Strategies for assessment

Jill Malone, MiraCosta College (Media Arts and Technologies)

In some ways project assessment for my online students is nearly identical to that of my on-site classes. Maintaining very high standards (I keep raising that bar and they keep meeting it, it’s awesome) and providing my students with a clear, detailed assessment rubric (evaluation guide, check list, whatever you choose to call it that might look like this: Rubric for PS Project 2-online) that defines exactly what I’m going to assess and how I’m going to assess it are key to both my online and on-site courses. “I was supposed to do that???” is not something I should ever hear, and if I do it’s because (1) the student didn’t bother to read the rubric, or (2) my rubric is a mess and I need to fix it.

I’ve also learned that if I want to assess excellent work from my students, it helps to show them what “excellent work” actually looks like. This, of course, is more easily done in an on-site class where I have printed examples to share. For my online students, however, this entails generating yet another instructional video. Okay, I can hear some of you protesting that you’ve already created a hundred online videos and You Are Over It, thank you very much. Great, this will be video #101. It’s worth it. I’ve found that providing examples of outstanding work from former students stimulates creativity and demonstrates by example that exceptional craftsmanship really is achievable in my class. Here’s a for-instance: For their second project my students need to create a digitally painted piece that visually expresses the emotions and imagery a particular song evokes for them. Sound like fun? It is! Easy to do? Absolutely not! So to get them started I provide a video with examples of what other students have done. In addition, I created a video with a  “before & after” example by a former student that illustrates some artistic hurdles she experienced with Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and how she handled them. I’ve found that the more time and effort I invest up front providing good examples for my students to ponder, the better the results are at the end (and the less work and frustration I have) when it comes time to assess their creations.

Even so, I found the artistic quality of the work in my online class wasn’t as good as that of my on-site students, and the reason was pretty obvious. In my on-site classes everyone learns from the immediate, real-time feedback I give each student during our rough draft critique sessions, which in turn, makes for dramatically improved final projects. But how to accomplish this in an online course where everything is asynchronous? The answer: By making this part of the course not asynchronous. So now, as a required part of their project grade every student must attend a real-time, synchronous rough draft lab session where, using Collaborate, I capture their computer screen and share it with the other students in attendance. At that point I can see what they’ve done and how they’ve done it, and I can offer suggestions for improvement. To accommodate the various schedules of my students I offer these synchronous sessions at different times during the week – in the evening, in the morning, and in the afternoon – so every student can attend at least one session. I also post the dates and times of these synchronous lab sessions prominently in the course syllabus so each student can plan ahead for them. This has improved immensely the quality of the work submitted by my online students, which in turn has made my assessment of these projects much easier.

And finally, there’s that business of assigning a numeric grade to each student and providing the rationale behind that grade. For years I wrote paragraphs explaining this-is-why-you-got-the-grade-you-did to each student, trying so hard to explain what was done well and what wasn’t and how to improve. Except I’m never sure they even read my carefully crafted comments. Plus, the tone I was trying to convey never seemed to make it across in my writing (and probably still doesn’t, are you all bored to tears??). So I stopped doing it. Instead, I now create and attach an MP3 file with my verbal comments (fictitious MP3). Because my students have heard that familiar voice week in and week out from all my posted videos, there’s no question who’s talking to them. This simple switch from text to audio has been a godsend: It’s been well received by my students, and posting their grades is faster and easier for me to do.

Oh good lord, I just blathered on for four full paragraphs! Is anyone still reading this?? I swore I was going to keep this discourse to a hundred words or less. Not even close. Sorry! That’ll teach you, Lisa, to ask me to contribute to a blog!

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