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).

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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.

Integrity Clause

Last October 3rd, the online Quiz 1 for my EDS 113 class was made available online. I was apprehensive because I was only barely able to finish reading the second module before the Quiz was put up online. I have been having internet connection problems lately, on top of all the things I usually have to do for school, so it has been quite a stressful week.

Usually, these online tests have time limits and we are only allowed a single attempt. Like all online quizzes I have taken thus far, Quiz 1 also had what I call an “integrity clause” at the start. The clause basically reads something like “I promise not to cheat in this quiz” which we had to agree to before we get redirected to the test questions. However, Quiz 1 caught me by surprise. Not only was there no time limit in taking the test, we were also allowed unlimited attempts. The highest score we can get out of the attempts will be our final quiz grade.

I have to admit, my initial score was a measly 7 out of the 15 items asked. I reviewed my notes again and attempted another try. I scored higher, scoring an additional 2 points. It was after my second attempt that I noticed the “REVIEW” link in my scoreboard. I clicked it open and saw the items I got wrong. I barely looked at the multiple choice part, I could just try to click each choice in my next attempt and see which one I’d get correct. I focused instead on the second part. There, we had to indicate where a given sample assessment fell under Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive domain. I took note of items I got wrong then went back to my notes. I attempted the quiz a third time and got 12 out of 15. I clicked review again and that was when I noticed that the answers were actually indicated on the bottom of the page! I had not scrolled down during my first two attempts that I had not seen it.

I thought to myself, “Was it a trick? Were we actually expected to really get a perfect score?” But then, there was that clause at the start of the quiz, right? I checked the Learning Tools page. Usually, check marks automatically appear on the tick boxes after each activity we finish. The quiz had no check mark, on account that we had unlimited attempts, so I assumed I had to be the one to tick the box.

Was it a test? Like some sort of test within a test? Believe it or not, I thought I sounded like Steve Rogers (for those of you who saw Captain America). I thought about the integrity clause. Sure, we all had to agree to it so we could take the quiz – I mean, that would be the default answer. Still, having been able to see the correct answers and then attempting to take the quiz again was something that went against what was stipulated in the agreement, right?

So I went ahead and checked that box, despite no perfect score (though I had to ask my prof if it was ok for me to manually check it afterwards).

Perhaps the test was more about whether we would actually abide by the clause we agreed to. Of course, honesty is the best policy. I took something else out of that quiz. Through it, my professor taught me that we can still impart lessons to students even while we are doing assessments. More than quantity, quality is always better.

A New Term

I started this blog last term as a journal for my Theories of Learning class while teaching at Assumption Antipolo. Last school year was a challenging one as we transitioned from the old 10-year Basic Ed curriculum to the K-12 curriculum. I have learned a lot last term and have applied what I can in the classroom (particularly the Primacy-Recency Effect I had talked about in my last post).

I have just began my third trimester of distance education at the University of the Philippines – Open University yesterday, September 6th. I am quite excited since my courses this term include Assessment Methods and Basic Guidance. I am teaching Biology this year (which is a relief) and I hope I will be able to manage my time better this term. 🙂

Starting this September, I will be writing about my EDS 113 (Principles and Methods of Assessment) course. Welcome aboard!