and the proctor then watches the student write using a web camera and remote desktop viewing program. The thing that gets me about this is the fact that these online students are probably going through more rigorous monitoring while they write than the students enrolled in f2f sections. And that is where the blending concept came in as an intriguing option to my departmental colleagues (and me): we can take advantage of the online aspects of the course, but students can still come and take the essay exam in person. And now you know why I’m really participating in Blendkit…

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