Continual feedback on my work

Recently, I added a new assignment to my online classes, called Lecture Notes.

It’s just a one-screen write-in-the-box assignment, with the following instructions:

 

It automatically scores credit when they submit it. This is for two reasons: immediate feedback/acknowledgement of the submission, and so I don’t have to rush to grade anything. I can stop by and enjoy them all, reading through, at my leisure.

My original intention was just to make sure they were somehow responsible for the lectures, into which I’ve put a huge amount of work. These lectures are written out, with audio of me reading the lecture, illustrations, iframes with the assigned readings, embedded video, music snippets, and quite a bit of my own personality and interpretation. I’ve created them for all six of my classes, 15-16 lectures each (one per week). I don’t want them ignored!

But what’s happened is even better, thanks to the first and last bits of my instructions.

The “implied thesis” has told me a lot about whether my interpretation is getting through. Fact is, most students don’t get this idea, and just tell me what the lecture was about: “You talked about immigrants coming over from other countries and the impact of industrialization”. But some students comprehend that this is interpretation: “You implied that the capitalist system made it difficult for labor unions to succeed”.

Even better is the “brief response” I’ve requested. This has given me a chance to talk with students directly.

Those who don’t understand that I’m an interpreter of history write things like, “I don’t agree that the Romans should have invaded Gaul”, so I get that they’re responding to certain events. But often they tell me things like, “I was surprised that the new household technologies made more work for women” or “I didn’t know that Augustus Caesar was a title instead of a name” or “it made me really sad to learn how immigrants were treated in the factories” or “this seems just like today”.  Sometimes they ask questions like, “why did Cleopatra kill herself instead of just sending a big army against Octavian?”

I can respond to each student privately, which often opens an ongoing dialogue. And the cool thing is: it’s always about the material, never about the grades/assessment/navigation. They’re real conversations, about history.

It’s like ongoing feedback for me – it tells me what’s getting through, how I’m doing, and what they think.

It’s entirely possible that it’s all there, and could replace stultifying assessments like quizzes, or (shock!) papers. We’ll see. For now, it’s just great.

New Title V and substantive interaction

In its wisdom, the state is proposing the following changes for online classes:

Originally, the issue was teacher-student contact, a response to the fear that teachers would just upload stuff and not do any work. Now they’ve decided to legislate pedagogy, and insist on student-student contact.

I know several faculty who aren’t happy about this, because their pedagogy doesn’t rely on student-student interaction. Rather their course is set up to maximize student interaction with the course materials. Several instructors I know engage students in highly individualized feedback. One responds to each student’s posted analysis of each reading each week. Another evaluates submitted assignments in great detail. They both have in-depth, ongoing, substantive contact with every single student. Neither relies on students interacting with each other.

So this is bogus from the start, pedagogically speaking. The state has decided to intervene in methodology, based on research that is questionable at best. Studies using physical classroom research, for example, compare straight lecture to group activities (active learning). They tend to ignore the many other activities that can be assigned in an online class but aren’t reliant on other students (for example, instant feedback on a quiz question). Other studies of “community” in online classes focus on the affective domain rather than the quality of work. While it is an option, it is not necessary to have student-to-student interaction for a student to feel like part of the class; that can also be achieved through instructor presence, student-instructor interaction, and student-content interaction. Focusing on students interacting also ignores the teacher-student tutorial model,  which provides individualized responses. Many students want individual attention far more than they want “community”.

But we don’t make the rules.

Since the state is so dedicated to the word “substantive”, I looked it up:

Substantive- “Having a firm basis in reality and so important, meaningful, or considerable.” (Oxforddictionaries.com)

1. denoting substance, 2. expressing existence, 3. meaningful or important (OED)

So if it’s there and it’s real, it’s fine. An instructor, without being pressured, wouldn’t have such interactions if they didn’t believe them to be important or meaningful. In the case of “considerable”, a class that has a lot of meaningless discussion would also be covered.

This brings us to Lisa’s Rule on Rules: when confronted with legislative stupidity, it is usually best to look at what you’re already doing and see if it can be used to demonstrate that your work already complies with the new rule.

Tonight I attended a wonderfully balanced session on the new pending rules. It was led by Sean Davis, our wonderful sociologist at MiraCosta. He noted the controversy over the rule, but focused on options for how to create such interactions. These included discussion/question forums, emails between students, peer feedback, student groups, interactive video (we have a pilot for Arc), video conferencing, chat, and collaborative projects. I would add to this group annotation, which is a major source of interaction in my own classes.

For those instructors who do any sort of student-student interaction, it should not be hard to justify what they do within the new context. It is indeed these instructors who are most concerned about the new law.

Most instructors have a discussion forum. Some of these are problematic or meaningless, but if they do it every week, they’re good. I can justify much of my students’ work, because in addition to annotating written primary sources, they post their visual sources in a forum, and “like” the sources they enjoy. “Like” is interaction, and if you ask students to “like” for a purpose (they plan to use the idea, or vote up ideas the class will use), it’s meaningful.

This sort of “passive interaction” or “accidental interaction” can satisfy the rule. Passive interaction is like a cocktail party — everyone is in the same place but not necessarily at the same time or for the same purpose. But they see what the others are doing, and adapt their behavior according. Open forums where students post assignments can serve this purpose. Particularly if they’re graded only individually, and privately, posted student work can help other students see where they stand, demonstrate alternative ways of doing the work, and serve as examples.

So the professor who has students submit their assignments directly to her could instead have them submitted to a forum (if necessary, the forum could be set not to show other work until ones own work is submitted). The prof who responds to his students individually after they post in a forum could add a summary post noting the contributions of particular students, asking that they be used as examples.

I admit that I am completely uncomfortable with asking students to email or message each other privately, and I have never been a fan of peer feedback although I know people who do it well. And I remain appalled (I am often appalled) that the rules never seem to care about the interaction between the student and the content. Where’s the rule that says courses should include deep, sustained, meaningful interaction between the individual student and the materials being studied? Where’s the rule that says courses should integrate important and meaningful contact between the student and the norms of the discipline?

It’s bad enough that so many courses contain discussion forums because the instructors think they should. That has been going on for years, even before this rule was enacted. The inevitable response to the new rule will be more one-post-two-reply “discussions” that frustrate online teachers and become rote and meaningless for students. Surely the new rule must be a misguided attempt to replicate the classroom, except perhaps the people who wrote it haven’t been in one for awhile. Where’s the rule requiring students in a non-distance education class to be forced to interact with each other?

In the meantime, such attempts should be dealt with by showing that what we already do satisfies the rule. It’s just a shame that we have to.

 

 

Surf report

If you’re from around here, you know what a surf report it: “moderate waves today, let’s call it waist-high” a la Scott Bass on KPBS radio.

This is a report of today’s web-surfing, which is kinda different. Sometimes it’s piled a lot higher than my waist, but today I learned a lot, much of it triggered by Twitter posts. I don’t think I’m the only one who uses the “like” heart to file things for later, so I could find these again.

History Assessments

Except the first one. Somehow I found the Stanford History Education Group, and their Beyond the Bubble assessments. I’m not sure why I’ve never heard of this, but it’s a collection of items for teaching U.S. History. While geared toward the high school AP crowd, the method here is quite useful for college history. The primary source is embedded into the assessment. So for example, there would be a newspaper engraving of a protest from Harper’s Weekly, then a short list of facts related to that engraving, then open short answer questions. Sometimes these asked students to assess the veracity of the document itself in light of the other facts, or they might ask the student to say what the source tells us about the era.

These are short (usually just two short answers) and there’s a rubric with each one, indicating the level (proficient, emergent, basic) of various student responses. Some even include sample student answers that one is likely to see. Although undoubtedly intended to be used solely by the instructor, it might be interesting to give the rubric to students and have them analyze their own work!

The site has many assessments that a teacher could download, but it was their design that gave me ideas, because I could create my own assessments for any primary source I have.

And it was kind of eerie that I had just changed all my Learning Units to be inside the assessments. I must be very trendy in terms of design!

Cycloramas

Next, I found a serious gap in my knowledge about the history of media. A tweet by Civil War historian Lisa Tendrich Frank led me to a Smithsonian Magazine article on the restoration of the cylcorama in Atlanta. Apparently, during the 1880s, cycloramas were a huge draw as entertainment. Painters created 360-degree paints, attached to the walls of a circular building, and people would come to experience it. The article notes a scene might have a dirt floor and some trees to add a reality-inducing effect.

Beginning in the 1880s, these completely circular paintings started appearing from half a dozen companies, such as the American Panorama Company in Milwaukee, where Atlanta’s canvas was conceived. APC employed more than a dozen German painters, led by a Leipzig native named Friedrich Heine.

Half a dozen companies? How could I not have known about this? This isn’t just virtual reality, it’s late 19th century entertainment for the people. The closest I’ve gotten to in-the-round entertainment was the film they used to have at Disneyland, America the Beautiful, a movie made with multiple cameras that surrounded you. Yeah, I know, in days where the Google truck drives through your neighborhood, this may seem archaic, but it was very cool.

So now I have a whole research area to discover.

Paratexts

Can I use this word in a sentence? It shouldn’t be new to me: it’s a word I keep bumping into, but somehow it never entered my thinking as something I could use.

A tweet by early Americanist Michelle Orihel sent me to Digital Paxton, and reading the post I had an Aha! moment. Advertising and editors’ notes and issue numbers, as included in Victorian periodicals, would be paratext! I may not have a theory, but I at least have a structure, an interpretation, a word I can use for what these types of things are.

Some days it’s enough to learn one new useful word.

Blackmail

The last item for today was a piece of email spam. Yes, I know you’re not supposed to open these, but there was no attachment and I decided to read it. I found it fascinating.

The title was:

Security Alert. lisa@lisahistory.net was compromised. Password must be changed.

The email went on to explain that my account had been hacked, my information and surfing habits downloaded, and they wanted money, paid in Bitcoin. The blackmailer explained how s/he got access:

How I made it:
In the software of the router, through which you went online, was a vulnerability.
I just hacked this router and placed my malicious code on it.
When you went online, my trojan was installed on the OS of your device.

I noticed that there aren’t any contractions where you’d expect, indicating this person does not speak English natively. The OS of my device?

They also claimed to know that I have pornographic habits:

A month ago, I wanted to lock your device and ask for a not big amount of btc to unlock.
But I looked at the sites that you regularly visit, and I was shocked by what I saw!!!
I’m talk you about sites for adults.

I want to say – you are a BIG pervert. Your fantasy is shifted far away from the normal course!

There’s a normal course for the viewing of pornography online? I had no idea. But that explains why so much money was being requested.

I’m know that you would not like to show these screenshots to your friends, relatives or colleagues.
I think $701 is a very, very small amount for my silence.
Besides, I have been spying on you for so long, having spent a lot of time!

Wait, $701? Cheap at twice the price!

After payment, my virus and dirty screenshots with your enjoys will be self-destruct automatically.
If I do not receive from you the specified amount, then your device will be locked, and all your contacts will receive a screenshots with your “enjoys”.

I guess we’ll see…

(Discovered after posting: turns out this is a known spam thing and I should dedicate as much worry about it as I have already done. So that’s five things learned online today!)

First road test of Hypothes.is

It’s all about annotation, and I’ve been comparing Kami and Hypothes.is. Last semester, I used Kami  ($50 for no ads) for students to annotate text with my History of Technology class. I had some success, but I was not happy with its limitations, so this summer I tried Hypothes.is instead.

The students were offered a video tutorial on how to use it. I made a group just for them. The assignment was extra credit — for each of the three classes I uploaded an article for them to read and annotate, replying to each other. Sample instructions:

Extra credit for up to 3% of the grade:
1) Get your own account at Hypothes.is at https://hypothes.is/register. Please use your name as enrolled for the username.
2) Join the test group at https://hypothes.is/groups/n3an6ndm/test-group.
3) Go to https://via.hypothes.is/fand.lunarservers.com/~lisahi2/hist104/AnAggravatingAbsence.pdf
4) Annotate the article with your own responses and answer those of others. Annotations are graded on academic quality, connections to coursework, acknowledgement’s of others’ ideas, and evidence of understanding of the article.

I had been concerned that they would automatically post in Public instead of in the Test Group, because I could find no way to limit that or point them directly to the group page – the choice is made only via a drop-down menu in the upper right corner. Sure enough, several students posted in Public and missed the discussion going on in the group. I will have to add this to the instructions as well as in the tutorial.

I had thought that analysis and counting their contributions would be made easier by the brilliantly conceived Hypothesis Collector, created by John Stewart. It worked great last night. Unfortunately, when I tried it this morning, it only gave me the posts that had been made as of last night. I simply couldn’t get it to work and had to manually count annotations to assign points. I have been contacted by Jeremy Dean of Hypothes.is for ways to integrate with Canvas – this might be a huge help next year.

I am considering providing my next class textbook, The American Yawp, with my own annotations. The book, an open textbook, has a number of faults and omissions that would make for great learning opportunities for students. My own annotations would be like mini-lecture commentary, glossing on the text. But for some of the summer articles (one out of three of mine) in Hypothes.is, the section one highlights is quoted in the annotation without spaces, which is ugly. Also, there is little color or design in the annotation box to alert the student to the presence or unique character of an annotation.

Samplehypothesis

I think Kami looks better for this, and then I will export my pages as PDF for the students.

Kamisample

I had originally thought I could use The American Yawp’s own affordances as an updated online text, but just got an announcement that, ironically, their current update will be integrating Hypothes.is. Each page served by them will then come up with an invitation to annotate publicly. While this might or might not help students with the text, it provides an additional way for students to go wrong beside the Public or Group problem, so I don’t think I’ll be working off the Yawp html pages regardless.

Don’t get me wrong – the business model of Hypothes.is is wonderful. They make a real effort to reach out, adapt and update. In fact, that’s one of the reasons for this post – to provide input that I hope will continue its improvement as an open source product made by people who really understand the value of text annotation.

Results from 131 students

It’s only taken me 17 years of teaching online to develop a student survey that is both broad enough to cover all my classes and narrow enough to give me good feedback.

Just sharing a few things here. Total students responding was 131. Most students responding were passing the class.

ClassElementsRestuls

They still like my lectures the most, and textbook readings the least. They still like posting their own primary sources.

AddtlElementsResults

Hours and hours of work on that Help Page and – no surprise given what they email me about – they don’t use it. They do like seeing the whole course on one page (so I won’t switch to showing only the current week, an option in Moodle) and they like my comments and the audio of my lectures (I’ll read it for you!). The None category is a little depressing….

EngagementResults

The engagement results are clear, too. They like the lectures and posting their own source. They don’t like reading much. But they really liked what I added this year – the completion checkboxes on the Moodle page. I will be sad to lose that. But note: they like seeing each other’s work, but don’t require contact with other students. I’ve been saying that for awhile – collaboration and teamwork is online classes is not always needed. For my class, engagement with the work and posting what you find may be taking the place of “interaction” among students. They can learn from each other without necessarily engaging in forums in response to each others’ posts.

I know where you’re coming from

Starting a new year means starting a new semester, and this time it will start a week early.

The issue today was IM. My classes are in Moodle, but I’ve always used a status button so students can communicate with me instantly if I’m online.

Moodle has something called Messages. Back in version 1.x, I couldn’t tell which class a student was in when they Messaged me. Instead of fixing this in 2.x, they made it worse by removing all user information outside the courses completely, making it not only impossible to tell which class a student was in, but impossible to get back to where you were working in your course site.

I used to use Google Talk Chatback Badge instead.  It didn’t tell me which class a student was in, but at least it was easy to let them know I was available, and they didn’t have to have a Google account or log in. That’s gone. The option now is Hangouts and other stuff where they have to join Googleland. I can’t be responsible for making someone violate their own privacy that way.

Then it was Plupper, which I routed through iChat. It’s been down all week. I don’t know if it’s coming back, but all week isn’t OK, so I went hunting again.

I was getting miffed that I couldn’t find what I wanted. I was running all over the web trying to find a free service. I began to realize I didn’t really need “chat”, but some sort of help-desky thing. I was at first delighted to find Zoho LiveDesk (link removed at request of Zoho) which I could adapt. i could even create different badges for different classes. Then I discovered that this multi-button feature was only available on paid accounts – it turned out I had somehow entered a 30 trial that would expire. So much for that.

Then it occurred to me. I rent my own server space – I wondered what open source stuff was hanging out there? I found Mibew, and installed it. It even built its own database (though I had to go in and tweak a bit).

Their button was not exactly what I needed (I won’t be turning blonde and I’ve never looked that happy):

mibew_on

 

So I got into GIMP and made my own:

newchat_on
Then I made one for offline:

newchat_off

 

After installing Mibew, I was able to set up each class as a “group”, then create button code for each group, so I can see which class they’re coming from! A unique button went onto each class site – I tested them and they work.

I used the Localization feature (which was highly customizable) to change “Live Support” to “For My History Students”, my designation as “operator” to “teacher”, and the language of client and user to student.

It may not be perfect. It may fail. It may crash. Keep in mind, I don’t code. I just know enough to change other people’s code.

But as I was doing this today, I suddenly realized I was Reclaiming the Web, a goal of many smart people for 2014. Happy New Year!

Lecture, sources & discovery

Lecture is not about discovery, unless it is the discovery of how the professor processes and uses information. It can be excellent modelling. When I talk through a historical subject, and its significance, I can model how historians think.

But most professors lecture in order to relay information. This always seemed silly to me, since the “information” was in the book. Now the “information” is on the web. But if they don’t read the information, and understand it, they can get it from the lecture.

In my online lectures, there is indeed information. It is told from my perspective, and everything about it (including what I choose to discuss) represents my interpretation. Because it contains events and dates, and explains them chronologically, it constitutes “content” in the class. My online lectures include my own writing (recorded in audio), links to websites, embedded video, and specially marked links to primary sources.

These sources were originally collected in a paper workbook. Now each unit’s collection is on a web page. Some of them have audio reading the documents (as I’d like to do with Edmund Burke). Questions on these documents are included in the lecture quiz each week.

In “discussion”, my students do not discuss, but rather post their own primary sources, then write about several of the ones posted and the way they tell us something about that era. Through this process I teach historical writing (thesis and evidence).

This week something interesting happened.

In my Depression lecture for US History, I feature a section on Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds, his radio broadcast from Halloween 1938:

 lecturewarofworlds

But not until a student posted it as a YouTube video did any of them, as far as I can tell, actually listen to it.

Then this happened:

warworldsdisc

So I’m thinking. No one went to find the audio before, but they watched a video (that’s really just audio) posted in the forum. Someone was interested because a fellow student posted it. Sure, she posted it because it was mentioned in lecture (maybe), but a student actually experienced it because it was posted by another student rather than by me.

So….back to those other primary sources, the ones I actually assign. Those written primary sources are posted by me as part of the lecture. I suspect few actual read them except to answer quiz questions.

Perhaps if they discovered them instead of me providing the sources? We already do that – they find and post sources every week. Maybe I shouldn’t select sources at all. Perhaps the collection they make is fine – especiallly if they actually look at or listen to what the others post.

I must think on the implications of instructor-provided content. We have this idea that instructors need to curate content. I could do that in a different, more engaging way. But first I need to be sure that, at least when it comes to primary sources, I should be doing it at all.

What do you mean no tags? Conceptualizing what online teachers need.

So I had this great idea that next semester, when students post their primary sources in the forum, they could tag them with a topic. I could provide a list of tags that represent larger areas, the sort of topics they can later work into historical themes: fashion, war, society, medicine, politics, economy, etc. This would work better than search, and allow them to browse the collection they’d created as they thought about their research approach.

But when I went to look at the settings in Moodle (1.9 and 2.2 and 2.3), there was no such thing as tags for a forum post, or even a glossary entry (my other new idea). Moodle only has tags for student “blogs”, which are connected only to each student’s profile and do not work in any interconnected way.

This was a big reminder that Moodle is still an LMS, and that sometimes I simply cannot configure it to do what I need. In WordPress such a thing is a no-brainer, and of course I can set this up in WP, but didn’t I just decide there was no real need for that?

It occurred to me that what I want to do represents an overlap that LMS thinkers don’t understand – the interrelationship between “content” and “activity”. The main Moodle blocks have two drop-down menus when you want to add something, and they clearly indicate the mindset:

A “resource” is supposed to be static, and an “activity” is supposed to be interactive.

A “forum” is considered an activity, a platform for “discussion”. I’m not using it for discussion, but rather for having students create a set of resources (without that nasty confusion a database would bring into play). The students are thus actively creating a “resource” that they need to search and access throughout the class. The lack of acknowledgement of such interplay is what leads designers to think of tags only in terms of blogs.

I am also setting up some secondary historical readings for my Honors class, and there’s no way in Moodle to have students annotate them together.

I just want a static resource, an article, that I’ve introduced, and have students annotate it collaboratively. The only “activity” available in Moodle would be a wiki, and it would not allow in-line commentary. I admit I’m somewhat Talmudic in my idea of what a collaboratively annotated document would look like. So I’ll be trying a circuitous route, uploading a pdf article into Crocodoc, then embedding the resulting doc in a Moodle page to allow for in-place commenting without students needing an account. It’s an awkward solution at best, and one which requires me to wear a Fair Use t-shirt and remove the articles after the semester.

The perpetuation of the division between “content” and “activity” causes harm to learning and prevents some of that innovative methodology everyone says they want. The idea that resources and “discussion” are separate gets passed down to new teachers going online, and they set up their classes that way, limiting their pedagogy.

So, note to LMS designers, including Moodle:

Stop adding internal “features” to your LMS based on webapps you see people using externally  (“blogs”, “scholar”), and start rethinking why teachers use those things. Think about the interactivity between “content” (or resource or page or presentation) and “activity” (the stuff that means servers have to talk to each other).

Wrap your head around the concepts, not just the tools, of teaching online.

The death of Google Talk chatback badge

The Google Talk chatback badge  has been important to a number of us faculty. We are frequently logged into Gmail anyway, and the badge let us put a bit of html on any webpage and students could click and IM with us without logging in to anything. Well, now it’s gone – Google has stopped supporting it and it doesn’t work anymore. They made no announcement (except a single post in a Google Group) and the badges still look like they work, but they don’t. I found out when Pilar Hernández, my esteemed colleague, had students screaming they couldn’t reach her.

I also have featured the badge on all my course pages and my home page for years. I recently made a tutorial on how to use them.

We can discuss why Google did this, and why Google doesn’t care, but I’m confident it’s because they don’t like the anonymity of it. They want everyone in Google Plus, which requires a Google account so they can track you. Given my concerns, I’m not comfortable forcing students into Google-dom just so they can chat with me.

Pilar and I spent all afternoon today trying alternatives.  Finding a replacement for Google chatback isn’t easy – it was a seamless and simple service. It wasn’t a shoutbox and it could be put anywhere, and on many different pages. Using this resource, we tried anything that was free. Meebo Messenger, Pilar’s backup, is also shutting down as of July 11,  so we had to go elsewhere.

Here’s what we tried. (Note: we discovered that none of the below worked with the Google Talk feature enabled – it’s obvious Google has gotten rid of that support also.)

  • Plugoo – commercial looking, big, didn’t work with some browsers
  • Olark – insisted I allow it to access all my Google contacts, and I had to email them to close the account
  • Zoho chat – can log in, but only puts shout box on one page
  • Chatbadge.com – when we tested it, we couldn’t get the messages to actually get to their destination – it seemed like the best but we couldn’t get it to work
  • Online Chat Centers – serious overkill, obviously for major helpdesks, had to log in directly and answer the phone, had a major New Delhi feel to it
  • Yahoo Messenger Pingbox  – not visible in all browsers, must log into Yahoo Messenger, doesn’t relay nickname properly

Our best choice was Plupper. It looked good, and has an open API. We were able to get it working by following the instructions for iChat  for Mac, and Miranda for PC.


https://www.google.com/jsapihttps://static.plupper.com/js/plupper.js
//

It does mean more work, since you have to have the IM client open and be logged in. Nowhere near as convenient for us, but just as convenient for students, which is what we needed.

When feedback isn’t seen as feedback

It’s taken me almost a year to figure out what might have gone wrong with last summer’s class. I need to take a look since this summer’s class starts Monday.

Last summer, thrilled at having only 40 students to tend to in an 8-week class, I had students post their historical theses in the forums instead of on a closed essay exam. I graded them according to a qualitative scale that translated into points, and made comments on each directly in the forums, which took a great deal of time.

I was at first so very happy with this method, having spent much time setting it up so beautifully. Then the class was over, and I got the evaluation, completed by only 16 students.
Ignoring the typical one-person-who-hates-everything-I-do student, 5 felt class expectations weren’t stated clearly. A surprising 6 didn’t find the Contribution Assessments helpful (these contain direct feedback for each and every student, in private), and though 14 said they read my comments on their own mini-essays in the forum, 2 thought I wasn’t even present and visible during class. Some comments on the open essays said:

“It would be helpful if we received more feedback on our short essays instead of a general comments so that we could improve our writing skills.”

“For someone who struggles with the weekly thesis maybe a little more information but since it was a summer class it was face paced. I enjoyed the class the grading was fair just needed a better understanding of the thesis but that could just be me.”

“I think more feedback on the essays is necessary. The only kind of feedback that I received was if something was wrong with my essay, but it would be nice to know the things that I’m doing well so that I could continue incorporating things into the essays that worked well.”

“I wish there was more direction for the writing assignments. Especially the final assessment.”

It has thus occurred to me that the continual, extensive feedback I gave several times a week on the posted essays was not seen as actual feedback or guidance by some of the students.

Keep in mind before you say I’m justing whining, that I give this evaluation every semester, and the overwhelming majority say my expectations are clear, the assignments are helpful, and the things they recommend tend to be things like “more content” or “less work”. Keep in mind also that my public comments on their essays were very specific, but kind and designed not to embarrass anyone. I also marked some of them with a bold For Everyone tag in the subject line, to provide more general comments at the same time. I thought this was brilliant — evidently not so much.

I can’t help but wonder whether doing closed essay grading instead, even if I said the exact same thing on each essay, would have led to a different result. Is it possible that forum postings from the instructor aren’t seen as feedback in the same way we view a private comment on a quiz?

So for the class that starts Monday, I have put the essays back into a standard, private, midterm and final exam format, with (as usual) the practice in the forums. We’ll see what happens.