Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Participation in the First Assessment BOOC at Indiana University: A Unique Learning Experience

 Marina was a student of mine in 2003-2004 at the University of Georgia.  She worked with me on a project that provided the core theories behind the participatory approaches to motivation and assessment that eventually formed the Participatory Learning and Assessment design research framework used to create the BOOC.  I asked her to write about her experiences.  Dan Hickey

by Marina Michael

I completed the first Big Open Online Course offered last semester by Dan Hickey at Indiana University. I have to admit that my participation in this course, sponsored by Google, was one of the most valuable learning experiences I have had as an elementary school teacher for several years now. I teach fifth and sixth graders language arts, math and science. Alongside teaching I pursued graduate studies in the area of Educational Psychology and I recently earned a doctoral degree. My interest in educational assessment emerged from my work with Dan in 2003-2004 when I completed my M. A. in Educational Psychology at the University of Georgia. Back then, I had my first encounter with participatory ideas on learning and motivation that were just emerging. When I received an invitation to participate in this BOOC on Assessment last August I was intrigued. I was really interested in seeing how the participatory ideas on motivation and assessment I learned about when I studied with Dan were developed. Now, almost a decade later, those emerging ideas form a participatory pedagogy readily applicable in online learning settings.
The innovative wikifolios, developed with Course Builder (Google’s Open Learning Platform), with their highly interactive functions formed the basis for a unique learning experience. This was my first experience in online learning and I was excited to learn about practices, principles and policies on assessment via interactions through the process of reviewing classmates’ work. In this class, weekly assignments presented in wikifolios got endorsed as complete by peer review. Weekly assignments could also get promoted by peers who were required to provide reasoning for promoting a particular wikifolio. It was really really motivating to see your work get endorsed and promoted by your peers! Participants were organized in networking groups (e.g. administrators, educators, researchers, etc). At the end of each week, the person in each group who got promoted the most got public recognition! I guess everybody was looking forward to Friday feedback for two reasons: (a) receive feedback on concepts and ideas related to the unit we studied, and (b) find out who was the person who received the most promotions!  Moreover, participants who completed wikifolios and successfully passed exams earned digital badges. One could share digital badges over social networks. I recently shared my third badge (Assessment Principles) on Facebook and I had friends asking to learn more about digital badges. I feel particularly proud of this badge as it was a leader badge. A leader badge was awarded to class participants who were promoted the most on any one of the three sections of the course.
For me, this BOOC defined innovation as it transformed theory into practice. This online class provided evidence that the ideas about learning and engagement that Dan was working on while I was studying with him can be put into practice. The digital collaborative interactions over wikifolios demonstrated the true value of learning as participation in ‘communities of practice’ by Jean Lave in the early 90’s.  A centerpiece of the pedagogy that supported this course was a participatory approach to personalized learning. Everybody learned core concepts on assessment at the same pace but in close conjunction to one’s context and experience. As I have learned in this course assessment guides instruction and some broad important curriculum aims guide assessment. Thus, in order to consider and apply concepts, at the beginning of the course we were required to state a curriculum aim that seemed important in our context. Alongside the course I revised my aim a couple of times making it more specific and measureable. Also, a few weeks after the course had started I felt the need to narrow down my role and, as a result, my context. I started out as both an educator and a researcher. As the course proceeded my identity was shaped to that of an ‘elementary school teacher’. That helped me more readily apply concepts and ideas and learn better. It also helped my networking and interaction with peers.
I also learned that classroom assessment can be transformed to support learning. I am now confident that I can put this big idea into practice.   Formative assessment may be a key in transforming the classroom climate into a culture where everybody wants to learn and understand better. As a teacher, I have narrowed down my focus on a set of broad scope important curriculum aims and I try to use those aims to guide the construction of assessments (although I have to admit it is really challenging to develop assessments before instruction!).  I have installed portfolios in my classroom and I also strive to provide meaningful feedback on each assessment. Also, I am more attentive to possible bias sources and try to eliminate bias from my assessments. Another thing I am now doing better is that I try to give clearer, more straightforward and specific instructions to my students both in assessments and assignments. Moreover, as I was so intrigued by the participatory approach to motivation I experienced as a student in this BOOC, I installed a paper and pencil public recognition practice in my classroom. At the end of each day, students are required to nominate one of their group peers as the person who was more attentive and appeared to put an effort on understanding better. They are also required to nominate a person for helping them be more attentive and understanding better. At the end of each week, students who are promoted the most in each group have their names displayed on a board titled ‘The students of the week’.
The instructors and technical stuff made an amazing team that supported the process wonderfully. They were all very responsive! Instructors participated in discussions that took place in wikifolios providing tons of insightful feedback, both before and after the completion of weekly assignments. I recently earned a fourth badge, that is an Expert Badge and I feel proud of it! I would strongly recommend this class to educators.

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