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Posts Tagged ‘Gradebook’

Assessment as a Social Activity

September 17th, 2009 jonmott Comments

I’ve been following the Washington State Harvesting Gradebook project for sometime and have been impressed with the intellectual rigor behind the project. That is clearly evidenced in this video overview of the project:

The comments at the end of the video are particularly significant. The narrator concludes:

At bottom, our research findings challenge many traditional assumptions. We are all understanding now that more than ever learning and assessment is or should be social. It benefits from the insight and diversity of broader engaged community. Expertise is distributed. It is not monolithic.

Assessment and assessment criteria, as Wiggins has long argued, should not be a secret. Students’ energy and creativity in their learning should not be held hostage by a classroom or coddled with promises of, “Someday in the real world …”

Intellectual capital is mistakenly recognized as a noun. Intellectual capital is a gerund. It is learning. And it is most valuable when it’s plural: “We learn.”

This emphasis on community and social connections in the learning process (which encompasses assessment) is reminiscent of Brown & Adler’s assertion that it is time for us move beyond the Cartesian premise of “I think, therefore I am” and embrace the more realistic and rich notion of “we participate, therefore we are.” As we make learning and learning assessment more social, public, and transparent, learners will be naturally more invested and engaged in the learning process because they become co-creators and co-custodians of the experience. The WSU model of social assessment that incorporates external assessment of student work extends this openness into the broader community in which our students will work and continue to learn after graduation.

As we move forward with the development of the BYU gradebook, we will incorporate these elements of social assessment, facilitating self-assessment, peer assessment, instructor assessment, and external (third-party) assessment. The resulting treasure trove of authentic assessment data will more than meet our accreditation needs (so long as our program outcomes, learning activities and assessments are aligned!). But far more importantly, this rich, community-centric assessment approach will deepen and enrich the student learning experience.

PLNs, Portfolios, and a Loosely-Coupled Gradebook

June 16th, 2009 jonmott Comments

Note: In this post, I reference articles from the Winter 2009 edition of Peer Review, the theme of which was “Assessing Learning Outcomes.” I highly recommend the entire issue if you’re interested in student learning assessment and portfolios. I recently provided an overview of BYU’s loosely-coupled gradebook strategy at TTIX 2009. (We are currently building a standalone gradebook in partnership with Orem, Utah based startup Agilix.) As part of my presentation at TTIX, I also described our plans to leverage the same technology we’re building into the gradebook to implement a loosely-coupled portfolio assessment tool.

The driving purpose behind these efforts is to bridge the gap between our institutional network and the cloud, between the predominant “course management system” (CMS) paradigm and the emerging model of personal learning networks (PLNs), between student-centered and institution-centered portfolios, etc. I maintain that bridging this gap is a necessary condition for the significant transformation of learning via technology. Until learning tools and content become more malleable (i.e. open, modular, and interoperable) we will not realize the full potential of an interconnected, networked world in education.

Student Learning Portfolios & Institutional Assessment

Portfolios are increasingly at the nexus of student learning, institutional assessment, PLNs, CMSs, and assorted other aspects of the higher ed milieu. Student learning portfolios are essential in the movement toward more valid and authentic assessment in higher education. However, the focus on institutional and program assessment has, at least in some instances, diverted our attention from our primary objective of improving student learning. As Trent Batson observed in 2007, that the initial effort to enhance student learning with portfolios has been “hijacked by the need for accountability” to boards of education and accrediting bodies.

This trend is worrisome. If the focus on portfolios shifts primarily to institutional and program assessment, we will have missed out on the essential value of portfolios. Portfolios have the potential to galvanize and enhance student learning. As Miller and Morgaine have observed: “E-portfolios provide a rich resource for both students and faculty to learn about achievement of important outcomes over time, make connections among disparate parts of the curriculum, gain insights leading to improvement, and develop identities as learners or as facilitators of learning.”

Given the potential benefits of portfolios, I believe that student learning portfolios should, first and foremost, belong to and be maintained by individual learners. Gary Brown supports this view, maintaining that portfolios should be student (and not institutionally) operated: “A real student-centered model would put the authority, or ownership, of [ePortfolios] in the hands of the students: They could share evidence of their learning for review with peers, and offer that evidence to instructors for grading and credentialing.” Such an approach increases student ownership and responsibility for learning. It also affords portability and longevity since students are not dependent upon a particular institution (or set of institutions) to provide them with portfolio technology and storage space.

Clark & Enyon have argued that have to get past this tension between student and institutional portfolios: “The e-portfolio movement must find ways to address [institutional assessment] needs without sacrificing its focus on student engagement, student ownership, and enriched student learning.”

Bridging the Gap

So exactly how can we bridge the gap between student-centered learning portfolios and institutional assessment needs? I propose that the loosely-coupled gradebook strategy we’re pursuing can be leveraged to provide a viable solution to this problem.

Here are the dimensions of a loosely-coupled portfolio assessment strategy:

  1. Institutions of higher learning should focus on what they do best and on what only they can do. Namely, they should admit and register students, manage course enrollments and  degree program rosters, and maintain secure records and communications tools for faculty and students engaged in the learning process.
  2. We can then leverage the best online, third-party applications for student publishing, networking, and portfolio creation. Individual institutions (or even institutions working together) would be hard pressed to produce applications comparable in quality and stability to Google Docs, YouTube, Blogger, Acrobat Online, MS Office Live, Wikispaces, and WordPress.
  3. Teachers and learners should embrace the power of the network to enhance, extend and improve learning. Even if institutions could develop and deploy better tools than those freely available online, it would be a bad idea to do so. The fundamental value proposition of these apps is that, since they live in the cloud, they’re accessible anytime, anywhere, by anyone. The openness this affords promotes greater transparency and expanded opportunities for collaboration.
  4. Students should be encouraged to be effective, technologically literate, digital citizens who are proficient using a variety of online tools. As they participate in the learning process, they should regularly save and aggregate their work, packaging and repackaging it for various audiences. One of these audiences might be those responsible for degree program review and assessment.
  5. Once students have assembled their collections of learning artifacts, metacognitive commentary, and portfolios, they might then be required to simply “register” the URLs of their portfolios and artifacts with their institution. Those conducting program and institutional assessment would then use a lightweight “overlay” tool to review and assess submitted student work.

The various aspects of this approach and the associated work flow might look something like this: Portfolio Assessment Diagram

The Power of a Loosely-Coupled Strategy

The “open learning network” (OLN) strategy I’ve written about from time to time is based on several value propositions. One is that institutions should do what they do best (manage student data, facilitate secure communication between teachers and learners) while leveraging third-party, cloud-based applications for such things as personal publishing and collaboration. The loosely-coupled gradebook strategy described in previous posts is a key component of this larger idea.

Another central value proposition of the OLN is the connectedness it facilitates between teachers and learners both within and without institutional boundaries. When learners not only consume online content, but also refine, improve, remix, mashup, and create new content themselves during the learning process, their learning is more authentic, meaningful, and enduring. And they build deeper, more profound connections between facts, concepts, and the other human beings they interact with. This notion of of connectedness is a fundamental aspect of what we consider education and literacy today.

George Siemens blogged today that:

“Not only are we socially connected in our learning, but the concepts that form our understanding of a subject also reveal network attributes. Understanding is a certain constellation (pattern) of connections between concepts. . . . being a literate person is not so much about what you know, but about how you know things are connected.”

I concur. As we continue to pursue the OLN vision, it is essential that we facilitate opennes in the learning process to promote greater interaction and connections with content, people, cultures, and places. It is with this end in mind that we ought to promote personal learning networks (PLNs), OLNs, and loosely-coupled gradebooks. We want our students to be literate, connected, and efficacious life-long learners who make their homes, their communities, their workplaces and the world better places than they found them.

Loosely Coupled Gradebook Presentation @ TTIX 2009

The slides for my presentation at TTIX 2009 about BYU’s loosely coupled gradebook project.

And a link to the UStream capture of the presentation.

Loosely Coupled Gradebook Specs

January 30th, 2009 jonmott Comments

We’ve been making good progress on our loosely coupled gradebook project here at BYU. I’m posting a link to our working specifications document for review and comment.

The broad purposes of the project are to develop a web-based gradebook that will provide:

  • Integration our course management system(s)
  • Integration with our high-stakes proctored testing environment
  • Multiple “on-ramps” (integration points with other tools, systems and web 2.0 apps) for faculty to input and retrieve student performance measures
  • Easy importing and exporting of data
  • Flexible grade calculation
  • Direct interface with our student information system for grade posting

This is a key component of our larger open learning network strategy.

Feel free to review our specifications document and let us know what you think.

Open Learning Networks

In the mid 1990s, instructors needed an easy way to create websites for their courses. With the advent of the web, the possibility of online syllabi, course notes and even online discussion boards had become a reality. But only the most tech savvy faculty members could create such sites without technical assistance. Course management systems (CMSs) were born to meet this need. When an institution installed WebCT or Blackboard and made it available to faculty, they could quickly and easily create their own course sites. Over time, CMSs have become more robust and feature-rich. They have also become more “enterprise” in their nature. On most campuses, CMSs are integrated with Student Information Systems (SISs) and are considered part of the institution’s enterprise technology portfolio.

While these developments have generally contributed to the stability and reliability of CMSs, they have also tended to make them less flexible and adaptable. Given their enterprise status, it is complicated and expensive to perform upgrades and customize functionality (via open APIs or otherwise). In response, faculty members and students have increasingly gravitated to Web 2.0 social networking tools that provide almost a much greater range of options and flexibility. The choice appears to be a centralized, enterprise “networked learning environment” on one hand and open, customizable “personal learning environments” on the other.

As we look to the future, it is worth considering the possibility of bringing these two worlds together in what we might call “open learning networks” (OLNs). In an OLN, faculty, students and support staff would reap the benefits of enterprise, networked software for authentication, identity management, integration with SISs, etc. Additionally, they would be able to use a vast range of Web 2.0 apps, integrated into the OLN via web services and other sorts of integrations.

What exactly might this look like? The picture is still coming into focus in my mind (and I’m anxious to hear others’ thoughts and comments), but I think it would look something like this:

1. A core of institutional authentication, identify management and data integration services to bring learners and teachers together in a secure institutional environment. Once “inside” a local, institutional OLN, learners and instructors would be linked together in groups based on course enrollments, majors, clubs and other groupings recorded in various university systems. They would also be linked to content related to past and future learning experiences, projects and assignments. A key component of this aspect of the OLN would be a persistent, sharable learner profile that would serve as a hub for the learner’s various connections to other learners, content and learning applications.

2. An OLN would also provide connections / integration points with a variety of open education resource repositories, institutional content collections, and user created content tools, including various self-publishing sites like YouTube, Google Docs and blogs. The OLN would facilitate “registration” of personal learning environment tools and social networking tools so that they are trustably associated with learner profiles. For example, once inside the OLN, users would be able to see the blogs, Facebook profiles, personal content collections and other tools and resources associated with other users (based, of course, on permissions and rights to see such information).

3. The OLN would also need to be integrated with robust online assessment tools (e.g. for formative and summative quizzing and testing), a “harvesting gradebook” capable of aggregating data from a variety of learning applications, and an eportfolio tool which students could use to archive and document their learning experiences and activities.

Admittedly, this is a vague vision. But it seems to capture the best of the rigid, centralized CMS paradigm and the open, free-form world of personal learning environments.

We are beginning a conversation at BYU to explore the feasibility of creating an OLN, what it might look like at our institution and how we might go about building it. One of our first matters of business is to consider the development of an open, web services enabled university gradebook. Having such a tool in place would be an important first step toward creating a viable OLN. More to come . . .