Feb

Course-embedded assessment: What's it all about? one might wonder, thinking that all assessment is somehow embedded in course content. But that is only one aspect of it. Course-embedded assessment also refers to program- or institution-wide assessment that is embedded in all courses in order to focus attention on student learning. Donald Farmer, an architect of course-embedded assessment at King's College in Pennsylvania, writes:

Although many factors contribute to successful student learning, there are two factors that appear to be vital links connecting specific levels of achievement with anticipated learning outcomes. One is to transform students from being passive to being active learners and the other is to make assessment of learning an integral part of the teaching-learning equation. Assessment can play a critical role in developing students as learners if assessment is understood to be formative as well as summative. Assessment best serves as a strategy for improving student learning when it becomes an integral part of the teaching-learning equation by providing continual feedback on academic performance to students. This can be achieved most effectively by designing an assessment model in course work and intended to be both diagnostic and supportive of the development of students as learners. Assessment encourages faculty to focus on the actual learning taking place for students, and to recognize that teaching and assessment are strategies, not goals. (p. 199)

In other words, once an institution forms goals for student learning and develops criteria to measure how student learning outcomes meets those criteria, then colleges, departments, and instructors can develop curricula and activities to help students become active learners, and use assessment to provide feedback both to students and to the institution on how well students are meeting those goals.

Because outcomes and assessment are now discipline- and institution-oriented, curricula can be designed to focus on the development of skills across years and disciplines. For example, when students graduate, what sort of critical thinking skills does an institution want them to have? Then, how should freshman-level courses begin developing critical thinking skills, sophomore-level further that development, and so on? An integrated curriculum can help students better internalize critical thinking by (1) ensuring that it's a goal of all courses and (2) overcoming the compartmentalization and fragmentation of knowledge that occurs when skills are not transferred across years and courses. And flexibility is built in because although the goals are institution-wide, the curricula to obtain those goals are determined by individual instructors and departments.



Quite a few posts are at the Metafilter Community Weblog (via Lifehacker) on free online learning resources.



Neville Hobson (via Wisconsin Center for Education Research) compares Wordpress, Wordtype, and the problems of moving, referencing other blogs (Emily Robinson and Rex Hammond) discussing blogging platforms and moving.



In my previous post, I discussed foregoing the term "passionate learners" for "enjoying learners." I'd like to take it a step further and talk about "curious" learners. Actually, most people are curious; they just aren't that curious about school subjects. As Csikszentmihalyi states:

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

Perhaps students do not wish to because teachers transmit information instead of engaging students in creating knowledge. Perhaps they do not wish to because school subjects are disconnected from their own communities and societal activities. And perhaps they do not wish to because they do not have the experiences to make connections to school knowledge.

Then, again, am I myself really curious about everything I come across? I remember considering majoring in math and I signed up for two classes (geometry and diff eq). I read the first few chapters before the class, went to class the first day, and thought to myself: Boring!! I had no experience to see any relevance to this dry subject. And that ended my math major.

Turning to writing, I like it much more. I especially enjoy playing with words and tweaking sentences to make them more rhetorically effective. That natural (?) interest in language may be the reason I enjoy teaching ESL and studying languages. Still, I have to say that learning languages is frustrating when I try to communicate unsuccessfully. So, I can sympathize with the overwhelming majority of my students who say that they do not like writing, especially in English. When speaking, many "mistakes" go by unnoticed or unremarked upon. Writing accompanied by teacher comments, however, stares them in the face with the fact that they still have not mastered English, a process that will take probably ten years or more. Of course, giving students more control over the topics and genres of writing helps. But that's not enough for a long lasting curiousity in learning to write better. What else can help?



The blog Creating Passionate Users is written by a trio who are

all passionate about the brain and metacognition, most especially--how the brain works and how to exploit it for better learning and memory. Oh yeah, and how to recognize when someone else (including one of us) is applying brain-based techniques to get you to do something.

I enjoy reading their insights on learning, but I wonder about the emphasis on "passion." What does it mean to be a passionate learner? How would being passionate differ from being obsessive? How many people are truly passionate, or obsessive, about anything?

According to Dictionary.com, passion is defined as "A powerful emotion, such as love, joy, hatred, or anger" and obsession is defined as "A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion." I'm not quite sure where "a powerful emotion" ends and "an unreasonable emotion" begins. Perhaps it's a matter of societal approval as it is for the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic.

I wonder about this distinction because I enjoy learning and a variety of activities, but I find it difficult to consider myself passionate about learning or these other pastimes. Of course, I could be a little strange, but I like to think that more people are like me than unlike me.

We might compare passion and enjoyment to attraction and attachment in Helen Fisher's, an anthropologist at Rutgers, research on love. In her work, attraction, or romantic love, is caused by high levels of dopamine and norephinephrine. It's a euphoric chemical high that cannot be maintained, but eventually wears off. In contrast, attachment, stimulated by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, is associated with feelings of comfort, peace, and stability, and unlike attraction can last longer than a year, even a lifetime. Extrapolating, if we consider an educational goal to be life-long learners, we need to move away from passion and toward an enjoyment of learning.

One theoretical construct that can be of use in this move is flow. Flow, a theory developed by Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly, a professor of psychology formerly at the University of Chicago, refers to an experience of total involvement and deep concentration. Most people experience flow at one time or another, and some frequently. I can remember being so absorbed in a game of chess or that I was oblivious to my surroundings for an hour. The conditions of flow are clear goals, immediate and unambiguous feedback, and matching one's skills to the challenge, none of which relate to emotion.

Flow is a type of intrinsic motivation, a doing of the activity for the sake of the activity rather than extrinsic pressures. Csikszentmihalyi notes that both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is needed for people to want to learn, but that intrinsic motivation should be educators' focus "to make children aware of how much fun learning can be."

I imagine the phrase "creating passionate learners" is more hyperbole than anything else, but perhaps we should simply consider motivating students to have "fun" learning.



Thinking a little more about the notion of sacrifice and teaching from Ants Have Teachers, I was reminded of Albert Schweitzer, who said "all progress demands sacrifice, which has to be paid for by the lives of those chosen to be offered up." Bertrand Russell, speaking of progress, said, "There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is destructive."

Granting that exceptions exist, I don't think we see much of this sort of teaching, that is, teaching guided by sacrificial love. That's why Fethullah Gülen asserts, "Education is different from teaching. Most people can teach, but only a very few can educate." That is, only a very few will love enough to sacrifice in order to teach.

Perhaps that's too strong a claim for some. Kevin Ryan, founder and director emeritus of the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University, writes, "While I'm not suggesting that teachers be saints, they should take their moral lives seriously by modeling upright behavior." I wonder why the word "modeling" is used instead of "living." It suggests that teachers need to act contrary to their real character. After all, if one "lived" uprightly, one would not need to be reminded to model their behavior. As Huebner writes, "If we live our values and reflect responsibly on our life together, what need have we to teach values?"

Uprightness, for me, involves right behavior and relationships with others. Although not a one-to-one correspondence, the notion of right relationships is connected to social relatedness, which, in Deci & Ryan's self-determination theory, is an intrinsic need (along with autonomy and competence). From another perspective, right relationships involve trust. Deborah Meiers (In Schools We Trust) has some pertinent thoughts here:

"Standardization and bureaucratization fuel the very distrust they are aimed to cure" (p. 2).

Students need to be around teachers they can trust and teachers who ask questions as learners, too" (p. 14).

Instead of focusing on teaching teachers so much about teaching, education schools should work at developing character in future teachers. Huebner states that to improve teaching, "we must attend to the teacher." The problem, of course, is the "we," who must also have character. Perhaps this is why Kevin Ryan doesn't ask that teachers be saints.



Evan Lehmann's (Lowell Sun article, no longer available) "Rewriting history under the dome" reported on congressional staffers in the House of Representatives rewriting Wikipedia articles on their bosses. However, it wasn't limited to them, it seems. Yuki Noguchi ("Wikipedia's Help From the Hill," Washington Post) reports on Senate staffers engaged in the same sort of unethical behavior. What's fascinating is the spin given to it by one staffer:

"I don't know why this is a story," said James Pendleton, a spokesman for Burns. "There is no sanctity in Wikipedia. Somebody will always come and change it."

Such a response fits in well with the study showing that staunch Democrats and Republicans don't let facts faze their beliefs but they rationalize them away.

Actually, I'm not sure that one needs to be "staunch" but perhaps just have a natural resistance to that which contradicts one's position. Perhaps what would be helpful in composition courses, and other educational endeavors, would be tasks that lead to flexibility in entertaining new ideas, tasks that move students to explore without being penalized for wrong answers. This approach will bump up against institutional requirements for grades and testing. Is it possible to separate student performance, at least in the eyes of the studentl, from student identity?



The National Geographic News reports on research that claims that " Ants have teacher-pupil relations."

In a tandem run, the lead ant only continues forward when frequently tapped on its legs and abdomen by the following ant's antennae. When a gap appears between the two, each adjusts its speed to close it.

The researchers show that the lead ant in the tandem pair could reach the food stash four times faster when not slowed by a follower.

But the follower ant finds the food faster than when searching alone and is ultimately able to quickly run solo errands. The process likely increases the fitness of the entire ant colony, the researchers say, by making the ants more efficient.

From this, the researchers define teaching:

[Franks] and Richardson write that "an individual is a teacher if it modifies its behavior in the presence of a naïve observer, at some initial cost to itself, in order to set an example so that the other individual can learn more quickly."

In addition, the Bristol researchers say that teaching involves a two-way relationship between the teacher and pupil.

I'm wondering how often human teachers modify their behavior at any cost to themselves. And, How often is teaching "a two-way relationship" in formal institutions of learning?