Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading the blogs of teachers in my ED677 describing their wobbles after they read the introduction of Pose, Wobble, Flow by Cindy O’Donnell-Allen and Antero Garcia and were introduced to Storri organized by Bob Fecho. Wobbles have been on all of our minds … and tonight I can feel my own center shaking as I work myself into a new pose.
My wobble is related to a new way of trying to do assessment in ED677, a graduate course I teach that is part of a certificate program in Connected Learning at Arcadia University. It’s a fun course because the teachers bring so many different things to it and I learn so much along the way. The basic idea is that we work to be connected learners in order to learn what it means to design for connected teaching in equitable ways.
Peer-supported learning is a learning principle of Connected Learning and one that I have a lot of experience with given that most of my learning over the last 20 years has been through and at the writing project. My experience learning alongside peers draws me into wanting to find a peer-like position with participants in ED677, although I clearly am, in this case at a graduate school of education, the instructor.
So I am and have been experimenting with this notion – how can I position myself more as a peer, although also, instructor. My ultimately goal is to the class to engage with each other as peers too and not to engage with me, or each other, based on notions of authority and compliance. I think this is hard in the context of a graduate program, which is so hierarchical, but I also believe it is necessary. As adult learners, we need to practice our own agency in learning – in fact, as educators we must be the agents since we are directly responsible for other people’s learning.
All that is wobbly, yes. And instructionally there are various ways we’ve been doing it; and I think it’s mostly been good and fun. However, where it is most uneven and hard for me to position myself is around formal assessment, ie. grading. As the instructor, in a situation where no-grade or pass/fail is not an option, how do I best use this authority? This is the same question the teachers in my course are dealing with of course, vis a vis their students in schools where almost 100% of the time, grades are used to measure success. So I must participate with it and work alongside them to imagine what else is possible.
I’ve tried a few things in terms of summative assessment/grading: When I started ED677, for example, I set up a list of expectations for participation, each 20% worth of the overall grade, and then asked the teachers to assess their participation and reflect on the implications of their participation after completing their final project. They submitted this reflection and self-assessment to me and included any additional things I should keep in mind when determining the final grade; I came up with the grade based on that.
In the second year, I asked them to do this self-assessment again based on the same set of expectations, except this time around we stopped mid-way through the course, doing this same self-assessment two times instead of just once. This adjustment was made based on my perception that self-assessment felt a bit new to many in the class; also I believe that really assessment should be happening throughout and not just at the end. This seemed like a good move and supportive of questions and concerns coming up more quickly to me and not waiting for the final weeks.
In the third year then, I repeated this experiment essentially the same way. However during the course of that semester, Kira Baker-Doyle shared research at the 2017 Digital Media and Learning Conference on a Connected Learning Course in Teacher education where this idea of “participation” showed up as part of the set of expectations (Baker-Doyle, et al., In Press). Given that “participation” is such a nebulous word, she and her colleagues worked to define it a bit more clearly, breaking it down as part of a set of axis – the x axis moving from isolated to more active/embedded, and the y axis moving from mandated to personal projects. They then described participation within the 4 segments and noted where learners are taking the highest risks and had the most vulnerability.
This got me thinking about my language overall, and the set of expectations that I had mapped out. It also got me thinking about the continuums here - from isolated to active, from mandated to personal. And it got me thinking about equity, and core value of ED677 that doesn’t show up anywhere in these participation axes. Ultimately I thought that I had some thinking to do as I entered the fourth year of teaching ED677.
And now here we are, the fourth year of this course. And this year, my assessment is entirely different and I am wobbling wobbling wondering what the implications will be. First, I shifted from a set of expectations that count for 20% each (but assessed by whom was not clear) into clear guidelines for the % around who is assessing what. I decided to try it this way this first year – 70% of their grade is based on their self-assessment; 30% is based on my assessment. This delimitation felt more clear about the intended role of self-assessment and my assessment (although the percentages are still somewhat arbitrary - based on the low-bar idea that you can still pass with your own self-assessment only - and a work-in-progress).
Second, I worked to make the self-assessment much more supported and guided; and linked it to an opportunity to give anonymous instructor feedback at the same time. The guide for self-assessment in fact is something I worked on, then reworked, and then reworked again over the past few weeks. I finally settled on something that had 3 main guides – one that is about their own connected learning, organized as a set of continuum related to core ideas; a second infographic created by Nicole Mirra that is about their interests and ambitions for connected teaching; and a third guide that is about the suggestions that I made about practicing while in ED677. The self-assessment questions are then based on those guided reflections and prompts for goals and plans forward. A link to give anonymous instructor feedback directly asked if and how they can best be supported.
I still plan to prompt this process twice – once mid-semester and once at the end. Only the final one do they need to share with me. … We are mid-semester now and I just sent the teachers this new guide. I also asked them – those that came to our bi-weekly meeting this week – for their professional opinion on this process. I’m really anxious to learn – is this helpful in supporting reflective processes on one’s own progress? Does it support agency and confidence in the learning? Does it support goal-setting and next step planning? That’s what I really care ultimately as their colleague and what feels important for connected learning and teaching.
Wobble Wobble. Here we go.
Baker-Doyle, K.J., Whitfield, L. & Miller, K. (In Press) ‘The whole world is networked’: A Study of Connected Learning in Teacher Education. In (S.A. Yoon & K.J. Baker-Doyle, Eds) Networked By Design: Interventions for Teachers to Develop Social Capital. Chapter 2. London: Routledge.
Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weebleprinciple.jpg