Blendkit2012 week 5: big picture thinking

The final week of Blendkit2012 is upon us, and this week’s focus is on “quality assurance” related to the blended course. In other words, what strategies can I use to make sure my blended course is as effective as it can be? Who can I ask for feedback and when? These are the kinds of questions the reading pondered, and they are questions that apply to any kind of teaching in any modality. With a blended course, of course, the addition of technological concerns and online instruction adds another layer to the concerns instructors have in face-to-face settings. With all that in mind, here are some of my musings for the week.

“Good” is the worst word in the English language

When I discuss peer response and offering feedback to classmates in my composition courses, I often start with the sentence above. “Good” and “bad” are so overused to describe so many different things, they have become empty expressions. When it comes to providing feedback, you can start with the idea of “good” and “bad,” but the focus has to be on describing why you, as the person providing feedback, feel that something is good or bad. In other words, useful feedback focuses on why the responder feels the way he or she does, rather than labeling something as good or bad, positive or negative. The “Blended Course Quality” section of the reading resonated with me for these reasons.

It’s all about the rhetoric

I know I’ve brought up rhetoric and rhetorical choices in other Blendkit-related posts (I’m a rhetorician; it’s what I do), but the discussion of course standards in this week’s reading really struck me. The reading discusses the benefits and drawbacks of using checklists/rubrics/etc. to assess whether a course is “good” or “bad.” While it’s important to strive for quality, trying to impose the same set of standards to courses (and instructors) across disciplines and/or campuses is an impossible (and unreasonable) task. As the reading points out, having a core set of standards can help individual instructors recognize what they’re doing well and what they could improve in their courses, but standards can sometimes be used blindly to the point of becoming unforgiving, uncompromising measures. In reality, just like everything else, course assessment must be rhetorical–you have to consider how you position yourself as instructor, who your audience(s) is/are for the results of your assessment(s), and what your purposes/goals are for collecting assessment data. It’s the rhetorical triangle at play. What’s more, there needs to be a certain flexibility, in rhetorical terms what we call kairos–assessment tools cannot become so rigid as to lead to impossible standards, nor can they be ignored. Instead, we must constantly adjust our standards based on the needs of students, the needs of our departments, the needs of our institutions, and the needs of ourselves as instructors. Much like the actual teaching of the course, the assessment of a course’s success is an ongoing conversation–a dialogue rather than a mandate.

Onward we go…

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