Reading Students Work With Them Present – A Different Take on Marking




Many years ago, while I was a student at a community college in California, I took two courses that fell under the very general subject banner “Humanities”. One was The Individual and Society and the other The Individual and The Arts. These classes met for three hours twice a week and were team taught by three instructors that almost always were on the stage together at the front of the lecture hall that held about 100 students.

I took these courses early in my post-secondary education, but the teaching style has stayed with me as much as the content.

One aspect, in particular, comes up frequently when instructors ask me about issues related to academic integrity. I recall that we submitted papers twice in each of those classes. Each time, students would individually meet with one of the instructors and he (they were all men) would read the paper sitting next to us in the lecture theatre. He would read, mark some notes on the paper and ask us questions while he read.

keith goyne_snr_eniv. sciences_0021The instructors accomplished this by holding these individual meetings during class time. The instructors held these meetings with roughly 30 students each. Yes, it took away from class time (two 3 hour class sessions per paper assigned), but as I’ll explain below, the benefits were worth it.

First, if I hadn’t written the paper or if I had inserted chunks of work from others, it would have been difficult for me to engage in conversation about the paper. The instructor got a clear idea if the work was my own and if I understood the content.

Which leads to the second benefit. If I had been knowledgeable enough about the topic to engage in conversation with the instructor, but been a poor writer, this would have allowed me to demonstrate my understanding. This may have improved the mark that I received compared to if the instructor had read the paper without me present.

Finally, in a class of 90, having these individual meetings with an instructor to discuss my work, and often other aspects of the course, I felt like at least one of the three instructors really new me as a student. It was a wonderful way for these instructors to build rapport with the learners.

Again, yes, these individual sessions took away from class time, but not from “learning time”. Engaging students about their work is part of the learning for them, plus instructors can address some issues around academic integrity while building rapport.

Is this appropriate for every course? Probably not if you are the sole instructor teaching a large course, but for smaller courses or those team taught, consider this alternative to marking papers isolated from the authors.

If you would like to discuss the concept further, feel free to contact me at the GMCTE at heather.ross@usask.ca

If you would like information about the GMCTE including about the programs and supports we offer, please contact us at gmcte@usask.ca

Picture courtesy of the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and carries a Creative Commons Attribute Non-Commercial license.

Single-Point Rubrics: Exceeding Expectations




As an Instructional Designer, I often speak on the value of assessment rubrics. There are many reasons why creating a rubric for each assignment, providing students with the rubric, and using the rubric while grading can be advantageous. Many of these reasons are highlighted in the video below, including:

  • You write the same comments on several assignments
  • You decide how to assess after the assignments are handed in
  • You realize after grading a few papers that your students didn’t understand the assignment expectations (Stevens & Levi, 2005)

Knowing about these reasons for rubrics, I sat down last fall to create few rubrics for the assignments in an undergraduate class I was about to teach. I started with the “Good” or “Excellent” column, as this is where I recommend starting. That was pretty easy as it simply explains the criteria for the assignment.

The next thing I needed to do was to fill in the lower columns (e.g., minimal pass, satisfactory) and ran into difficulties. I found myself guessing at what it is that students may or may not do to deviate from the criteria. This was especially difficult since I like to be as descriptive and objective as possible with the criteria I put in the cells, trying to avoid vague terms, such as “acceptable” and “good”. Filling in these cells was really challenging and would have potentially put me in a bind when grading if my guesses turned out to be wrong. I have been in that situation before and it is not a good feeling to look at your rubric descriptors and to look at a student’s assignment and realize that you have trapped yourself into either giving too high or too low of a grade based on those start-of-term guesses. These guesses are even more difficult if it is a new-to-you course or a new assignment. Due to these challenges, I ended up with more of a checklist and comment box than a fully filled-in rubric.

This past summer, a blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez came across my email that explained the concept of a “Single-Point Rubric”. I think the Single-Point Rubric is the answer to my struggles. It is essentially the “Good” or “Excellent” column that explains the criteria for the assignment and a column on each side surrounds it. These columns are labelled “Concerns: Areas that Need Work” and “Advanced: Evidence of Exceeding Standards”. This serves many of the same purposes as a rubric full of filled-in cells plus it provides a great and clear means of providing positive and negative feedback on each of the criterion.

Single Point RubricI still see advantages to having a fully filled-in rubric, but for new-to-you assignments and courses, where you really are guessing at student performance, I think the “Single-Point Rubric” is a great first step in providing clear criteria. I would highly recommend reading Jennifer’s post and seeing if it will meet your needs, as well.

Talking with Students About Suspected Plagiarism: Ten Guiding Questions




As assignments start to come in, this can be the time in the term when faculty notice what may be inadvertent or intentional plagiarism by students.  Hopefully, you rarely encounter this yourself. But, if you do suspect plagiarism, how can you best proceed? Here’s what I would do…

First, become familiar with the institutional policy and any particular procedures with respect to this policy in your department or college.

Next, I suggest that you discuss the matter with the student(s) you suspect.  Here are ten guiding questions offered to help you to prepare for and to anticipate the potential directions of a discussion:

  1. Why am I asking to discuss the matter with the student?
  2. How can I best convey my commitment to students’ learning and to fair assessment generally?
  3. What are the facts of the situation from my perspective?
  4. What are the facts of the situation from the student’s perspective?
  5. How will I respond to the student if she or he denies wrongdoing, claims ignorance, admits to the plagiarism, or implicates others?
  6. How interested am I in knowing what contributed to this situation for the student?
  7. How will I handle my feelings about the student’s explanation or comments during our discussion?
  8. How will I handle the student’s reactions during the discussion?
  9. Am I prepared to bring the discussion to an early close if emotions (including mine) are running too high and/or am I prepared to connect the student to other campus resources (e.g., counseling)?
  10. How can I be sure I don’t commit to any course of action before I am ready to do so?

With respect to #10, what the student has to say may or may not affect your ultimate decision, but I do recommend taking some time to reflect on what you heard from the student before you proceed.

  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty and/or a resubmission for the assessment in question, then look to the informal procedure in the U of S policy.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in a grade penalty beyond the assessment in question and/or you think there should be a record of the plagiarism, then look to the formal procedures in the U of S policy and expect to participate in a hearing process.
  • If you think the action on the part of the student should result in an educational response or a warning, then look to the student’s role as a learner and your role as a teacher. This may involve providing some direct instruction yourself or referring the student to resources in the Library about writing and referencing.

While these concerning situations can be quite straight forward, they can also become quite complicated. Feel free to contact me at the Gwenna Moss Centre if you’d like to think through a situation you face.

What is the science behind your course design madness?



By Fred Phillips, Professor, Baxter Scholar, Edwards School of Business

As we begin another year, students are encountering some of the course design decisions made by their instructors. Some will be introduced to “flipped classrooms”, where students prepare by reading/viewing/responding to a learning prompt before it is formally taken up in class. Others will encounter new learning tools, such as adaptive reading systems that embed interactive questions within reading materials with the goal of assessing each student’s comprehension so that new topics can be delivered the moment he or she is ready to comprehend them.

Just as instructors have questions about these approaches and tools, students are likely to be curious about whether there is a method to our course design madness. To help explain the underlying learning science, I have made a few videos that describe relevant (and fun) studies that lend support to these pedagogies. Each video focuses on a particular question that students (and possibly instructors) are likely to have about elements of their courses. Each video describes two or three relevant studies in just enough depth to convey the gist of how they were designed and what they discovered. And, in the spirit of a TED Talk, they are each less than 10 minutes in length.

My thought with these videos is that instructors can send each link to students at the moment they expect their students will be asking the particular question, or they can provide them en masse. My hope is that the videos will help students appreciate why our courses might be designed as they are. And, if we’re really lucky, the videos will inspire our campus community to learn more about the scholarship of teaching and learning. Enjoy!

1. Why do we have so many tests? (7 min 24 sec)

  • Students often wonder why I plan frequent quizzes and exams throughout the term.

2. Why attempt to answer questions before “being taught”? (7 min 22 sec)

  • Students often think that there isn’t benefit in attempting to answer questions before they are formally taught content.

3. Is easier and more convenient learning better? (8 min 54 sec)

  • Is it more effective for students to have a cramming study session or to study throughout the term? When practicing, should students group questions of similar type or mix different question types? Does use of analogies help or hinder student learning?

Feedback in Marking – Some Tips for Efficiency




Feedback is one of the most important factors when it comes to improving student performance in a course. Yet many instructors would use words like tediousgrueling, or headache-inducing to describe the process of providing feedback to student work. If you are one of those instructors, consider integrating one (or more!) of the following strategies into your grading practice.

  • Separate Grading and Feedback: If the student cannot use your feedback to improve the quality of their work, writing comments on student work is probably just a waste of your time and energy.
  • Frontload Feedback: Provide specific and more detailed feedback early and frequent in the term, so it can be integrated into student work throughout the term. Early and frequent, but brief, feedback has a more powerful effect on student performance than long and detailed feedback later in the term does.
  • Comment Code: Create a list of frequent comments / feedback about student work (errors, corrections, suggestions, etc.), and give each a code. (For example, “AV” could be the code for “Use active voice, not passive voice”.) Distribute your Comments Code list to students, and use these codes when marking student work to cut down on your time spent writing comments.
  • Less is Sometimes More: Too much feedback can overwhelm and discourage students who are struggling. On each assignmentfocus primarily on giving feedback in the one or two areas that these students can improve on, which will lead to the greatest improvement in their performance in your class.
  • Delegate: Provide students with a self-evaluation checklist or rubric that they must fill in and submit as part of their assignment. Include reflection questions such as “What do you think the most interesting part of your paper is?” or “For me, the hardest part of completing this assignment was…”

The suggestions in this post are derived from Walvoord & Johnson Anderson’s book Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment, which is available for faculty and instructors to borrow from GMCTE’s Resource Lending Library. For more information on making your marking and grading practices more efficient or to borrow this book, please feel free to contact GMCTE.

Too explicit? No such thing.




Following on Heather’s post last week about the key (and required) elements of the syllabus at the University of Sasaktchewan, I wanted to add a point of emphasis that I think saves time, saves confusion, and may even save you some heartache.

That point is: be explicit with your students about your expectations.

Sometimes, as instructors, we may forget that we too  had to learn about academic expectations and norms.   If we were lucky, we caught on quickly, probably in our first or second years of undergraduate study.   Our new students (new to our disciplines, our institution, our jargon, our everyday language, our Saskatchewan and/or Canadian ways) will benefit from clear instructions and rules about how to complete the work required, and especially the work we will assess for grades.  When we want individual work, we should explain what that looks like and what it does not in the context of our course.  Examples help a lot.  When collaboration is permitted, we should explain what we mean by that and what we would regard as collusion in the context of our course.  Again, examples are very useful.  When we expect students to use outside resources, we should explain what we mean by originality and what we mean by proper referencing, by proper paraphrasing.  Referring students to library and other resources so that they may quickly  learn about these important practices is vital.

It’s also important to note that what we expect may differ from what students have experienced in other programs, in other courses, and with other professors, even those in our same hallways.  The expectations we have can, to some extent, reflect our own beliefs about students and the role of assignments in their learning.

While this GMCTE video sets this same message about being explicit within the concern for academic integrity, you may find a view of this short piece gives you the reminder you need about stating, what may be to you but not to your students, the obvious.

Evaluating Presentations With a Little Help From My (Citable) Friends …




Individual and group presentations provide great opportunity for students to share what they have learned with peers and an efficient and feasible way of marking for instructors.

That being said, how do you grade them?

I, and I’m pretty sure you too, have experienced the full range of presentations from the stunningly excellent to the staggeringly confusing, from the inspirational to the sleep-inducing. The challenge is describing these qualities so they can be identified and assessed.

One option would be to create my own rubric based on these experiences.

The easier option is to use or adapt existing materials from others I respect.

The first source I turn to is the well-respected Association of American Colleges & Universities’ VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) assessment initiative, which has created 16 rubrics including one for oral communication.

They define oral communication as “a prepared, purposeful presentation designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors” and assess it according to five criteria: organization, language, delivery, supporting material and central message. The rubric describes requirements for each criterion across 4 levels. For example, Capstone (4) level delivery requires that presenters’ “Delivery techniques (posture, gesture, eye contact, and vocal expressiveness) make the presentation compelling, and speaker appears polished and confident.”

The second resource I consider is the more detailed (15 criteria across 3 categories) rubric of the American Evaluation Association’s Potent Presentation Initiative (p2i). Their website has every resource I ever wished to send to students (and perhaps others) about what “good” presentation or posters look like. They have posted rubrics, guidelines, templates and resources for regular slides presentations, ignite presentations (20 slides x 15 seconds = 5 minutes of auto-advancing slides), posters and handouts.

In addition I could ask a colleague or see what other courses in the program are using.

presentation outline

One of the best parts of adapting rubrics is the opportunity to decide which pieces I find most important for my course (e.g., organization), ones that are relevant if revised to be more specific (e.g., supporting material) and ones that are not (e.g., mastery – speaking without reading from notes). I also can decide which resources I recommend (e.g., p2i slide design guidelines), which I comment on (e.g., I suggest noting times if you use the p2i rundown template) and which I just mention (e.g., p2i presentation preparation checklist).

When uncertain I can always ask for a second opinion from a colleague, request a consultation, or trial it before posting the criteria.

Happy assessing!

Picture courtesy of Sean MacEntee and carries a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Authentic Assessment




I think of authentic assessments as ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in a public way. What makes assessment authentic for me is that students do something to show what they know in a public way that benefits a wider community than the one person assigning a grade.

The posters that students did in their first year College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) classes this past term are, in my way of defining authentic assessment, stellar examples.

Working in teams, students prepared a research poster as part of their undergraduate research experience. On the afternoon of December 3rd there were 99 posters on display up and down hallways in AgBio. What an impressive and exciting initiative!

I spent the afternoon asking students about their research and reading posters. I spent time with about 30 of the 99 teams. All students were articulate, knowledgeable, engaged, and prepared. In comparing notes with the other judges, this was the rule—without exception.

It was a great afternoon—and example authentic assessment—students got direct feedback through their interaction with their peers, instructors, and people walking through AgBio. They received feedback from their instructors throughout the research process that culminated in the poster afternoon.

It was a big undertaking for the students, instructors, TAs, and research coaches involved but the impact, the connections, the sharing of ideas and information, the chance to discuss and explain…It was powerful. And I think it created memories that will not be forgotten for a long time—if ever.

So the students could have handed in an individual report on a question they were interested in and the instructors could have been the only people who benefitted from reading what the students wrote, but this was an event.

If you have an example of when you have implemented an authentic assessment strategy in your class or you are interested in brainstorming and planning ways to integrate authentic assessment in your class please contact us at the Gwenna Moss Centre.

Note: AgBio is one of the three pilot sites and the instructors of the first year courses took up the initiative in a big way! Their goal was for every AgBio student to have an undergraduate research experience in the first term of their first year. (For more on this initiative check out a couple of Murray Drew’s blog posts:

 

Feedback to Improve Teaching




This fall I taught my first for-credit university course. I have plenty of previous teaching experience in the K-12 system and non-credit workshops/courses offered through the GMCTE, but this was the first-time teaching paying university students. I was feeling some apprehension and added pressure.

Teaching controversial issuesWith this pressure in mind (and wanting to provide the best learning experience possible) I put together a formative assessment plan for the course. This plan would allow students to provide me with feedback on my teaching and use of learning activities. Here is a list of some of the items in that plan:

  1. Pre-Course Survey: I began with a pre-course survey the last week of August. I accessed my course list through Blackboard Learn and sent the students a link to a survey. I used this survey to learn more about my students and learn what relevant skills they were bringing into the course with them. I was able to use this information to inform my lesson and activity planning.
  1. Stop-Start-Continue: Three weeks into the term, I asked students to provide anonymous feedback on what things I should start doing, what I should stop doing, and what I should continue doing in my teaching. The majority of the feedback was positive, but even that was very helpful in letting me know that I was on track.
  1. Muddiest Point: After the fourth week, I created an anonymous online survey and asked my students to identify what concepts and ideas in our recent classes were still unclear to them. This helped me supplement and enrich the materials I had provided them in order to attempt to get all of us up to the same level of understanding. I also planned a brief class discussion to address these concerns.
  1. Clickers: Also in our fourth week, I lead an activity where students were applying their learning of a certain concept to answer clicker questions in class. I did this using a free online system called Kahoot!, in which the students were able to respond using computers or mobile devices. The vast majority of students answered the questions correctly indicating to me that we had achieved that learning objective and students were ready to apply this to a summative assignment.
  1. Post-term Survey: As the term wrapped up, I began thinking about what changes I would make to this course the next time I teach it (which is in January). Apart from the college-issued survey, I created my own anonymous online survey that solicited feedback on the course in general and specific feedback on the assignments that the students completed throughout the term. I emailed this survey to my students and they have offered insightful comments that I am using in planning the next iteration. I also encouraged them to meet with me to provide oral feedback if they so wish.

Although, I was initially apprehensive about teaching this course, I found that within the first few weeks I was quite comfortable. The students and I had developed a good rapport and I was soliciting so much feedback that nothing was really able to fall between the cracks. A well-planned formative assessment plan can really set a course up for success!

College of Education Adopts Use of ePortfolios



By Tim Molnar, Assistant Professor, College of Education

The College of Education recently implemented an electronic portfolio system (ePort) called Mahara™. This open source ePort emerged from a collaborative venture funded by several post secondary institutions and government bodies in New Zealand. In Maori mahara means “to think, thinking, or thought.”

Mahara_logoOur intentions with implementing Mahara™ are to enhance teacher candidates’ learning by offering a place for the collection of evidence, analysis, representation and sharing relating to their experience as developing educators. Instructors and cooperating teachers have the opportunity to examine, assess and provide feedback to teacher candidates on their efforts and progress. Using Mahara™ also offers an opportunity for a teacher candidate to address the new Saskatchewan Teacher Certification Competencies (STCCs) being established by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education and demonstrates our College commitment to meeting those competencies through our program. Instructors identify which of the STCC’s align with their course outcomes and so allow teacher candidates opportunities to address the teaching competencies directly and through out their course of studies.

Using Mahara™ since 2008, with both undergraduate and graduate students, my first impressions of this software remain. Mahara™ is a flexible and adaptive environment that is highly configurable affording a wide variety of media (evidence) to be incorporated, made sense of, and shared with instructors, colleagues, potential employers and others. The drag and drop features of Mahara™ allow a user to quickly and efficiently develop a page or series of pages around a topic that include typical features such as text boxes, images, image galleries, PDF files and other embedded media. A journaling feature is available as well as the ability to call upon various Google Apps such as calendars, documents, books and maps integrated directly into a page. External media such as TeacherTube, Youtube, Prezi, Vimeo, Google Video, Slideshare and other media can be configured and integrated directly into the page one is crafting. If a user is inclined they can further craft their page or pages with HTML. A useful feature is the ability to create groups, which allow instructors or students to create places for sharing work (within course and program work but also publically). There exist also a resume tool that allows a user to develop a professional presence that can call upon the work that has been created in the portfolio. While no technology meets all demands it is intended to address, Mahara™ is a helpful and useful environment for meaning making and sharing.

I am looking forward to examining and acting on the challenges and benefits to our students, instructors and involved others as as we move forward with the use of Mahara™.