Saturday, June 28, 2014

Putting the cart before the horse on MOOCs

Saying that the MOOC debate rages on is rather like saying, "Mosquitoes bother me," yet I encounter that quotidian statement in pretty much every article I read regarding the issue. It probably doesn't help that the name itself sounds like some street-level pejorative but we use the words we have, not the ones we want.

As a fairly-new construct of how knowledge is delivered, MOOCs would naturally be controversial based on their relatively recent introduction to the education field. However, aside from stale arguments that MOOCs can't deliver what classroom instruction can (an argument that has existed since the introduction of the first online course), most of the arguments I've encountered against MOOCs have been specious, at best.

Probably the most contentious issue surrounding MOOCs is their potential for social and economic equality (as I argued for in the this paper) and it's funny how ironic arguments from the Left and the Right cavil about the death of the academy, the Left squealing about how universities should be opened up to everyone, the Right whining about  the death of elite institutions.

Putting matters of delivery aside, MOOCs are the first step in an educational revolution, where learners decide what knowledge matters to them and that knowledge is delivered to them as it matters. For the first time in human history, learners have the capacity to attain knowledge no matter their circumstances or geographical isolation (provided they have a broadband connection). The potential for economic and social justice is here and it's about to be manifest.

Are MOOCs a nostrum? Not at all -- the problem of income inequality has to be dealt with, first and foremost. However, the potential to undercut the current system has begun with MOOCs, especially as learners from marginalized populations take advantage of their educational opportunities an use that position to bring up brothers and sisters.

Indeed, the potential for social and economic change is huge due to the possibles afforded through informal learning opportunities. That possibility will be dealt with in a later post.

Multiple-choice and essay assessments

As two “traditional” assessment types, multiple-choice (MC) and essay-type (ET) questions have the clear distinction of the former being mostly objective and the latter being mostly subjective in scoring. With that distinction made, it would seem on the surface that the real benefit lies with MC assessments since there are fewer opportunities for bias with those types of questions relative to ET assessments (Greifeneder, R., Zelt, S., Seele, T., Bottenberg, K., & Alt, A., 2012). However, the issue is not that cut-and-dried and it is clear that, despite the benefits and disadvantages of both types of assessments, both types should be used (among other types of assessments) since, “Using a variety of assessments acknowledges the variety of prior knowledge, cultural experiences, and learning styles that students bring to the classroom,” (Suskie, 2009).

As far as advantages, MC test items are often used in many different subject-matter areas, measuring a great variety of educational objectives, while being adaptable to various levels of learning outcomes, from simple recall to measuring difficult levels of knowledge. Scores are less influenced by guesses than true-false items and research has shown that guessing is not only uncommon on well-formed MC test items but a bad test-taking strategy (DiBattista & Kurzawa, 2011). Furthermore, MC items are very useful for assessment in large classes especially considering scoring advantages such as the time of correction, efficiency, accuracy, objectivity and covering large amounts of material. Finally, MC items provide the most useful format for comparing longitudinal data across year-to-year cohorts due to the assessment’s inherent objectivity (Torres, Lopes, Babo, & Azevedo, 2011).

Among the disadvantages of MC test items are that they focus on what students can remember and do not assess the extent to which they can understand, apply and analyze course-related information (Seldomridge, & Walsh, 2006). Furthermore, with MC item-only tests (such as many statewide high-stakes standards-based testing) measure only a subset of competencies associated with curriculum standards, while other competencies (specifically, science) go largely unassessed, requiring alternative formats (Gilmer, Sherdan, Oosterhof, Rohani, & Rouby, 2011).

ET assessments have the advantage of measuring student reflection, self-expression, and critical thinking, areas largely not assessed by MC-type questions (Mazer, Simonds, & Hunt, 2012), but also writing skills and demonstrating conceptual knowledge. Although a common criticism of ET questions has been their inherent subjectivity, research has indicated that bias in scoring ET questions is no more a problem than in poorly-formed MC questions (Bridgeman, Trapani, & Bivens-Tatum, 2011). Other disadvantages include, time required for scoring, rubric requirements, and the inability to make cross-longitudinal cohort comparisons (Wallerstedt, Erickson, & Wallerstedt, 2012).

However, recent technological advances appear to have eliminated many of the disadvantages of both MC and ET assessments. Scoring ET questions, when run through programs with keyword algorithms, can be easily scored to measure for a variety of learning skills with a high degree of accuracy (Scalise, & Gifford, 2006), allowing for instructors to implement these assessments on a much larger scale. Answering the disadvantages of MC assessments, recent developments in technology have suggested that questions can be developed through computer based matrices (Torres, et al, 2011) or through the application of those assessments in Virtual Learning Environments (Clarke-Midura, & Dede, 2010).

Clearly, the issue is not which type of assessment is better but how to improve upon each such that both types of assessments can be used to expand an instructor’s ability to measure student and teaching performance, as well as for ethical considerations (Becker, & Johnston, 1999).


References
Attali, Y., Lewis, W., & Steier, M. (2013). Scoring with the computer: Alternative procedures for improving the reliability of holistic essay scoring. Language Testing, 30(1), 125-141. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0265532212452396
Becker, W. E., & Johnston, C. (1999). The relationship between multiple choice and essay response questions in assessing economics understanding. Economic Record, 75(231), 348-357. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/219659764
Bridgeman, B., Trapani, C. & Bivens-Tatum, J. (2011) Comparability of essay question variants. Assessing Writing, 16(4), 237-255. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.asw.2011.06.002
Clarke-Midura, J. & Dede, C. (2010) Assessment, technology, and change. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 309-328. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ882508.pdf
DiBattista, D. & Kurzawa, L. (2011). Examination of the quality of multiple-choice items on classroom tests. Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2). Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ985723.pdf
Gilmer, P.J.,  Sherdan, D.M., Oosterhof, A., Rohani, F. & Rouby, A. (2011). Science competencies that go unassessed. Center for Advancement of Learning and Assessment. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED525233.pdf
Greifeneder, R., Zelt, S., Seele, T., Bottenberg, K., & Alt, A. (2012). Towards a better understanding of the legibility bias in performance assessments: the case of gender-based inferences. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(Pt 3), 361-374. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8279.2011.02029.x
Mazer, J.P., Simonds, C.J. & Hunt, S.K. (2012). Application essays as an effective tool for assessing instruction in the basic communication course: A follow-up study. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(4), 29-42. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ992125.pdf
Scalise, K. & Gifford, B. (2006). Computer-based assessment in e-learning: A framework for constructing "intermediate constraint" questions and tasks for technology platforms. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 4(6). Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ843857.pdf
Seldomridge, L. & Walsh, C. (2006). Evaluating student performance in undergraduate preceptorships. Journal of Nursing Education, 45(5), 169-76. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/203933157
Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
Torres, C., Lopes, A.P., Babo, L. & Azevedo, J. (2011). Improving multiple-choice questions. US-China Education Review, B(1), 1-11. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED522219.pdf
Wallerstedt, S., Erickson, G., & Wallerstedt, S. M. (2012). Short answer questions or modified essay questions: More than a technical issue. International Journal of Clinical Medicine, 3(1), 28-30. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/963696167


Friday, June 13, 2014

...and why aren't we discussing Connectivism?

...even if the theory has some real problems? Having said that..
.
Not meaning to get too intellectual, here (because it seems that doesn't lead to ANY discussion) but when we say that "Open source learning is here to stay," I am apt to think of Michel Foucault's masterpiece, "The Order of Things," and the notion of the "episteme," that how we think about the world is determined by the time in which we reside, that intellect collectively evolves as we add to what and how we know.

Open source learning and the collaborative nature that guides it will only accelerate what we know. The more open source learning becomes the norm, the more human thought will evolve (especially since so much of how we solve questions is facilitated by the same computing power that allows distant minds to connect). Whereas researchers and scientists were once isolated in their offices or laboratories around the globe, they can now openly collaborate on questions about the universe; more than that, problem-solving (and problem-posing) is suddenly a globally participatory function, rather than a discrete and local endeavor.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

... in response to a question posed in class ...

Before discussing how the Socratic Method can be used in the classroom (and which teaching methods promote self-directed learning and independent learners), I was compelled to have a little fun with this after stumbling across a website about how to Use the Socratic Method to Easily Win Arguments during my search (there's a better site about How to Argue Using the Socratic Method that's more comprehensive and isn't focused on "winning" an argument) as it brought to mind this scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) that makes hilarious sport of the Socratic Method:

Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
Peasant 1: Burn them.
Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peasant 1: More witches.
Peasant 2: Wood.
Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
Peasant 3: ...because they're made of... wood?
Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?
Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.
Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
Peasant 1: Oh yeah.
Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?
Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!... It floats! Throw her into the pond!
Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?
Peasant 1: Bread.
Peasant 2: Apples.
Peasant 3: Very small rocks.
Peasant 1: Cider.
Peasant 2: Gravy.
Peasant 3: Cherries.
Peasant 1: Mud.
Peasant 2: Churches.
Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!
King Arthur: A Duck.
Sir Bedevere: ...Exactly. So, logically...
Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck... she's made of wood.
Sir Bedevere: And therefore...
Peasant 2: ...A witch!

Having had my fun, I'll begin by stating the obvious, that the Socratic Method is effective in teaching critical thinking, and refer to the site that gives the most comprehensive explanation for the Socratic Method (http://www.socraticmethod.net/) and describes, by implication, how it is used in the classroom (or, in Plato's case, The Symposium). For anyone unfamiliar with the Socratic Method, I recommend using that site as a quick guide for getting up to speed.

The first part of the three-part question, "Locate several websites that describe the Socratic method and how it is used in classrooms," seems redundant since, at least in all the websites I visited, the Socratic Method was described before any discussion about how it is used in the classroom. Having said that, all the sites I looked at and liked discussed how the Socratic Method promotes self-directed learning due to the method's emphasis on A), critical thinking and B), using questions to get students to probe deeper into a topic. Likewise, all the sites suggested that the Socratic Method promotes independent learning due to how it causes students to question themselves and the validity of their answers -- an existential dilemma that forces a learner to confront what they think they know by further researching their beliefs and the extent of their knowledge. Finally, none of the sites advocated any particular or unique method for using the method (other than contextualizing it) but rather made distinctions between the "classical" vs. "modern" approaches.

This site about using the Socratic Method in a third-grade math class was very interesting as far as it illustrated how critical thinking skills can be taught to even young learners. On the other hand, this site about the failure to use the method in a secondary English class was a nice reflective piece on teaching methods and how she would do things differently. Finally, there are some excellent strategies for using the Socratic Method in the classroom at ReadWriteThink -- one of my favorite websites.

Of all the sites I viewed, my favorite was from Stanford as it was more explicit about the self-directed and independent learner benefits of the Socratic Method. I highly recommend it.

A witch!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Education on the fly

Well, I wouldn't call myself a "senior" (yet) and it was apparent Dunn's article was a couple of years old (Blackberry? Zune? Don't we call those "paperweights" now?) but the article remains timely in that the revolution is still in progress.

In fact, I believe it's going to take learning theorists at least a few years to catch up with how mobile technologies are transforming the way adults learn.

The other night, I was out with my wife to indulge two of my favorite things: Trivia contests and beer. Although we usually play a computerized national network game, the bar we frequent has a "live" trivia game and, at the start of it, the game-master (or whatever) announced that cheating - using smartphones, tablets or other wireless devices to look up answers - would disqualify a team. When I hear that, my first thought was, "What gratification is there in winning if you didn't really know the answer? That takes the whole point out of a trivia game!" However, my next thought was (the adult educator part of my brain kicking in), "How cool is it that people can answer pretty much any question by asking a hand-held device?"

My point is that, we're just beginning to see how that easy access to information will change society, largely through informal learning processes. As the ease with which we interface with those devices improves (I liken us, as a society, to 16-month-olds refining gross motor skills), the better we'll become at formulating our own programs for learning, determined solely on our interests and our need to know.

That's not to preclude formal learning processes (or child learners). The available access to "Googlebytes" of information (essentially infinite) expands the possibilities for learning beyond anything John Dewey could have imagined, the immediacy of information access pushing the construction of meaning to warp speed.

At the risk of being flippant, I briefly address two objections I anticipate will be raised regarding implications in this brief essay. One implication here (which I call "The Democratization of Ideas") will hear an objection that popular ideas will supersede the "best" ideas or "right" ideas (the mob rules and all that); while I concede that there is a real danger of that, I think it's only a short-term problem, one ultimately solved by logic and rationalism (and without needing to go into my views on aesthetics). The other implication ("The Death of the Academy") will hear objections that formal learning processes will be watered down by the kind of laissez-faire flow of information I seem to advocate. While I don't advocate an ultimate "Wiki" approach to formal learning, I do believe that rational "filters" (see the above implication and objection) will mostly prevent students from being handed diplomas for having a head full of junk. The objection goes back as far as medieval times, when educators and others objected to texts being translated into the Vulgate from Latin. Not to put too fine a point on it, Frege and  Russell and Whitehead failed to find a language of knowledge (which Latin had been, centuries before).

If anything, the language of knowledge appears to be composed of zeroes and ones, but also appears lawless, the argot of the anarchist. Those considerations bear, I believe, further consideration and I hope to begin that conversation here.

Until such time, there is a revolution in learning happening at this very moment, evolving, becoming more complex, breeding other species. It is likewise a conversation I hope to begin here.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Legacy" and "Diversity"

These are a couple of videos (my first time playing with Photostory) that I embedded into a PowerPoint presentation I created for a fake company's Diversity portion of the new-hire orientation. This one is the company's history: And this one is the Diversity presentation:

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A course question, #1 - Technology transforms how I learn

The last course I took (I just finished on Monday) was gratifying but killer; the learning team I was saddled with (I'll address that idiotic imbroglio in a future post) was an added distraction I did not need while attempting to grapple with the immense amount of material presented for the course ("Facilitating Instruction for Diverse Adult Learners"). My point is that I've been remiss in posting on this blog meant to highlight my journey as an adult educator and instructional designer.

I'm hoping to make up for that, and post more frequently, with this response I posted in my new class, one regarding the transformative power of the Internet in adult education:

Somewhat older than a few of the students in this class (I emphasize "somewhat"), I'm a product of 20th-century educational practices and brick-and-mortar institutions. The first few computers I used didn't even have a monitor (output was presented on 3 x 2 printouts from a 16-pin dot matrix printer) and the first time I logged into a mainframe was with a 300 baud phone cradle modem: that technology seems stone age now, like 78 RPM disks or a barrel mower. Having said that, how I learn has been largely transformed by technology.

For instance (and as I responded in this week's other question), my smartphone is an invaluable tool for accessing information, working collaboratively with other learners, responding immediately to inspiration or problem solving and for the overall navigation of my immediate learning goals. The Internet has blended my approach to learning with both formal and informal learning opportunities. The formal aspect is obvious -- here I am in this classroom, after all -- whereas the informal is an almost daily process (usually several times a day) in which I'm researching mundane things like the libretto of an opera and the background of the principles performing in it (my wife and I will be attending the Metropolitan Opera's live HD stream of Rossini's "La Cenerentola" on Saturday) to learning the basics of SCORM through YouTube videos and web site tutorials.

My point is here that, in a post-secondary setting, it used to be that I had to apply to a learning institution (along with gathering all the necessary paperwork like transcripts, letter of recommendation, financial aid award letters, etc.) and wait for the results of the acceptance process; with that done, register for classes and hope I got the classes I wanted or needed; once enrolled, purchase textbook and then physically attend the class, one taught with a single instructor who had a single agenda; continue physically attending the course lectures, learning activities, seminars, etc. and then, after turning in hard copies of papers throughout the semester, go sit in silence with a bunch of other students to scribble on paper or fill in ovals for a final exam. In may respects, technology has rendered that process obsolete.

I'm especially excited about MOOCs and, once I finish this program and have spare time on my hands again, I look forward to taking free courses from Harvard, Stanford or any of the numerous MOOC startups to take courses on the Late 20th-Century American Novel or Pre-Socratic Philosophy or (most likely) mastering new technologies that are important to my field.

In conclusion, I took a rather prolix approach to state that the transformative aspect of technology has been that I'm able to approach my education on my terms: learn what I want, when I want, where I want and even design my own curriculum (in many cases). The power dynamic is changing, has changed, with the emergence and continued evolution of educational technology. The control resides with me as far as what I want to learn and how I will learn it, no longer determined by some distant, faceless administration with the power to deny me opportunities to learn.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Really? It is 2014, isn't it?

Dumbfounded, I don't know where to start with this other than this ill-considered comment by someone from my class regarding a fairly old essay, "Social Change Education: Context Matters," by Kathryn Choules:
I am not sure how social justice is something positive.  It fosters a workforce that suggests inferiority and suggests a person protected by affirmative action does not have the ability to compete on his or her own terms.  It suggest (sic) preferential treatment which is unfair. Affirmative action takes away merit and in a way undermines the individual by not allowing the individual to reflect on their own competence but rather blame it on social discrimination.  I think the best way to help individuals is to motivate and educate.  Affirmative action is a political demoralizer (sic) and it is harmful to those who are at a disadvantage in the first place.
Well, I couldn't leave well enough alone, responding,
You make some interesting remarks, Linda. However, I'd like to see evidence for what you've said "... social justice ... fosters a workforce that suggests inferiority ..." doesn't appear to supported by any research that I'm aware of, it just seems like opinion. As well, when you add, "... suggests a person protected by affirmative action does not have the ability to compete on his or her own terms," I am also unaware of any social research to back that claim up. However, you equate "social justice" with "affirmative action" and the two are not the same thing (although AA can be one agenda of an overall social justice scheme). Nonetheless, the two are not synonymous.

You also say, "Affirmative action takes away merit...," but you don't explain how it is taken away by AA. Again, I'd lie to see the evidence. Likewise, when you say, AA "... undermines the individual by not allowing the individual to reflect on their own competence but rather blame it on social discrimination." If it "undermines the individual," why have so many succeeded as a result of it? Don't those people feel empowered rather than undermined? Additionally, are you saying that discrimination has had no effect on racial disparity and economic opportunities? If so, you're arguing that some races are inferior and that would be an interesting statement, especially in this class.

Finally, your statement, "Affirmative action is a political demoralizer and it is harmful to those who are at a disadvantage in the first place," is made without any support but appears to be just an opinion.

I'd really like you to read my "Affirmative Action," post and make your own observations regarding my stance and the supporting references I use for my statements.
That post is below the fold:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Aging out of the foster care system

My wife has recently returned to working on a project that she had to abandon for a few years: mentoring foster children who are ageing out of the system. I'll let her video speak to the importance of this issue:

I'll address this issue in detail in later posts as I think, for now, posting this video is sufficient for getting my readers to think about what can be done for young adults who are trying to figure out what their lives look like after foster care.

In the meantime, please go to YouTube and give a shout out for the great job my wife did!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

In response to the dumbed-down and out of touch

A classmate called on me today to comment on Common Core State Standards (CC) due to the fact that she'd seen my ninja act in an online forum regarding the issue. Although I was tempted to take a pass (mostly because I feel that CC has the momentum to become fully implemented within the next few years), she included a link to a really wretched post on an anti-CC site by Ben Velderman.

At that point, I was compelled to respond to Velderman's piece since it really says nothing about what CC is or will do - I'll address that in a moment - but mainly focuses on the term "czar" in relation to an unfounded fear that CC is a totalitarian move by the Obama administration to seize control from states and local school districts in order to pursue some kind of liberal zombie agenda. That is not just the main argument conservatives have had against CC, it is pretty much the only argument. Unfortunately, that argument doesn't address the purpose or benefits (or lack thereof) but posits that, if we accept CC, then states and local school districts will accede power to Big Brother (Veldermans focus on the term "czar" is revealing given the term's visceral power) and will forced to accept a federal agenda of tolerance, socialism, anti-Christian values, etc., etc.

Of course, that is a "straw man" argument, an informal logical fallacy that invalidates that portion of the argument. I hasten to add that, in their gift with tending towards toxic rhetoric, CC is referred to as "Common Core Standards" and conveniently leave "State" out of the nomenclature. As with the focus on "czar" and its power of meaning, opponents really have nothing other than logical fallacy and scary words.

However, what is truly bothersome is that opponents propping up that straw man do so from a position of states' rights, a dog whistle for institutionalized racism since the 1950s when the civil rights movement was first mobilized. It's difficult for me to ignore the ugliness of that position especially since various politicians on the right have recently spoken out in opposition to terms of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, saying that business owners should have the right to refuse service to someone based on the color of their skin, all in the name of individual, local and states' rights (the primary argument against integration in the 1950s and 60s).

As to my support for CC, I'll keep my argument brief. Essentially, CC is nothing more than a national standard for learning achievement. In the past, states evaluated educational achievement by their own standards (through standardized tests) to the effect that students from some states underperformed in various content areas relative to students from other states. Thus, a seventh-grader moving from one state to another might find himself far behind in math, reading, science and other content areas (or, conversely, find himself far ahead and bored with instruction he had mastered previously).

In response to the straw man, what opponents fail to mention is that the standards are not a federal mandate in the way that NCLB was (A George W. Bush initiative that, IIRC, these people did not oppose in the way they are vocal against CC) but an initiative left wholly up to the states. As I pointed out earlier, CC is not a federal mandate but an agreement among a consortia of states that see a real need in having their graduates prepared for 21st-Century market demands. Indeed, the concept of CC was developed in response to universities and employers recognizing that many schools weren't graduating students with the skills or education needed for meeting minimal requirements. The standards were drafted with the intention of keeping the US and its students competitive in a global market. States jumped on board because, if they were going to produce a product meeting specification limits, they needed to know what those specs would be.

Having said that, considering the dearth of opposition the anti-CC groups expressed towards NCLB, one has to wonder if the opposition isn't really just an anti-Obama position and, if CC had been proposed by a white Republican, there would be this level of dissent. I tend to think not. Shrouding their racism in an empty suit (QED, there is no issue of states' rights), opponents continue to brandish their straw man and scary words, basing an argument out of fear but not offering a single, positive alternative.

Would states and local districts lose a degree of control over their curriculum due to CC? The answer is yes but, if that means CC would neutralize attempts to ban the teaching of evolution or global warming, reverse right wing attempts to write revisionist history (calling the slave trade "The Atlantic Triangular Trade," claiming that many African-Americans were better of under segregation, lionizing Joseph McCarthy, etc.) or prohibiting critical thinking (part of the Texas GOP platform in 2012), then I for one welcome our CC overlords.