Friday, November 23, 2012

Precision feedback

In a recent post, I shared my experience in using voice-recognition software to enhance the quantity and quality of feedback to students on their assignments.  Here's a method for further improving the value of our feedback to students by adding a bit of precision to our grading.

It's nothing new, really.  It's using grading rubrics.  However, I’ve found a way to use rubrics as kind of grading shortcut that also ends up maximizing the learning process.

For a while, some of my online course assignments were worth a certain number of points.  If you did “A” work, you received 90% or more of the available points.  “B” work earned you 80%-89% of the available points. And so on.

But then I started getting inquiries from students

  • What can I do to improve my grade? 
  • How did I miss three points?
  • What went wrong?
  • I thought I did well.  Why did I receive a low grade.

Yikes.  I realized that a number alone wasn’t helping these students very much.  The whole point of my assignments is to improve competence in my students—but I wasn’t really doing anything but dinging them on points when their work did not meet my standards.

So I took a good look at how I expressed my expectations and found that it was pretty murky.  So I constructed a rubric for each type of assignment.

Each rubric is simply a short table that lists each expected element of the assignment and it’s point value.

I am careful to list EVERYTHING—including the “obvious” basic elements of the assignment as well as specific “enhanced features” that I’m hoping for.

I make my rubrics using the “table” format in a MS Word document.  You can use a small spreadsheet just as easily.  I simply copy and paste each type of rubric into my course documents (syllabus , webpage, etc.).  That way , my students can use them as handy guidelines as they design and execute their assignments.

For grading purposes, I keep a second version of each rubric in which I change the “Maximum points” for each element to “Points earned.” 

Then at grading time, I simply copy and paste the appropriate rubric into the feedback window for each student’s assignment.  As I evaluate the assignment, I change the maximum points listed to the actual points they earned for each element of the assignment.  I quickly total it up and change the maximum total to their actual total.

For added precision, I also keep a list of feedback responses for common mistakes.  For example, I have a short paragraph identifying a common formatting error.  This paragraph explains what went wrong, why it’s wrong, and how to do it right next time. When I encounter the error in an assignment I’m grading, I paste the paragraph into the feedback window. Then I insert, “For example, in your paragraph 5 . . . “ into the paragraph so that the student knows precisely where things went wrong in their assignment.

Whenever I encounter a particular type of mistake, I find the appropriate response in my list of “canned responses” and paste it into the feedback window.

This gives specific, precise feedback with minimal grading effort—but maximum benefit to student learning.

It takes longer to explain it than to actually do it!

Now, I can quickly and easily provide my students with more precise feedback than simply a grade.

In an upcoming post, I’ll extend this technique a bit to show how to leverage it into a bona fide teaching-learning moment!

Want to know more?

My previous article about speeding up your feedback process:

Speed up your feedback

For more about using rubrics, I recommend this book by my friend Dannelle Stevens:

Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Future of Learning

Here's an interesting little video about the future of learning. Embedded within it is the role of electronic approaches and their rapid evolution as critical tools for learning effectively .

Monday, October 22, 2012

Speed up your feedback

One of the great things about using online tools in your web-enhanced, hybrid, or online course is that you can provide much more individual and group feedback to students.

Frequent feedback helps students correct misconceptions, learn new skills, get coaching on critical thinking, and become more connected to you, the course, and the subject.  Such feedback speeds up learning, allowing more progress in the time frame of a typical course than would otherwise be possible.  It is customized to some degree and thus more effective than not providing frequent feedback.

However, one of the worst things about giving individual and group feedback frequently is that it takes time.  And, as we know, time is something we are finding less and less of these days in the academy.  Increased expectations in record keeping and reporting, a rapidly expanding knowledge base in our disciplines to keep up with, and more time mentoring and managing the growing adjunct faculty pool, all make it harder to devote more time to interacting with students.

How can we improve the balance so that frequent, constructive feedback to students can grow rather than diminish?

One method that I've found to give me more time to give more helpful online feedback to my students is by using speech recognition software.

In the olden days, I tried this and the results were hilarious but ineffective.  Everything I said came out in a knee-slapping stream of nonsense.  In fact, I often laughed out loud, which produced even more "speech recognized" narrative.  So I gave up on it.

But the technology as progressed rapidly.  Now it is very accurate and efficient. With just a little practice— And training of the software — you can speak your feedback into any program quickly and easily.

There is satisfactory speech-recognition software built into many operating systems or other software without any extra expense. However, I have found that using a dedicated speech-recognition program provides improved accuracy and a whole toolbox of nifty features that make the whole experience more flexible, enjoyable, and fast.

I use speech recognition software when I am answering my daily emails. I find that I can get through my emails from students much more quickly using the speech-recognition approach. Not only that, I find that my answers to students are longer and more detailed — and thus hopefully more helpful to them.

I use speech recognition software when I am grading online assignments. When giving feedback on a project, for example, I can very quickly include a number of detailed comments. When keyboarding manually, the number and length of my comments is greatly reduced by both fatigue and the limits of time available.

I find that students really appreciate both the personal attention that such comments represent and the specific help and advice contained within these comments. They feel like they are making rapid progress… because they are.

Many colleges now provide individual installations of speech recognition software such as Dragon NaturallySpeaking . This is the software that I use and find it to work very well for me.

I know that it is always daunting to face learning how to use a new technology, but this one is amazingly easy. And even if you have to pay for it yourself, it's not very expensive. And you will find it to be worth every penny — and then some.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What we can learn from online education

I recently watched a talk on online learning by Daphne Koller of Stanford University  on TED: Ideas worth spreading.  Her brief presentation outlines the revolution in online learning being pioneered at Stanford and other institutions.

I love this statement by Koller:
"We should spend less time at universities filling our students' minds with content by lecturing at them, and more time igniting their creativity … by actually talking with them."

A few major points made in her presentation:
1. Online methods of course delivery are cost effective in delivering high quality educational experiences to millions around the world that otherwise would not have access to such education.

2. Online methods of education, when used appropriately, can be a lot more effective than the traditional lecture methods.

3. Online learning can teach more people more effectively with far fewer faculty and lower infrastructure costs.

4. We can use what we learn from online education to improve how we teach and how we learn by using a data-driven approach.

But she says all this in a more interesting and arresting way than I can, so take a few minutes to watch her video below.

When you've finished watching it, you may asking yourself this question (as I did):
Why do so many colleges and college faculty hesitate to experiment with and exploit this electronic revolution in education?

Want to learn more? 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Handling bullets safely

Recently, I was involved in reviewing a large of number of PowerPoint presentations created by professors (and a few professors in training) and found that there were a few folks struggling with some basics in using bullet points effectively.

For example, some professors don't even use bullet points to present a series of concepts.  Instead, they use either a paragraph or an unformatted list of sentences.  A list of key terms or phrases formatted as bullet points works much better in sketching out ideas for listeners as you talk about them.  But if you're not experienced with PowerPoint, or similar tools, then you may not realize that.

A few who were using bulleted lists were not effectively using indented levels to graphically organize concepts in a way that helps students see how it all hangs together.  Again, experience and training can help professors apply these principles that make their presentations much more effective.

To help out, I've created this 25 minute video show both basics on how to make bullet points and a few tricks on making bullet points more effective.  The second half of the video shows a bad example of a slide and then walks you through several tricks to fix it up into a much more effective slide.

This next video shows you how to animate bullet points so that they appear one at a time.  If have several different points on one slide, it is sometimes more effective to reveal them only as you get to them in your talk. If they all come up at the beginning, your students are reading ahead and not staying focused on your point.

Related blog post:  
Are your students dodging bullets?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Scantron inventor dies

The Scantron grading machine, a type of optical mark recognition (OMR) system used for grading tests and quizzes, has been used by countless professors over the years to make grading more efficient.  Especially in large classes or in courses with many assessments.

I'd like to take a moment to salute the Scantron's inventor, Michael Sokolski, who passed away recently.

Although there are still a few righteous professors out there who never learned how to create an effective test using Scantron scoring--and thus loudly declare such tests to be worthless--most 21st-century professors know how valuable a tool the Scantron is to have in one's toolbox. 

Here is an interesting article about Sokolski's contribution . . . and the whole topic of this type of testing.   If you want to know "why a No. 2 pencil?"  or "can my pencil-sharpening technique affect my grade?"  then you HAVE to read this!

Pencils Down: Scantron Inventor Michael Sokolski Has Died
by Chris Higgins
Mental Floss (online blog) - June 29, 2012 - 1:26 PM
[Entertaining blog post about the Scantron and its inventor]

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Boosting retention in online courses

Retention is an issue in online courses.  Sometimes, it's a huge problem.  Why is that and how can we fix it?

Yikes, that's too big a question for me . . . and even if I could answer it, it'd take more than a blog post to do it!

But you know me! As a former lion tamer, there isn't much I'm not willing to tackle, eh?

I think that dropping out of online courses is due mostly to three factors:
  1. Students, even the young tech-savvy ones, are just not prepared for the very different learning environment of an online course.  They find it difficult to manage their time properly and they find it hard to navigate their online courses.  Sometimes, they need more computer skills.
  2. Sometimes online courses are not designed well and that frustrates (or bores) students . . . so they leave the course before it's over.
  3. Often, students just forget. Then they're too far behind to catch up . . . and they have no choice but to drop the course.
I'll leave the preparation of students and good course design issues to another time . . . or, more likely, a series of later blog posts.  For now, I'll focus on the easiest problem to fix.  And it may be the solution that has the biggest impact on retention in your online course!

It's number 3 in my list: tackling the issue of students forgetting about their online course. 

I see this all the time in my online courses.  I even see it happening in the online part of my web-enhanced courses.  This makes sense, right?  If you have to be in a face-to-face class at a particular time in a particular place, we've all learned coping strategies that get us there.  But in an online course, you don't usually have a particular time or place to access your course . . . and therefore it can easily slip through the cracks of the self-management style we've developed over a lifetime.

The thing is, this is easy to fix.  All I have to do is make sure I watch for non-participation near the beginning of the course, then follow up with the laggers.

"Oh, I forgot about that online class!"
I know, I know.  We've all got that little voice inside us saying . . . I'm not teaching 2nd-graders, these are adults . . . I shouldn't have to go find them and tell them it's time for school.

Yeah, I know . . . and I agree.  However, I also want to improve retention in my online classes.  So if I can set aside the part of me that hates having to be a truant officer for folks old enough to be responsible on their own, I can greatly improve the success rate in my courses.

I've tried this and it works.  And it's not as hard as that little voice tells me it's gong to be.  Here's how I do it:
  1. I watch the online activity in my course closely, especially during the first week or so. 
  2. As soon as I see any lagging, I jump on it immediately. Lagging is failure to login, failure to get started on activities, or skipping activities.
  3. I use multiple media to contact them immediately.  I've been known to use these methods (or a combination of them):
    1. Email them.  From within the LMS system and using their "regular" email(s) of record.
    2. Text them.  Students sometimes have their mobile phones listed in the school system.
    3. Phone them. 
    4. Write a short note and mail it.
  4. When I contact them, I start with empathy. I let them know that it's perfectly understandable that they are having a hard time making it a practice to engage the online course. I tell them that this is common. Then I let them know that this must change if they expect to succeed in my course.  Then I finish by emphasizing that I'm contacting them because I care about their success.  I make sure they know that if they get confused, it's okay to ask for my help.  
Besides getting lagging students to get with the program and reduce the likelihood of dropping the course, this method improves overall student success by making positive and supportive contact with individual students. 

Despite that little voice in my head warning me otherwise, I've found that this method takes very little time or effort.  And I've found that it has had a dramatic effect on my retention rate.

Try it and let me know how it works for you!