Assessment as a Map

A recent post on assessment by Professor Martin Weller has caused me to think about assessment differently. Though the idea of assessment as a navigation tool may not be new (assessment for direction?), it’s the analogy of a new subject as an “alien landscape” and assessment acting (can assessment act? ANT people may smile here) as a “map”, providing some semblance of direction that has caught my attention. It’s just one of those metaphoric moments that switches on one of those little light bulb in your head.

This brings me to the challenge I’m experiencing with a class of students who are sort of navigating an alien environment, to use the analogy. I’m teaching a group of social sciences (marketing, social work, public management, etc) students the “computer stuff”. They really don’t like this stuff and they complete assessments for the sake of it or perhaps you could say for their final grade. This is the daily story of many teachers.

So I am about to set a second test for this course and I think I will use the “map” as the object to guide the questions I ask.

But a number of other questions come to mind about the “map”.What does a map for this course look like? And to destination where? Do we need to dot the landscape with signposts (formative assessment?) and if so at what points? And should the learners help create this map as we together navigate this “alien landscape”? Maha’s idea of assessing the process, not he product comes to mind because “process” allows learners to map their way in an alien environment and without the usual worry of getting to the final destination (a grade).

And so I leave this post thinking about what I teach and what I learn as being part of an “alien landscape” and that a “map” could be a useful for navigation. But I also leave with questions about this map in my mind.

 

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2016

2015 is now behind me and 2016 is here. I mentioned to someone a few days back that 2015 was a “full year” for me. Everything happened. Lots of new experiences, some life-changing, some mundane, some promising.

I feel extremely thankful for everyone in my life. I’ve made new friends and as always lost a few🙂

And that 2016 is here is enough reason to want to experience another “full year”.

I’m not usually big on planning as I prefer to take life one day at a time. In any case sticking to a rigid plan never works for me if it extends beyond a single day. But this year I do wish (not plan) to work a couple of things.

To start with I’d like to blog some more (this is a start, isn’t it). Blog about what? I’m tempted to say “I’ll let spontaneity take course for some time”.

I would also like to complete a number of projects from 2015 that are at various stages and are perhaps in danger of losing their temporal value. Starting new projects before august is hardly on my to-do list. However, I do plan to take #rhizo16 and see what happens from there. I am not planning. Let it be spontaneous!!!

September is very much on my mind as sabbatical commences. I am really looking forward to doing some different (new) things for the year. I do not yet have a clue but hopefully something exciting.

BTW it’s never too late to wish everyone an awesome 2016.

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Actor- Network Theory and Google Docs

Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is difficult. For a newbie it is almost impossible to understand or make sense of. Any attempt by the absolute neophyte, it would appear, could simplify or completely miss the point. So take this to be a disclaimer and pardon any bits of incoherence if you managed to get to the end.

ANT comes over to me as a kind of a holistic framework for exploring  systems. Its main thesis encourages (requires?) the examination of all actants  (human actors, things, processes?) in a given system(assemblage ?) in order to understand how they affect each other. ANT does not support levels of importance or status for any set of actants. In other words everything in a system takes on a sort of equal level of importance. While this is difficult to accept at times, I believe the general premise that you do not assign or think about levels of importance (agency/ a flat ontology ?) of actants. In fact, ANT suggests, I believe, our understanding of a system of actants cannot be determined a priori – that things unfold (in situ?).

Google Docs

Google Docs is an online word processing type tool that can be used by an individual or for collaboration. Collaboration is made possible because sharing/viewing/editing of a single document is possible. Sharing can be private (via emails) or public (by sharing a link to the document). A document is created by a user who is automatically assigned ownership privileges. It follows that Google Docs is a socio-technical system.

Google Docs as a Black box

We do not need to understand all of the components of Google Docs and how they fit and work together to utilize it for collaboration. We know that there are elements we can interact with and we know that some of it is beyond what we can know more about or see. We know that there are features – permissions and sharing, auto-save, comments, download, comments, etc. But we know little about the auto-save algorithm beyond ‘it just saves at intervals’.

Google Doc – interesting actants?

AutoSave – google doc automatically saves every bits of editing periodically. This means that everything is captured by the tool (and saved somewhere). Subsequent editing may result in changes that are not visible presently unless previous versions are reverted to. The technology also saved everything (mistakes, errors, typos?) and keeps it somewhere. Google Docs (the software, not our document) is not owned by any of us and therefore we have little understanding of what happens with what is contributed. So in reality while the technology is non-human and might only come into action at first when triggered by human action, algorithmic processes kicks in that allows non-humans to act periodically.

So my question is “does auto-save” affects what is communicated/shared and what is not? If you have to save your contribution manually would it be the same or would it be different? And yet a more general question – how does the non-human actors/intermediaries/mediators (features of tools, internet connectivity and bandwidth, tools used to access google docs, etc) affect how we contribute and what we contribute to our collaborations?

Track Changes – while this is a most useful feature in google docs and for any collaboration, we did not think consciously about its utility. We came to track-changes when things went bad. For example, when Sarah could not locate an updated version that she thought she had added/edited, we were forced to check for an earlier version. At this point and perhaps at various previous points we figured that we could go back if something went wrong? But I do not think that track changes are looked at a priori; as a safeguard to fall back on. What is tracked and when snapshots are captured and saved is largely dependent on the algorithm used.

Google Docs and mediators/intermediaries?

It is important to note that Google Docs is primarily an online/internet-based collaboration tool and not one that is not necessarily meant for a standalone platform. This distinction is important because utility means access to the Internet. Further, other tools such as hardware e.g. tablets, computers, smart phones, etc is required. And of course electricity/power is not always a given. In some places there’s frequent power cut or no power at all. Google docs is therefore not in and of itself the collaboration tool – it needs other supporting elements to work. And these in turn affects how it may be used and how it works for any particular project.

When all of the above factors are considered, the question for me then is – how are my thoughts and eventual contribution affected by extraneous factors (other actants?)?

Better articulate thoughts here from my fellow #rhizoANTs

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Teaching Teachers to Use Tech

This post is motivated in parts by an article from Maha Bali on “Educational Standards” and by Dave Cormier’s  #rhizo15 Week’s 1 topic – Learning Subjectives. Maha is spot on (I am interpreting her post) when she says that learning objectives and standards are very subjective because they are often the views and perspectives of others without much consideration for the context of the learner. Dave’s trigger on Learning Subjectives and the many responses to the topic have helped me think deeper about my role as a teacher and as someone who the establishment might expect to “uphold objective standards”.

I started teaching an introductory level course titled “Computer literacy II” (there was a part 1) to a class of seven (7) teachers. All 7 are fairly experienced teachers, with a class average of 11.5 years teaching. All 7 are either heads of departments or senior mistress. Might I add that all 7 are females. This course has 3 modules: Spreadsheets, Databases, and PowerPoint Presentations. I often wonder what the creators of this course thought about when they added these modules. Were they thinking about who is likely to take this course? Did they consider context at all? And how about previous knowledge of potential learners? Unfortunately the course outline does not say much about these things.

In our first session I spent most of the time becoming familiar with their work, how they use technology, what sort of experience they have, and most importantly their needs. What I quickly realized is how much of a struggle it is for them to change the way things are at their schools. All of the teachers except one have access to technology at school and works in an environment that is supportive of doing things with technology. I also found out quickly that they are excited about doing various things with technology.

So we spent some time (possible mainly because the class is only 7) establishing what it is that we might be able to get done that could benefit them in the long term. We worked out that  spreadsheets could help automate grade books which they have always done by paper and calculator. And that spreadsheets could also help with the organization of their class registers and scheme of work. They want to know how to make presentations because they are keen on using it for teaching and for other things. But they also want to know how to learn to use the projector(not in the objectives of the course but i promised to let them set up the projector we use so that they can learn (by doing)). We have not yet worked out what to do with the database module. I can teach it as I do with Computing students but that’s probably not going to work. So I have a challenge to address.

Something very important also came up in our discussion: that they want to learn other technologies and ways of doing things. They are curious about knowing how to better use the web and how to deal with abundance in the age of plenty. But their schools are not yet ready for this and therefore it is work to be done.

By the end of the lesson we managed to set up a simple spreadsheet for our class, added some data, worked a bit of formatting, and used a couple of excel functions to analyze bits of it (for example the average years experience noted above). We parted company with a little homework that we collectively agreed on – that they will set up a register for the classes they teach AND they will also set up a template for the grade books they presently do manually. For the rest of this part of the course we will be working towards fully developing these spreadsheets.

As is often the case, learning objectives set out by a course may not align with the needs of learners. It is important we establish needs early and perhaps as best as we can try to help learners work towards their goals. This is realistic with small classes. It is also important to identify areas that might not be captured under “learning objectives” and find ways to work around them. At the end of the day learning is what matters and  learning objectives may get flipped along the way.

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Curating Blog Posts for #Rhizo15

For no obvious reason at all I started off #Rhizo15 with the urge to do something every day. In no time I found myself reading various blogs from participants and decided it might just be a good idea to curate blog posts.

I started off by creating a Facebook Page since a Facebook Group is already available for #rhizo15 discussions. I thought a Page might be useful to keep blog posts separate and perhaps provide a central space for readers who might be interested. Well it’s the end of week 1 almost and with 8 likes that’s not turning out too great. But hey, that was not an “objective” of setting up the page. Maybe it was my “subjective” contribution. J

What I basically do is try to keep an eye on who’s sharing blogs about Rhizo15 in the Facebook Group and on Twitter and literally anywhere else and copy the links over to the Facebook Page. This is very easy to do. However, it is a challenge to keep track of what is already copied and what might be new. I am also tagging the post in the Facebook Page with #rhizo15wk1 (for week 1). I am not sure how well Facebook #hashtags work to be honest but I thought it’d be useful to tag posts.

But the challenging of tracking what’s already there and what’s new remains. So I decided I needed a multi-prong approach. I started a spreadsheet (and as I typed that I realized I should use a Google Doc/Sheet, which I will) to keep track of Authors and URLs. I can easily sort the spreadsheet by author names and this is a nice little way of knowing who’s in and who’s not. So at the moment I have a spreadsheet organized with ‘Sheet’ tabs for each week (want to keep track of posts by week). It is way much easier to keep track of posts by week in a spreadsheet than by a Facebook hashtag, I think, and especially if it doesn’t work well (Facebook # ie).

And finally I decided, with some gentle push by Sarah Honeychurch, to curate these links on my personal blog. So I created a tab on my blog here and I’ve added all the curated links identified thus far. This might prove useful for those who may not be around Facebook. It is perhaps also useful for those of us who are busy (all of us).

But surely there has to be an easier way to curate content this way. While tools exist like Scoop.it, Facebook page, grasshopper (from Stephen Downes, not sure how this works), they still very much depend on metatags, cooperative curating from contributors, and constant monitoring.

Now the challenge is to continue this to week 2.

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Ramdon thoughts on Rhizo15

Dave Cormier’s Rhizo 15 – a practical view is here and i find myself in a precarious position – sort of between a state of wanting to participate, yet remain peripheral. The trouble is i don’t know how to do either. We are well into the “thing” (a course still?, massive?, not sure) by way of Learning Subjectives. Blog posts from are already popping up from participants and on random thoughts. Sarah Honeychurch offered her views on collaboration. She suggests that not all learning is collaborative and that some learning is necessarily private. A discussion around Collaboration/Cooperation is taking place in the rhizo Facebook group as expected. The challenges for me as always is way-finding – to “start” and get “acclimatised”. So far the ways of #rhizo15 are unclear and perhaps this is so by “design”. Not a problem. Can I design a learning space on my own, and for myself? And what about collaboration? For now I think I will ponder collaboration/cooperation.

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Critical Pedagogy, Anarchist Pedagogy, #moocmooc

This week the topic of discussion on #moocmooc centers around anarchist educational alternatives in the context of critical pedagogy. A fascinating topic. But let me be the first to disclaim – I have no idea what all of this is about. So I can share some random feelings.

The big question for me is how do you do “anarchist pedagogy” in the context of formal curriculum? I really do not know how, or even if this is a valid question to start with. I have asked it nevertheless in the #moocmooc Twitter space and hopefully some more will be shared on it during the chat later this evening.

But back to the topic. In this blog post – Are you frustrated with Education only for Employment,  the author argues for  anarchist pedagogy as a counter to education solely (almost) for the purpose of employment as is evident in an American-styled meritocratic capitalist education system that rewards based on credentials. The author  suggests that  –Free Skools and other counter-cultural institutions that engage in anarchist practices often try to reskill participants in these often forgotten areas of study.In the reading material for #moocmooc  Adam Heidebrink-Bruno  writes that “…the primary aim of education, especially an anarchist education, isn’t economic”  and that “anarchist pedagogies promote the critical skills necessary to be that counter friction“.  Clearly the idea of some “counter” to the existing pedagogy is necessary.

So back to my ‘big question’ – how do we do this in the context of formal education that is now so deeply rooted in the ‘education for employment’ paradigm? Do we need alternative approaches to curriculum development? For example can we develop specific curriculum grounded in anarchist pedagogy? And is that even possible at all? Or can we build into existing curricula opportunities for exploring anarchist pedagogy?

As I write it has occurred to me that if we mean pedagogy in the sense of the action – how we teach and how we educate then it might be possible to create windows for looking through existing curricula (content?) differently.  I really do not know how to think about this from a Computer Science Education perspective  (my field of work) when it’s almost always interpreted as one of those areas where you study in order to seek out proper  employment/create employment, generally speaking. Or is this a limited view to start with? Are we making too many assumptions?

And even as I read on it is becoming less clearer to me what this anarchist educational experience might look like.  For example, the reading for this week  on #moocmooc leaves us with questions that probe the structures that exist currently. How might we “act as a counter-friction to oppression structures“?

I summarize my fuzzy understanding of anarchist pedagogy as the following three questions:

  • What really is anarchist pedagogy?
  • How can it be made practical (is this what is called praxis?)
  • How can we address the structural challenges and potential opposition to its furtherance?

Sometimes I wonder if I do ask reasonably questions.

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