The Ultimate ‘Outcome’

January 17, 2010

We often use the example of assessing driving skills in faculty development workshops.

We like the example because most of us feel that we know a good driver when we see one (and that we’re good drivers!), but it is an immediately difficult skill to assess. Try developing a rubric for driving skills…

There are also lots of regional peculiarities that help personalize the conversation. Examples:

  • Jug handles in New Jersey
  • Ice/snow driving in Maine
  • Requirement in Connecticut to verify that you are not a child molester when purchasing/operating a van (!)

In one such workshop, a teacher made a terrific assessment insight: they argued that observing how a driver acted at a suburban stop sign would tell you a lot about their driving skill and attitude. Do they:

  • Screech to a halt?
  • Roll through the stop sign?
  • Ignore the “if two cars arrive at the same time to a 4-way stop, the car to your right goes first” rule?
  • Let the car’s momentum end, then accelerate away after looking both ways?

This ‘outcome’ trumps a lot of minute detail that ‘experts’ try to build into such assessments (remember, everyone thinks they know how to drive, so their rubrics are immediately complex).

Last night I saw the documentary film In A Dream, which contains an even higher level form of outcome: if you were trying to measure parenting skill, imagine what would become evident if an adult child of the parent created a documentary. And captured on film the father abandoning the mother for another woman. After 40 years of marriage.

It’s a great documentary, available on DVD. And how more subjective can you get than parenting over a lifetime? The results require thinking and analysis on the ‘assessors’ part – obviously any filmmaker will have an agenda, a viewpoint, and edit footage for certain effect. But the film feels like an authentic, balanced portrait and is intensely moving.

Assessing a presentation, or a collage, or a term paper should seem fairly simple in comparison. So rather than worry about multiple criteria measured nine different ways, think about what leading indicators are appropriate for your students and the task at hand.


Annotate for MAC Users

January 26, 2009

Thanks to some very excited English teachers and a constant stream of emails from interested Mac users, we now have a version of Annotate for Word that runs on Mac Office 2004.

Yes, that was five years ago, but progress is progress.

With the latest release of Mac Office (2008), Microsoft dropped support for Visual Basic for Applications, which is what we wrote the older version of Annotate with (the Word 2007 version is written using .NET). But just as with Word 2007 on the Windows side of the world, many teachers haven’t bothered upgrading. So there are still a lot of Word 2004 computers out there, and we hope to help a lot of those computers help their owners create better feedback for their students.

The free version of Annotate for Word 2004 for Mac Office 2004 (we haven’t figured out a more elegant way to name the thing that is also specific enough) isn’t quite ready, but we’ve got a number of PRO users going already. So don’t hesitate to be in touch…

http://www.11trees.com/annotate-for-word.html


Annotating Student Work: Leveraging Microsoft Word (to save trees, create exceptional feedback, and save time)

June 3, 2008

UPDATE: Annotate for Word is now a commercial product (as of September 2008). You can learn more about the free and PRO versions of Annotate for Word by visiting www.11trees.com.

We’ve been waiting for the paperless office for 20 years. From an individual worker/teacher’s perspective, the only result is a TV show about an office that sells paper (The Office).

Some use Tablet PCs. That technology seems DOA, although it has its adherents.

Most use Microsoft Word to annotate and read documents – or paper. But paper is finally going away in education, not for efficiency reasons, or cost savings. Educators are moving away from paper to save trees and reduce their carbon footprint. Teachers are increasingly using the assignment drop-box features of Moodle/Blackboard/Desire2Learn and similar tools (even email) to collect student work.

But then they have to read the work on a computer monitor and (usually) do some sort of annotating. If you are fast with a computer and have a decent computer setup (see our post on using dual monitors), this can be an efficient approach. And many teachers have devised some sort of clipboard solution to repetitive comments.

Other teachers, however, use Microsoft Track Changes (edits which students can just ‘accept’ without reading) to return comments, or complex systems of color-coding that require a key to decipher.

Once annotated, teachers have the additional challenge of efficiently returning documents to students. Email them, manually, one by one? Return them, again one by one, to Moodle/Blackboard etc?

But the annotating piece itself has always been a source of opportunity. Rather than build a whole other program, like Turnitin’s GradeMark software, that is horribly slow (if sexy looking), we’ve always felt that Microsoft Word was the killer app. It is fast, most people know how to use it, and its file formats can be read on millions of computers.

We have long experimented with Microsoft Word macros to automate the sorts of comments we want to insert into the margins of a student document. With the appearance of Microsoft Word 2007, we are able to share our refined process of easily annotating student documents.

This summer we will be releasing a simple add-on for Microsoft Word 2007 (and 2003, depending on demand) that formalizes our approach and makes it easy for others to take advantage of our work. We’ll be charging a modest price for this add-on (something individual teachers can afford and that will pay for itself after the first set of papers are graded), although there will be a free trial version with a shorter set of capabilities. We’ll also offer Site Licenses to schools interested in making our work available to many, and will build customized versions for specialized applications (ESL, graduate programs, the sciences, State standards etc.).

Please be in touch with suggestions or to share the ways you already use Word.  We’ll share early versions with you and keep you posted on developments. Here’s a sneak peak of what is to come…notice the customized tab in Microsoft Word 2007…

Screenshot of the new WpAnnotate Word 2007 Ribbon