June 27, 2012

Moving Assessments Online

As with so many other aspects of education, assessment is moving more and more online.

Assessment movements usually start in K-12 by mandates and sometimes trickle up to higher education later. In the 2014-15 academic year, more than forty states will implement their online testing programs. Thirty states already do their summative assessments online, but the new assessments will require more of the schools including changes in instruction, and possibly different tech devices and high-speed bandwidth.

These new assessments are being created by two major consortia of states, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). They are based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and will try to assess address higher-order thinking skills and problem solving.

As online assessments they will include the traditional multiple-choice questions but also simulations, computer-based items, short answers, and a lot of writing.

The objective is to cover all the standards, some of which are harder to measure, especially online. Part of the appeal of online testing is being able to obtain results quickly with the hope that teachers can use the results to affect instruction for classes and even specific students.

June 25, 2012

A University Open Textbook Project

I have been an advocate for open textbooks. I think they are a good way to cut costs and put more textbooks in the hands of our students. But I'll admit that they are not widely used.

There are a number of possible reasons for that. They aren't easy to find, even though there are a number of sites that collect open and free titles. Instructors don't always trust that titles are "as good" as commercial textbooks. It also takes time to review titles for adoption.

The University of Minnesota has started its own online catalog of open books. In an effort to reduce costs for students, the College of Education and Human Development created the catalog to be reviewed by faculty members. The books are all released under a Creative Commons, or similar, license, and instructors can customize the books to fit their course needs.

Students can access free digital versions or purchase low-cost print copies of open textbooks. The university will pay its professors $500 each time they post an evaluation of one of those books, and professors who have already adopted open-source texts will also receive $500. (The money comes from donor funds.)

They hope to address faculty concerns about locating texts and having quality control over titles that have been peer-reviewed. They have almost a hundred books in the catalog.

Although it is encouraging that UM is working to get open textbooks used on campus, I find it discouraging that they need to duplicate the efforts of other repositories that are collecting textbooks and reviews on a larger scale.

What do you consider the most important criteria in choosing an open textbook for use in your teaching? Check my list and vote here.

June 21, 2012

Video Lectures for the Flipped Classroom

As a follow up to yesterday's post about the flipped classroom, here are "Lessons Worth Sharing" - TED-Ed’s idea of sharing presentations (lectures? sort of) on great ideas. Probably some of you already use a TED talk with your students. The example mentioned in the video promo below is "Just How Small is an Atom?" By Jon Bergmann. More videos that were flipped by teachers are being posted all the time.

I have used videos online as short, flipped lectures. One I like to use is from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson about "Changing Education Paradigms." Though I had education majors in my class this semester, the class was on critical thinking. Students watched, enjoyed and remembered the video throughout the semester and the discussion was lively.

One thing I liked about this particular version of his talk is that the video portion of Robinson actually speaking is replaced by an animated version of someone drawing (very well) on a white board to illustrate Robinson's points.

I asked them to answer some questions based on their viewing at home the 12 minute video.
  1. Robinson assumes you know this - What is a paradigm?
  2. Why does he believe that we need to change public education today?
  3. What is his opinion about ADHD?
  4. How would he group students in classes?
  5. How would he compare divergent thinking versus creativity?
  6. Explain his example of geniuses in kindergarten.
  7. How would Robinson compare/contrast cheating versus collaboration?
  8. Summarize what you feel are his 3 main arguments.
  9. How does having the visualization of his talk change the way we hear/see his talk?  Is this visual thinking?

June 20, 2012

Can You Flip a College Classroom?

If you haven't heard, the "flipped classroom" is a big concept in education this year, especially in the upper grades of K-12.

It's the idea of using technology like online video instruction, laptops, DVDs of lessons etc. to flip/reverse what students have traditionally done in class and at home to learn. For example, listening to lectures becomes the homework assignment and teachers use the class time for more one-on-one attention in class and students can work at their own pace or with other students.

Though an article I read traced the flipped classroom to a 2008 experiment by two Colorado chemistry teachers, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, it's not so different from other concepts we have seen in educating with tech. Their idea that students need their teachers there to answer questions or to provide help if they get stuck on an assignment, but they might not need teachers present to listen to a lecture or review content.

When I was at NJIT and we launched our podcasting initiative and became one of the first schools on Apple's iTunes U, we were trying some of the same things. Have students watch and listen to a lecture before class and use the time in class to follow up with discussion and questions.

Of course, professors have been doing that for a long time with readings. And the two forms of content have the same problem. What if students don't do the reading or watch the lecture? I hear many professors complain that students 1) don't buy the book(s)   2) even if they do, they don't read them  3) if they do read them, they don't seem to retain or understand any of what they read.

You might assume that students are more likely to watch a lecture than read a chapter, but I don't think the evidence for that is clear.

Flipped classrooms allow students to work at their own pace and allow teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students.

Those two teachers have a book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day and there is a Flipped Learning Network, a nonprofit organization launched this spring to train teachers from schools across the socio-economic spectrum in the strategy.

A article I read this week about an attempt to flip a classroom in a Portland, Oregon elementary school, points out one major obstacle. "Flipped Classroom' Model's Promise Eludes Poorer School Districts" shows that the teacher discovered that none of her students had computers at home. She had just one in the classroom.

Sometimes we make the assumption that there is ubiquitous computing and (high-speed) Internet access amongst our students. That is particularly true with college students who we imagine all being plugged in via their smartphones 24/7. The article points out that anecdotal evidence suggests that flipping classrooms is a more popular practice in wealthier suburban communities where nearly all students have Internet access at home and schools are more likely to have computers in classrooms.

Another criticism of the flipped classroom is that it still relies on lectures by teachers. Remember that over-used mantra of "guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage?" What happened?

In higher ed, blended learning (AKA hybrid learning) is probably the closest thing in place now to the flipped classroom. It too attempts to move some of the learning online, or at least out of the classroom space, and using the face-to-face time for what works best in that setting.

When I was designing hybrid courses, I always told faculty right off that they should do in the classroom whatever worked best in the classroom. If that meant having their truly dynamic lectures live and moving the discussion online, then do that.

Are you doing anything like a flipped classroom?  How would the flipped writing class work? Would it be like the low-residency MFA writing program?

We would love to get your comments.

June 5, 2012

Access Versus Success

The open-door policy at community colleges is unique in American higher education. It's all about broad access and it has prepared hundreds of millions of people for entry into the work force or to transfer to four-year colleges. Community colleges serve about 30 percent of all students in higher education.

But now we have less state and local/county money available and that requires painful choices.

Add to that a nationwide effort that is supported by the Obama administration to boost education levels, speed up the time it takes to get through a program, and to use resources for degree programs rather than for basic and developmental (remedial) and ESL courses.

The focus has moved to getting students who are most likely to graduate in three years (the magic number of years for two-year schools - it's 6 years for 4-year schools).

Some stats: Community college three-year graduation rates average in the low 20 percent range and a good number, including PCCC, are below ten percent. In 2009, the last year for which the federal government has reported data, close to 400 community colleges had graduation rates less than 15 percent.

Many people see the future as as a time when access to all is not the mission of the community college.

Earlier this year, the American Association of Community Colleges reported that this national completion agenda is starting to affect community colleges.

"Community colleges are being hammered to increase graduation rates," says Gary D. Rhoades, a professor of higher education at the University of Arizona, who also works with the Center for the Future of Higher Education, a research group. "One way to do that is to change the sort of student you serve."

What happens to the millions of low-income and minority students who look to attend community colleges every year, many of whom need remedial education first?

Nationally, more than 60 percent of students at two-year colleges are put into developmental education. Those students will usually take a year or more to catch up before taking their first college-level course. Unfortunately, many of them fail, or do not progress, and just drop out.

Although we spend more than $2-billion a year helping these students in English and mathematics skills (according to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College) the results are not impressive and don't justify the expenditure to those who provide the funding.

At PCCC, we are looking to separate our ESL and developmental students (currently, about 75% of our student population) from the college-level prepared students. It makes sense if you are trying raise the rate of students who graduate in three years because the clock starts on a student as soon as they take classes. If they spend a year in ESL and another year in developmental studies, even if they shoot through their college classes in two years, it's a four year run.

PCCC and other schools are looking at approaches such as moving those non-college-level students to units such as Continuing Education. There they may get remediation in computer-based adaptive learning classes. 

There are also financial considerations. Students who take developmental and also college level courses several times without passing still pay tuition each time. We are getting five times a single tuition rate for that student to get through one class.

And the land of financial aid is changing too. Pell Grants, which many of our students obtain, are changing and it seems that if students use their aid for remediation, there will be nothing left for them when they reach college level.

Success is important. So is access. Can we have both, or do we need to choose?

Some other related thoughts:

Education for All? 2-Year Colleges Struggle to Preserve Their Mission

Is Privatization the Answer? http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/04/23/community-college-leaders-told-privatization-wave-future