Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Assessments as Instructional Tools

Something that came up in class started a train of thought on assessments. Charles mentioned the use of assessments as instructional tools. We discussed the general lack of this in education and some of the complications of doing so. Despite some of the complications, with all the tools we have, this seems a little silly. An institute of higher education exists to instruct and facilitate learning. All too often a student goes to take their test and then never looks at it again (unless there is some way to get more points by looking at it afterward or if they know it will help them in some cumulative final). I can remember classes where I just wanted to take the test, see my score and be done with it. The testing center is set up perfectly to reinforce that idea; no feedback is provided, you can't look at the test after it is graded unless the professor returns it. Therefore the only learning gains from a test is the preparation. It seems this usage of assessments represents an incorrect focus in learning, meaning the assessment is geared toward the institution's and professor's benefit rather than the student and learning. Perhaps it is due to administrative ease, or to create an obstacle to cheating, or save on/ compensate for a lack of resources. Either way they rarely help a student really learn. In my opinion formal teaching has much more bang for its buck when there is a pattern of pre-teaching preparation on the part of the student, the actual instruction, and then lots of follow up. In my experience in a training setting this model is very effective. Perhaps I would even go so far as to say that the follow up is where most of the learning gains (50%) and experience happens because it involves the application of what was learned. The pre-training and training can be split various ways to make up the other 50%.

So with that said it seems that assessments in some ways should be part of the training or teaching piece rather than the follow up. This would mean that the post-assessment activities and application of what was learned would be the key follow up where most of the learning would happen. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Collaborative structures that the Lord has given us.

There are probably a few collaborative levels in a family. As far as immediate families I see three groups that interact distinctly enough, in certain contexts, to merit being different structures or at least substructures: 1) the entire family, 2) parents, 3) children. As far as the family as a collaborative structure I'll I really have to go off of is my own experience. There were 8 of us, 6 children, my mom, and dad. Rarely did all the kids make up their own collaborative structure because of the age spread and the different interests and circumstances but often a group of about 3 maybe 4 kids would band together and collaborate. Likewise, the parents were the heart of the collaborative structure. They would pull different or all of the kids into the "collaborative group" as needed. By design I think the "experts" in the family or those who have more experience learn just as much as the novices though the novices usually don't see it that way.

Interactions between collaborative structures:
As I think about family as a collaborative structure it seems that a very important factor is interaction between one collaborative group and another. For example, the immediate family is one structure and then you have extended family. How those two structures interact can define each other. For example, if there is unity between the two when they come together the immediate family almost feels like a subset of the extended. If there is no unity, need for each other, or ties then they become distinct groups. Also, it gets really hard to feel like the entire extended family is a collaborative structure just because of the size, much like a large class compared to a group from that class that works together.

Outside of the family I think the Lord has given us many other collaborative structures: quorums, classes, neighbors, and friends make up just a few. As I grew up I had a handful of close friends, they were from both quorums and school classes. They had a large influence on my life and I think the Lord knew that I needed those people who really were, in many ways, a collaborative structure. There were about 5 of us most of the time and because of that collaborative structure I learned things and participated in many things that I would not have otherwise. We were different enough to learn from each other yet we had mostly similar interests. Those with more aptitude and experience in a specific interest pulled the rest of the group into those areas that they maybe would not have seen or chosen to be involved in individually. Those interactions also allowed us to build faith in the principle that we are able to "act for [our]selves and not to be acted upon" in such a way that we can "do much good" (2 Ne 2:26, 2 Ne 3:24) and achieve things that were difficult.

In all cases these collaborative structures can potentially provide negative experiences that perhaps hinder faith and learning. Perhaps understanding among group members, a unity of purpose, a willingness to adapt and change, shared positive experiences and other similar factors help avoid a negative collaborative structure.

There is no way to eliminate individual structure in life. The Lord has built it in. Rich experiences come as we learn to be "with ourselves." I also see activities such as personal scripture study, personal hobbies and sitting down just to think alone as individual structure. It seems that the quest of improvement and ultimately salvation is a rich interaction between the key life components of individual structure and collaborative structure, particularly in the family.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Unaccredited Organizations

Wikipedia has a long list of these schools. Interestingly enough, most are religious institutions.

Accreditation and Quality Control?

As opposed to many other countries where the government has an educational body that takes responsibility for accreditation, the U.S. Department of Education does not accredit schools. Rather the principle of peer review is used. If I understand it right, in practice this means that accreditation groups are formed by members of the academic community that the group will then accredit. What are the pros and cons to this version of quality control?

The peer review system could push itself to higher standards as peers will most likely ask more of the other schools than a government agency would.

The system is self-regulating and not driven by a government agency which may lack the resources and time to maintain high accreditation standards.

Academic organizations get some form of cross pollination of ideas.

Conflict of interest, it seems that because members' schools get accredited and these same members accredit others there may be an occasionaly conflict of interest.

Peers may fail to hold a high standard because they may not want to meet that standard at their own organization.

Not as unified accreditation standards across different accreditation groups. Maybe this isn't a con.

I still like the peer reviewed system but is that the best quality control for higher education? What about industries getting involved in accreditation since they are the secondary client receiveing those students educated at schools into their companies and organizations. Also, what student quality control is taken into account for accreditation. I don't think that student ratings count as student quality control and it seems that students may be a good source for quality control data. What about an international accreditation body so that the peer group is expanded and includes more ideas and different standards. Do we do this at all in any way?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Applying CoI to Interaction

I had this blog entry sitting in my drafts forever. Since I have been working on my research proposal I have learned some interesting things about communities of practice. Somehow when we discussed it in class I missed the fact that a community of inquiry (CoI) is a type of community of practice (CoP). It seemed to me that interaction would be the heart of these communities. I draw this conclusion assuming that the power of any kind of CoP is the social capital that comes from the shared tacit and book knowledge of the group. That knowledge is best shared with the community via members of the CoP hence the interaction becomes key. I thought it very interesting when I ran across a visual representation of Moore's interactions overlaid on the CoI model that represents this idea. You can find this article by Swan at

Forming a CoI also seems very difficult, unless perhaps you look at it through the facilitation of interactions. Of course interaction along will not do it. I have two examples from work. In two different teams we had somewhat of a CoP but very different results came out of those two groups. In one we openly discusses and brainstormed about a project which lead to new ideas , capabilities and greatly shortened the learning curve. In another the CoP interacted just as much or more but for some reason we became stuck in analysis paralysis. We had interaction in both cases with similar types of people but the context of the interaction and weight placed on it was very differennt. Despite this it seems that a community of practice could go a long way in refining skills, identifying best practices, saving time by counseling together, coming up with better solutions that have been thought through more thoroughly and avoid problems/mistakes.
Something I would hope to learn more about is the idea of how one becomes a part of a CoP and the process of them going from newcomers to experienced members of the group. One idea that I found deals with the idea that a newcomer does simple, peripheral type activities within the community that still contribute to the community's purpose. They continue to increase in activity until they are experienced members. Wikipedia has a little blurp on this. It is called the legitimate peripheral participation theory that describes this process but one of its creators later abandoned or transformed his thinking on this process. I am not sure why.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Virtual Schools: Distance ed in K12

After Michael Barbour's class I had the thought that we know so very little about distance education for K-12 especially grades lower than high school. However, we are quickly moving to having more and more of these distance programs. I was disappointed that more had not been done to analyze the effectiveness and effects on the students. At first I thought, man our government is irresponsible for pushing some of these programs at times and yet not funding research to find out more about them. Then I thought that perhaps the responsibility falls as much on educators and educational researchers as it does the government. Anyway, my feelings of the need for research were confirmed in this week's readings:

"Little empirical research has been performed to determine [distance education's] effectiveness in elementary and secondary settings. Questions remain about the educational needs best addressed through online learning as well as its impact on school improvement and learner outcomes. Programs of research informed by early lessons learned are needed to inform the future development of online learning. "

As I looked through the conclusions and findings of the 8 research projects that were funded I did not find much that helped answer the educational needs that would be best addressed through online learning. In fact I found that most of the articles said that there was a need for more research or that perhaps there were problems with the random samples or the implementation of the experimental design. I can understand that it could be difficult to do an experiment design in an educational settings. Educators, and parents may not want their children to be randomly assigned to different groups like lab rats if they feel they may not "make it" or that it may not give them the experience they think they should have.

Anyway, the other problem that seemed glaring to me was stated in the article:

"Research on K-12 online learning rarely has been conducted in a sustained, systematic manner. There is a pressing need for efforts to organize and systematize research on the effectiveness of K-12 online learning."


What good is a critic with no better plan right? I don't think I have the answers but it seems to me that there are some great research opportunities here. If a group of experienced researchers could formulate a systematic plan with a set timeline to evaluate the effectiveness of K-12 distance learning based on what we already know and ensure that the studies will really get at what we want--effectiveness then I have to think that our government would take the responsibility to fund such an undertaking. As a tax payer I for one would want to know if these distance educational experiences are going to help our children. I'd also want to know at what point these experiences are most effective and with which content areas.

Quotes taken form

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Blended Learning

I've been slacking on my blog but hope to dive into this a lot over the next little while and get into the blogs of all the rest of the distance ed students.

I've been thinking about what we discussed tonight and here are a couple of take home messages I pulled from the discussion:

Don't take technology and just do what you would do in a F2F setting with it. One of the things we should think more carefully about as designers and teachers is taking technology and distance ed tools and using them to figure out how its strengths and differences can transform pedagogy for the better.

Another way of putting this is--use blended learning to change pedagogy rather than enhancing what's already there. Use technology to do things we cannot do otherwise. Transform the class not just make it more productive.

I like this idea but do struggle with it a little bit. In the little experience I have this seems very difficult. I haven't seen any kind of "products" including technology, or other materials for that matter, that have changed pedagogy. What I have seen is that it can help reinforce a change in one's learning/teaching philosophy, methodology, and style or take away from that change but not actually make it. There has to be something more to make a shift like that. With that said I think there are isolated instances where the technology seemed to change the dynamic of a course which appeared as a change in pedagogy. My personal feeling on this is that the teacher using that technology has already begun to transform their pedagogy and the technology is reinforcing that change.

In addition, I will shamelessly generalize and say that the tendency of most teachers, myself included, is to use technology to improve what is already there. Because of that tendency I think we are much better off trying to figure out and look for ways to use technology to do things we cannot do otherwise despite the argument that it may not transform our pedagogy.

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