Group Assignment in an Asynchronous Environment

Last week has been a hectic week for my classmates and me in my Assessments class. A week prior, we were asked to sign up so that we could be assigned to groups. I was one of the first to sign up because I wanted to plan my schedule around my activities at work.

The assignment guidelines were posted by Monday and we were given a week to prepare a tool that will test our understanding of the course. We were also asked to make rubrics for peer and self-assessments about our contribution to the assignment.

By midweek, the only posts in the group forum were simple messages of “hi” and “hello”. The deadline was set on the 18th and by Friday, there were only two of us who had so far communicated. I was busy preparing drafts for my Bio exam which was due that week and also preparing for an Ecology seminar we were hosting. I only had time to actually focus on the assignment by the following Saturday. By then, we only had three days left before the deadline to work on the task.

I was lucky that the only other person who replied to my posts (and who was based in another country) was as eager as I to really finish the assignment as early as possible. We spent Saturday throwing ideas around and were able to come up with the Rubrics by early Sunday morning. I spent the next 20 hours working on drafting 30 questions for the assessment tool. By 7pm, a new member was assigned to our group because she was the only one “actively” working in her group. A latecomer joined us by early Monday and was able to do her share of the task.

I learned how to attach HTML codes while I made this homework, as comments and suggestions flew between me and my groupmates. I was reminded that patience, indeed, was a virtue and that one of the disadvantages of online learning was differences in time management as well as external factors.

What made this homework challenging was the fact that we had to conduct discussions in a workspace assigned by the teacher (for monitoring and assessment purposes). This was further complicated by the fact that we were in different places, with different schedules, and with different accessibility to internet connections.

Nonetheless, I am willing to try to do this again. I welcome the challenge of putting together a project despite having members in different time zones, or in our case, different places. I hope, though, that next time, I will be less cramped with work and activities and that next time too, everyone will be active (and not just two or three).

Of Grades and Numbers

Society places too much stock on numbers that we usually equate high grades with intelligence. When I was a student, it was important for me to get good scores out of all my tests. As I moved to higher learning, I realized that there were certain types of exams I was partial to and some others that do not sit well with me. I have talked about the prevalence of rote-memorization tests that I have had when I was a student. And that always reminds me of my Grade 5 History teacher. For her, the best students were those who could repeat verbatim what she says in class. The same went with her exams.

I think that scores do reflect student progress in some ways. This, however, often lead people to attach labels to students, effectively boxing them into categories which can influence assessment (and therefore, subsequent grades).  I have seen teachers who readily give consideration for students who miss a test because that student “performs in class” – that is, that student is known to be one of the “bright ones”. I have also seen how those same teachers can easily dismiss a student’s efforts (or the lack thereof) because they don’t talk in class or usually get poor grades.  On the few occasions that these “slow ones” do get a good grade in a test, their performance even becomes suspect.

Grades serve a purpose of ranking students and reflecting a facet of their learning. However, we need to change our perspectives in how we view these numbers. Acing a test does not always indicate a critical mind. Failing one does not always mean lack of understanding or lack of ability. I believe that when we fail to give our students opportunities to demonstrate what they know in ways that fit them best, we fail them as teachers. Grades should not define people and what things they can or cannot do.