Sustainability – high school students care…

September 26, 2008

Like a lot of bloggers and teachers interested in technology and education, I’m a geek. It makes perfect sense to me to do just about everything I can with technology. I’m very fast with a computer, and while my physical desk might be a pile of (seemingly) disorganized papers, my computer is always immaculately organized.

Okay, my inbox gets a bit crazed, but that’s why Xobni invented Xobni.

So I’ve been collecting student work in electronic format for a long time – mostly because it seems so inelegant to walk around with 80 student papers (and a pain when commuting on my bike) when I could have each students’ work stored neatly in a folder on my hard drive. I always have access to my comments and student work, can collect the work in the first place via Blackboard, and don’t have to worry about misplacing student work etc. etc.

I remember the moment that I realized teachers might have another reason for collecting work electronically. I was talking to a technology guru at Carleton College, and asking about workflow and teacher adoption of their elearning platform, Moodle. I have this conversation a lot, and it usually highlights one of the the dirty secrets in higher education: low utilization rate for elearning tools. There are budgets, entire staffs dedicated to technology, but few faculty use tools like Moodle or Blackboard to any great extent. Maybe they post a few files, an announcement or two… I have visited (prestigious) schools where full-time “instructional technologists” will actually scan a professor’s hardcopy syllabus and place the PDF into the appropriate Blackboard course. And that single document is the only resource in the course. For an entire term.

Of course there are the power users – geeks like me, and large introductory classes that make use of online testing (and automatic grading).

But the technology guru at Carleton surprised me. She told me that most faculty collect work electronically and review it on their computers. I was surprised, and asked why. She told me that the faculty had changed their workflow for environmental reasons. They changed their ways to save paper.

I was not surprised, then, to discover that Carleton College was rated in the top ten of over 300 colleges and universities ranked in the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card, published by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowment Institute. The report card covers many areas of an institution’s operations, and the endowment (what the school invests in etc.) and commitment to sustainability (evidenced by an ‘office of sustainability’ and a full-time person directing said office) are major components.

A teacher’s actions, however, are far more visible to students than complex and long-term investments. What struck me the most about the news coverage of the report card (the media loves a ranked list!) had to do with high school students’ attitudes: “Sixty-three percent of 10,300 college applicants recently polled by the Princeton Review said that a college’s commitment to the environment could affect their decision.” Since the report card  didn’t touch on elearning or academic technology, I take the Carleton faculty’s commitment to be a cultural expression of the school’s larger commitment and an indicator that they earned their ‘A-.’

Course-Embedded Assessment, Part Two – Closing the Loop

May 7, 2008

To continue a summary of our presentation at the NC State Assessment Symposium…

Our ‘closing the loop’ example was the most detailed of the best practices that we presented because I was personally involved in the project.

Closing the loop refers to not just collecting data, but using it to inform decision-making. It is the focus, seemingly, of most accrediting agencies. In fact, one engineering school I visited recently was criticized by ABET for collecting too much data and not doing very much with it. I don’t think that’s just an engineering issue, as much as the stereotype of engineers might suggest it, but a reality of outcomes assessment. We can collect all kinds of data but using it to change the process can be the most challenging part of the process.

I was impressed, at several different sessions at NC State, to see educators excited at the prospect of even slender amounts of data. As Dr. Ken Bain and his colleagues at Montclair State University’s Research Academy argue, repositioning the whole accreditation/outcomes/teaching debate as a question of academic inquiry rather than external requirements can be quite powerful. Educators are researchers – no matter whether teaching economics, English, or third grade. So it makes sense that presented with data, educators begin to see their own teaching as an area worthy of research.

We presented the changes brought to a first-year engineering program, particularly having to do with research skills.

The challenge is one familiar to most educators: how do we teach students to value the library databases and scholarly resources available to them, and understand the differences between Wikipedia, Google searches, and corporate websites?

The consensus amongst a team of first-year humanities instructors, who taught an interdisciplinary first year covering composition, design and research, and literature, was that research skills could be taught more effectively. The process saw 30 sections of first-year engineers marched to the library in January for a 60 minute presentation by librarians on the library databases.

This approach was a classic catch-22: since the students were just beginning their research project, they didn’t have any vested interest in learning the ins and outs of ProQuest and LexisNexis. But when they did need the info, later in the term as they finished up length design proposals, it was too late to teach them. So these 50 minute sessions were often dry and difficult for students and teachers alike, even when the librarians tried to engage the students with examples of design projects past. Read the rest of this entry »

PACT – Performance Assessment for California Teachers – and Waypoint Course-Embedded Solutions

March 1, 2008

We have been excited to receive a number of inquiries from California Colleges of Education in the last few weeks. We quickly learned that PACT – a consortium of CA schools – had recently released a library of rubrics designed to assess teacher candidates. Here’s their blurb:

PACT (Performance Assessment for California Teachers) is a consortium of teacher preparation programs at a number of California Universities. These institutions have joined together to develop a teacher performance assessment. Successful completion of the teaching performance assessment will be required to earn a California Preliminary Multiple Subject or Single Subject Teaching Credential.

The teaching performance assessments consists of Embedded Signature Assignments (ESAs) and the Teaching Event. Together, the Embedded Assessments and the Teaching Event measure all thirteen Teacher Performance Expectations (TPEs)

With a growing number of Colleges of Education using Waypoint nationwide (look for a listserv created by profs at William Paterson University to start soon for Colleges of Ed using Waypoint), we are in a great position to help the consortium.

A number of the inquiries have come from schools running an assessment/portfolio solution (the kind where students have to pay the cost) to satisfy other accrediting bodies, but these tools are separate from the institution’s Course Management System (Blackboard, Moodle etc.) and way too complicated for faculty to use on a regular basis to assess students.

So Waypoint’s course-embedded solution – embedded rubrics AND potentially embedded in the Course Management System – can have schools up and running in a matter of days.

We’re building in the entire library of PACT rubrics so they are available for our clients and look forward to seeing how they work on the iPhones, iPod touch, and Windows Mobile devices for assessing teachers in the field.

ePortfolios hijacked…and the teacher as test pilot…

December 27, 2007

A couple of terrific articles recently that have serious implications (and lots to teach us) as educators.

The first, from Campus Technology, argues that higher education has co-opted the ePortfolio from its intended role as a reflective and creative student project to become a tool for accreditation reporting. Since our focus with Waypoint has always been on the assessment engine, and not the attempt to build yet another portfolio solution, we are in total agreement.

The second article, from The New Yorker magazine, makes a devastating case against the medical establishment (you’d think we would have run out of reasons to bash medicine) and its hubris. Atul Gawande makes a compelling comparison between contemporary medical doctors and the test pilots of The Right Stuff fame. As a teacher, the comparison hit home. Could simple checklists help our students complete the tasks we assign more creatively and more competently?

Here are the citations:

  1. Trent Batson, “The ePortfolio Hijacked, Campus Technology, 12/12/2007
  2. Atul Gawande, “Annals of Medicine: The Checklist,” The New Yorker, 12/10/2007

Dr. Helen Barrett, who has been writing about ePortfolios for years in a variety of media, summarized the issue with the use of ePortfolios eloquently in her blog: Read the rest of this entry »