Thursday, June 12, 2008

Transforming the Grade Book

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Nils Peterson, Theron Desrosier, Jayme Jacobson

CTLT has been thinking about portfolios for learning and their relationship to institutionally supported learning tools and course designs. This thinking has us moving away from the traditional LMS. It has also led to a recognition that grade books are QWERTY artifacts of Learning 1.0. In a recent Campus Technology interview Gary Brown introduced the term “harvesting gradebook” to describe the grade book that a faculty needs to work in these decentralized environments.
“Right now at WSU, one of the things we're developing in collaboration with Microsoft is a 'harvesting' gradebook. So as an instructor in an environment like this, my gradebook for you as a student has links to all the different things that are required of you in order for me to credit you for completing the work in my class. But you may have worked up one of the assignments in Flickr, another in Google Groups, another in Picasa, and another in a wiki.”
This post will provide more definition and a potential implementation for this new kind of transformed grade book. It is the result of a conversation between Nils Peterson, Theron DesRosier and Jayme Jacobson diagrammed here.

Figure 1: White board used for drafting these ideas. Black ink is “traditional” model, Blue is a first variation, Red is a second variation.

The process begins with a set of criteria that is agreed by to be useful by a community and is adopted across an academic program. An example is WSU’s Critical Thinking Rubric. This rubric was developed by the processes of a “traditional” academic community. How the process changes as the community changes will be discussed below.

Instructors start the process by defining assignments for their classes and “registering” them with the program. Various metadata are associated with the assignment in the registration process. Registration is important because in the end the process we propose will be able to link up student work, assessment of the work, the assignment that prompted the work, and assessments of the assignment. More implications of this registration will be seen below.

The student works the assignment and produces a solution in any number of media and venues, which might include the student’s ePortfolio (we define ePortfolio broadly). The student combines their work with the program’s rubric (in a survey format). The rubric survey is administered to either a specifically selected list of reviewers or to an ad hoc group. (We have been experimenting with two mechanisms for doing this “combining.” One places the rubric survey on the page with the student’s work as a sidebar or footer (analogous to a Comment feature, or the “Was this helpful?” survey included in some online resources). This approach is public to anyone who can access the web page. The other strategy imbeds a link to the student’s work in a survey, it can be targeted to a specific reviewer. This example comes from the judging CTLT’s 2nd ePortfolio contest.

In either case the survey collects a score and qualitative feedback for the student’s work. We are imagining the survey engine is centrally hosted so that all the data is compiled into a single location and therefore is accessible to the academic program. Data can be organized by student, assignment, academic term, or course. A tool we are developing that can do this is called Skylight Matrix Survey System, which is rebranded as Flashlight Online 2.0 by the TLT Group. The important properties of Skylight for this application are the ability to render a rubric question type and the ability to have many survey instances (respondent pools) within one survey and both report instances individually and aggregate the data across some/all the instances.

Audiences for this data
The transformative aspects of this strategy arise from the multiple audiences for the resulting data. We have labeled these collections of data, and the capacities to present the data to audiences “assessment necklaces”

Figure 2: Diagram of rubric-based assessment. Learners, peers, and faculty are shown collecting data from rubric-based assessment of portfolios, then reflecting on and presenting the multiple data points (necklaces) in contexts important to them.

Students can review the data for self-reflection and can use the data as evidence in a learning portfolio. We are exploring ideas like Google’s Motion Chart gadget (aka Trednalyzer/Gapminder) to help visualize this data over time. They can also learn from giving rubric-based reviews to peers and by comparing themselves to aggregates of peer data.

Instructors can use the data (probably presented in the student’s course portfolio) for “grading” in a course. It’s worth noting that the Instructor’s assignments can be assessed with the same rubric, asking, “To what extent does this assignment advance each the goals of this rubric?” With the assignment rated, instructors can review the data across multiple students, assignments, and semesters for their own scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Here the instructor can combine the rubric score of an assignment with the student performance on the assignment to improve the assignment. Instructors might also present this comparison data in a portfolio for more authentic teaching evaluations.

In this example the assignment might be rated by students or the instructor’s peers. Below, the rating of the assignment by wider communities will be explored.

Academic Programs can look across multiple courses and terms, for program-level learning outcomes and SoTL. They can also present the data in showcase portfolios used for recruiting students and faculty, funding and partners. This is where the collective registration of the assignment becomes important. The program can access the assignment in the context of the program, with an eye to coordinate assignments and courses to improve the coherence of the program outcomes.

The community, which might include accrediting bodies, employers and others, can use the data, as presented in portfolios by students, instructors, and the academic program, to reflect on, or give feedback to, the academic program. Over time, an important effect of this feedback should be to open dialogs that lead to changes in the rubric.

Variations on this model
The description above is still traditional in at least two important ways: the program (ie faculty) develop the rubric and the instructor decides the assignment. Variants are possible where outside interested parties participate in these activities.

First variation. WSU and University of Idaho run a joint program in Food Science. We have observed that the program enrolls a significant number of international students, from nations where food security is a pressing issue. We imagine that those nations view training food scientists as a national strategy for economic development.

We have imagined a model where the students (in conjunction with their sponsoring country), and interested NGOs, bring problem statements to the program and the program designs itself so that students are working on aspects of their problem while studying. The sponsors would also have an interest in the rubric, and students would be encouraged (required?) to maintain contacts with sponsors and NGOs and cultivate among them people to provide evaluations using the rubric.

The processes and activities described above would be similar, but the input from stakeholders would be more prominent than in the traditional university course. Review of the assignments, and decisions about the rubric, would be done within this wider community (two universities, national sponsors and NGOs). The review of assignments and the assessment of the relationship of assignments and learning products creates a very rich course evaluation, well beyond the satisfaction models presently used in traditional courses.

Second variation. This option opens the process up further and provides a model to implement Stephen Downes’ idea in Open Source Assessment. Downes says “were students given the opportunity to attempt the assessment, without the requirement that they sit through lectures or otherwise proprietary forms of learning, then they would create their own learning resources.”

In our idea of this model, the learner would come with the problem, or find a problem, and following Downes, learners would present aspects of their work to be evaluated with the program’s rubric, and the institution would credential the work based on its (and the community’s) judging of the problem/solution with the rubric. This sounds a lot like graduate education, the learner defines a problem of significance to a community and addresses that problem to the satisfaction of the community. In our proposed implementation, the ways that the community has access to the process are made more explicit.

In this variant, the decision about the rubric is an even broader community dialog and the assessment of the instructor (now mentor/learning coach) will be done by the community, both in terms of the skills demonstrated by students that the instructor mentored, and by the nature of the problems/approaches/solutions that were a result of the mentoring. The latter asks, is the instructor mentoring the student toward problems that are leading or lagging the thinking of the community?

For some sense of learning portfolios created by the processes above, consider these winners from CTLT’s 2007-08 ePortfolio contest.

The following two winners are examples of the second variant, where students were paired with a problem from a sponsor:

The Kayafungo Women’s Water Project documents the efforts of Engineers Without Borders at WSU (EWB@WSU) who partnered with the Student Movement for Real Change to provide clean water to 35,000 people in Kayafungo, Kenya.

The EEG Patient Monitoring Device portfolio follows the learning process of four MBA students who collaborated with faculty, the WSU Research Foundation, inventors, and engineers to develop a business plan for a wireless EEG patient monitoring device.

The next two are examples of the second variant -- student defined problems assessed by the community. In the latter case, the student is using the work, both her activism in the community and her study-in-action as her dissertation:

The Grace Foundation started with a vision to create a non-profit organization that would assist poor and disenfranchised communities across Nigeria in four areas: Education, Health, Entrepreneurship and Advocacy. The author used the UN online volunteering program to form a team to develop a participatory model of development that addresses issues of poverty eradication from a holistic manner.

El Calaboz Portfolio chronicles the use of Internet and media strategies by the Lipan Apache Women's Defense, a group that has grown in national and international prominence the last 75 days, from less than 10 people in August, to an e-organization of over 312 individuals currently working collectively. It now includes NGO leaders, tribal leaders, media experts, environmentalists, artists, and lawyers from the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law. It recently received official organization status at the UN.

The next steps in this work at WSU are to build worked examples of these software tools and to recruit faculty partners to collaborate in a small scale pilot implementation.

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