Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash.

This is the paradox of failure in games. It can be stated like this:

  1. We generally avoid failure.
  2. We experience failure when playing games.
  3. We seek out games, although we will experience something that we normally avoid. (Juul, p. 2)

As a continuation from my last blog post considering grades and Self-Determination Theory, I wanted to take a brief side-quest into considering what it means to experience failure. Jesper Juul’s The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games will provide the main outline and material for this post, while I add what lessons we might learn about feedback and course design in online settings.

Dealing with Failure

Juul outlines how games communicate through feedback using the theory of Learned Helplessness. Specifically, he focuses on Weiner’s attribution theory, which has three dimensions:

  1. Internal vs. External Failure
    1. Internal: The failure is the fault of the player. “I don’t have the skills to defeat this enemy right now.”
    2. External: The failure is the fault of the game. “The camera moved in a way that I couldn’t see or control and resulted in a game over.”
  2. Stable vs. Unstable Failure
    1. Stable: The failure will be consistent. No recognition of experience gained or improvement. “No matter what I do, I can’t get past this challenge.”
    2. Unstable: The failure is temporary. There is a possibility for future success. “I can improve and try again.”
  3. Global vs. Specific Failure
    1. Global: There is a general inability preventing success. “I am not good at playing video games.”
    2. Specific: Poor performance does not reflect on our general abilities or intelligence. “I’m not good at flight simulators, but that doesn’t mean I’m bad at all video games.”

In general, a combination of Internal+Stable+Global failure feedback would contribute most strongly toward a player adopting a learned helplessness mindset. There is a potential parallel here with course design: when a student does not do well on an assessment, what kind of feedback are they receiving? In particular, are they receiving signals that there is no opportunity for improvement (stable failure) and that it shows a general inability at the given task (global failure)? Designing assessments so that setbacks are unstable (offer multiple attempts and a way for students to observe their own improvement over time) and communicating specific skills to improve (make sure feedback pinpoints how a student could improve) would help students bounce back from a “game over” scenario. But what about internal vs. external failure? For Juul, “this marks another return of the paradox of failure: it is only through feeling responsible for failure (which we dislike) that we can feel responsible for escaping failure (which we like)” (p. 54). This importance of internal failure aligns with what we know about metacognition (Berthoff, “Dialectical notebooks and the audit of meaning”) and the numerous benefits of reflection in learning.

Succeeding from Failure

Now that we have an idea on how we deal with failure, let’s consider how we can turn that failure into success! “Games then promise players the possibility of success through three different kinds of fairness or three different paths: skill, chance, and labor” (Juul, p. 74):

  1. Skill: Learning through failure, emphasis on improvement with each attempt. (This is also very motivating by being competence-supportive!)
  2. Chance: We try again to see if we get lucky.
  3. Labor: Incremental progress on small tasks accumulates more abilities and items that persist through time and multiple play sessions. Emphasis here is on incremental growth over time through repetition. (Animal Crossing is a great example.) (This path is also supported by Dweck’s growth mindset.)

Many games reward players for all three of these paths to success. In an online course, allowing flexibility in assignment strategies can help students explore different routes to success. For example, a final project could allow for numerous format types, like a paper, podcast, video tutorial, interactive poster, etc. that students choose strategically based on their own skills and interests. Recognizing improvement will help students with their skills and helping students establish a routine of smaller, simpler tasks that build over an entire course can help them succeed through labor. Chance is an interesting thing to think about in terms of courses, but I like to think of this as it relates to content. Maybe a student “gets lucky” by having a discussion topic align with their final project topic, for example. For the student in that example, that discussion would come easier to them by chance. Diversifying content and assignment types can help different individuals and groups of students feel like they have “lucky” moments in a course.

Reflecting on Failure

Finally, how do games give us the opportunity to reflect on our successes and failures during gameplay? Juul outlines three types of goals that “make failure personal in a different way and integrates a game into our life in its own way” (pp. 86–87):

  1. Completable Goal: Often the result of a linear path and has a definite end.
    1. These can be game- or player-created. (i.e., Game-Driven: Defeat the ghost haunting the castle. Player-Driven: I want to defeat the ghost without using magic.)
  2. Transient Goal: Specific, one-time game sessions with no defined end, but played in rounds. (e.g., winning or losing a single round of Mario Kart.)
  3. Improvement Goal: Completing a personal best score, where a new high score sets a new goal.

For Juul, each of these goal-types have different “existential implications: while working toward a completable goal, we are permanently inscribed with a deficiency, and reaching the goal removes that deficiency, perhaps also removing the desire to play again. On the other hand, we can never make up for failure against a transient goal (since a lost match will always be lost), whereas an improvement goal is a continued process of personal progress” (pp. 86–87). When thinking about your courses, what kinds of goals do you design for? Many courses have single-attempt assignments (transient goal), but what if those were designed to be improvement goals, where students worked toward improving on their previous work in a more iterative way that replaced old scores with new and improved scores (improvement goal)? Are there opportunities for students to create their own challenging completable goals?

I hope this post shines a light on some different ways of thinking about assessment design, feedback types, and making opportunities for students to “fail safely” based on how these designs are achieved in gaming. To sum everything up, “skill, labor, and chance make us feel deficient in different ways when we fail. Transient, improvement, and completable goals distribute our flaws, our failures, and successes in different ways across our lifetimes” (Juul, p. 90).

red lightbulb

Photo by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

Last Time on SDT & Online Education…

This post is a continuation of my previous blog posts on Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and Online Education and a companion post to Chris Lindberg’s series of posts, Games as a Model for Motivation and Engagement.

In my last post, I posed some difficult questions to consider as you start thinking about how you use grades and motivation in your courses. In case you missed that post, here are the questions—I invite you to spend a few minutes, hours, or days with these questions before moving on with the rest of this blog post:

  • Do you use grades to create external regulation of behavior in your course?
    • Are you grading a behavior or the demonstration of a skill?
  • Do you want to emphasize performance goals or mastery goals?
  • Are there ways to help students identify and integrate the activities and assessments in your course?
  • Do you need to grade this activity/assessment/task?

Why are you grading?

“The troubling truth is that rewards and punishments are not opposites at all; they are two sides of the same coin. And it is a coin that does not buy very much.” (Kohn, 1993, p. 50)

When I first started teaching, I remember asking a colleague if they would review my syllabus draft. They read the attendance policy and asked me something along the lines of, “Why are you grading this? Does it have anything to do with the outcomes of your course?” I probably spewed the usual talking points that students do better in class when they attend, I wanted them to come to class, etc. The reply: “So, do you want to grade learning, or behavior?” That question rocked my world as a young teacher. And made me question everything.

Why do we use grades? Numerous studies have shown that grades and rewards, especially for intrinsically motivating activities such as learning, have detrimental effects. And what do these grades communicate? In terms of SDT, “grading in educational contexts has two functions. One is providing competence-relevant feedback to students, presumably as an aid to enhancing subsequent performance … A second is gatekeeping. Grades can be used to make sure that only students who have mastered material and are thus qualified are eligible for higher training…” (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 371). What does an A, B or F communicate to you? For Ryan & Deci, grades by themselves provide little in the way of relevant feedback. (For more on effective feedback, see Wiggins, 2012.)

So can a “grade” be useful? In the context of SDT, there needs to be important information communicated to students about how they’re doing and where they need to spend more attention and effort. In order for this to be autonomy-supportive, it should be informative for the learning process and not judgmental, pressure-inducing, or a social comparison, both in terms of being a reward or a punishment. For example, “Great work. You might consider adding an example in your third paragraph.” is not informative toward the learning process; “You do a great job of defining the problem in your third paragraph, which is an improvement from your first draft. Adding an example would do even more to help your readers relate to this problem.” is an example of feedback that informs a student about where they have come from and where they still need to go.

Performance vs. Mastery

“There do, indeed, seem to be few empirical or theoretical supports for the motivational or competence-building advantages of classical grading schemes. Yet, in most school settings, grades and evaluations are employed as if they were the key to motivation, when, in fact, especially for those who need competence supports, they are likely to be undermining influences.” (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 371)

Is it possible to see a letter grade of your work in a course outside the context of social comparison? How often is a B simply viewed as “better than average” or “in the top half of the class”? Focusing on performing a certain way relative to others is a performance goal, while focusing on increasing competence or learning is a mastery goal. (For more on this topic, see Elliot, 2005.) Additionally, each category of goal has an approach type (seeking to achieve something) and an avoidance type (seeking to avoid something). Multiple studies have found that the performance-avoidance combination has the most detrimental outcomes for both learning and student well being, and that this combination is adopted most when students have expectations of being graded (Ryan & Deci, 2017, p. 373).

Ungrading

“…the grading system that higher education in the United States has relied on for many decades has serious problems. It does not work in anyone’s interests, and it genuinely hurts those most directly associated with it: the faculty and the students. In fact, the system is broken.” (Nilson, 2015, p. 23)

At this point you might be asking, “what am I supposed to do?” There are numerous tools, resources, alternatives, and considerations when thinking about using or eliminating grades in a course, such as self-assessment, student-created rubrics, or specifications or criterion-based grading. (Several more are listed in the Reference & Resources section below). One option is to eliminate grading all together, which some institutions have done. If you aren’t ready to eliminate all your grades, try focusing on providing students with feedback in an autonomy-supportive way and empowering them to learn the valuable skill of self-assessment. Without rewards and punishments, students will feel a greater sense of competence; self-assessment and valuable and informative feedback will give students a greater sense of autonomy—that they’re in the driver’s seat for their own learning; with an increased focus on communication about learning, students will also gain a greater sense of relatedness.

There is much more to the topic of grading and ungrading than can be covered in a single blog post, so I’d like to invite you to check out the references and resources below, add your comments, suggestions, and experiences in the comments, contact your instructional designer, or keep an eye out for other opportunities to continue the discussion at various upcoming Ecampus events!

References & Resources

Center for Self-Determination Theory (CSDT). (2019).

  • This website is a treasure-trove of resources on SDT and its application in numerous fields, including education.

Elliot, A. J. (2005). A conceptual history of the achievement goal construct. In Elliot, A. J., & Dweck, C. S. (Eds.) Handbook of competence and motivation (52–72). New York: Guilford Press.

Flaherty, C. (2019). When grading less is more. Inside Higher Ed.

Kohn, A. (2018). Rewards are still bad news (25 years later). New York Times.

Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Educational Leadership.

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Nilson, L. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Serling, VA: Stylus.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-Determination Theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Press.

Stommel, J. (2018). How to ungrade.

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership 70(1), 10–16.

I pledge that I have acted honorably in completing this assessment.

There are two sides to the story of security of online assessments. On the one side, cheating does exist in online assessments. Examity’s president Michael London summarized five common ways students cheat on online exams:

  1. The old-school try of notes;
  2. The screenshot;
  3. The water break;
  4. The cover-up; and
  5. The big listen through devices such as Bluetooth headset (London, 2017).

Newton (2015) even reported the disturbing fact that “cheating in online classes is now big business”. On the other side, academic dishonesty is a problem of long history, both on college campuses and in online courses. The rate of students who admit to cheating at least once in their college careers has held steady at somewhere around 75 percent since the first major survey on cheating in higher education in 1963 (Lang, 2013). Around 2000, Many faculty and students believed it was easier to cheat in online classes (Kennedy, 2000), and about a third of academic leaders perceived online outcomes to be inferior to traditional classes (Allen & Seaman, 2011). However, according to Watson and Sottile (2010) and other comparative studies (Pilgrim & Scanlon, 2018), there is no conclusive evidence that online students are more likely to cheat than face-to-face students. “Online learning is, itself, not necessarily a contributing factor to an increase in academic misconduct (Pilgrim & Scanlon, 2018)”.

Since there are so many ways for students to cheat in online assessments, how can we make online assessments more effective in evaluating students’ learning? Online proctoring is a solution that is easy for instructors but adds a burden of cost to students. Common online proctoring service providers include ProctorU, Examity, Proctorio, Honorlock, to name just a few (Bentley, 2017).

Fortunately, there are other ways to assess online learning without overly concerned with academic dishonesty. Vicky Phillips (n.d.) suggested that authentic assessment makes it extremely difficult to fake or copy one’s homework. The University of Maryland University College has consciously moving away from proctored exams and use scenario-based projects as assessments instead (Lieberman, 2018). James Lang (2013) suggested smaller class sizes will allow instructor to have more instructor-to-students interaction one-on-one and limit cheating to the minimum therefore; Pilgrim and Scanlon (2018) suggest changing assessments to reduce the likelihood of cheating (such as demonstrating problem solving in person or via video, using plagiarism detection software programs like TurnItIn, etc.) , promote and establish a culture of academic integrity (such as honor’s code, integrity pledge), and supporting academic integrity through appropriate policies and processes. Kohnheim-Kalkstein (2006) reports that the use of a classroom honor code has been shown to reduce cheating. Kohnheim-Kalkstein, Stellmack, and Shilkey (2008) report that use of classroom honor code improves rapport between faculty and students, and increases feelings of trust and respect among students. Gurung, Wilhelm and Fitz (2012) suggest that an honor pledge should include formal language, state the specific consequences for cheating, and require a signature. For the honor pledge to be most effective, Shu, Mazar, Gino, Ariely, and Bazerman (2012) suggests including the honor pledge on the first page of an online assessment or online assignment, before students take the assessment or work on the assignment.

Rochester Institute of Technology (2014) ’s Teaching Elements: Assessing Online Students offer a variety of ways to assess students, including discussions, low-stake quizzes, writing assignments (such as muddiest point paper), and individual activities (such as staged assignments for students to receive ongoing feedback), and many other activities.

In summary, there are plenty of ways to design effective formative or summative assessments online that encourage academic honesty, if instructors and course designers are willing to spend the time to try out suggested strategies from literature.

References

Bentley, Kevin. (2017). What to consider when selecting an online exam proctoring service. Inside HigherEd. (June 21, 2017). Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2017/06/21/selecting-online-exam-proctoring-service on February 22, 2019.

Gurung, R. A. R., Wilhelm, T. M., & Filz, T. (2012). Optimizing honor codes for online exam administration. Ethics & Behavior, 22, 158–162.

Konheim-Kalkstein, Y. L. (2006). Use of a classroom honor code in higher education. Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology, 7, 169–179.

Konheim-Kalkstein,Y. L., Stellmack, M. A., & Shilkey, M. L. (2008). Comparison of honor code and non-honor code classrooms at a non-honor code university. Journal of College & Character, 9, 1–13.

J.M. Lang. (2013). How college classes encourage cheating. Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/08/03/how-college-classes-encourage-cheating/3Q34x5ysYcplWNA3yO2eLK/story.html on February 21, 2019.

Lieberman, Mark. (2018). Exam proctoring for online students hasn’t yet transformed. Inside Higher Ed (October 10, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/10/10/online-students-experience-wide-range-proctoring-situations-tech, on February 22, 2019.

Michael London. (2017). 5 Ways to Cheat on Online Exams. Inside Higher Ed (09/20/2017). Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/views/2017/09/20/creative-ways-students-try-cheat-online-exams on February 21, 2019.

Derek Newton. (2015). Cheating in Online Classes is now big business. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/11/cheating-through-online-courses/413770/ on February 21, 2019.

Vicky Phillips. (n.d.). Big Fat Online Education Myths – students cheat like weasels in Online Classes. GetEducated. Retrieved from https://www.geteducated.com/elearning-education-blog/big-fat-online-education-myths-students-cheat-like-weasels-in-online-classes/ on February 21, 2019.

Chris Pilgrim and Christopher Scanlon. (2018). Don’t assume online students are more likely to cheat. The evidence is murky. Retrieved from https://phys.org/news/2018-07-dont-assume-online-students-evidence.html on February 21, 2019.

Rochester Institute of Technology. (2014). Teaching Elements: Assessing Online Students. Retrieved from https://www.rit.edu/academicaffairs/tls/sites/rit.edu.academicaffairs.tls/files/docs/TE_Online%20Assessmt.pdf on February 21, 2019.

Shu, L. L., Mazar, N., Gino, F., Ariely, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2012). Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end. PNAS, 109, 15197–15200.

George Watson. And James Sottile. (2010). Cheating in digital age: Do students cheat more in online courses? Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 13(1). Retrieved from https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring131/watson131.html on February 21, 2019

First, let’s start by considering the characteristics of effective feedback in general. What comes to mind?

sound waves

Perhaps you hear in your head (in the authentically authoritative voice of a past professor) the words timely, frequent, regular, balanced, specific. Perhaps you recall the feedback sandwich–corrective feedback sandwiched between positive feedback. Perhaps you consider rubrics or ample formative feedback to be critical components of effective feedback. You wouldn’t be wrong.

As educators, we understand the main characteristics of effective feedback. But despite this fact, students are often disappointed by the feedback they receive and faculty find the feedback process time consuming, often wondering if the time commitment is worth it. As an instructional designer, I hear from faculty who struggle to get students to pay attention to feedback and make appropriate changes based on feedback. I hear from faculty who struggle to find the time to provide quality feedback, especially in large classes. The struggle is real. I know this because I hear about it all the time.

I’m glad I hear about these concerns. I always want faculty to share their thoughts about what’s working and what’s not working in their classes. About a year or two ago, I also started hearing rave reviews from faculty who decided to try audio feedback in their online courses. They loved it and reported that their students loved it. Naturally, I wanted to know if these reports were outliers or if there’s evidence supporting audio feedback as an effective pedagogical practice.

I started by looking for research on how audio feedback influences student performance, but what I found was research on how students and faculty perceive and experience audio feedback.

What I learned was that, overall, students tend to prefer audio feedback. Faculty perceptions, however, are mixed, especially in terms of the potential for audio feedback to save them time.

While the research was limited and the studies often had contradictory results, there was one consistent takeaway from multiple studies: audio feedback supports social presence, student-faculty connections, and engagement.

While research supports the value of social presence online, audio feedback is not always considered for this purpose. Yet, audio feedback is an excellent opportunity to focus on teaching presence by connecting one-to-one with students.

If you haven’t tried audio feedback in your classes, and you want to, here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Use the Canvas audio tool in Speedgrader. See the “add media comment” section of the Canvas guide to leaving feedback comments. Since this tool is integrated with Canvas, you won’t have to worry about upload and download times for you or your students.
  2. Start slow. You don’t have to jump into the deep end and provide audio comments on all of your students’ assignments. Choose one or two to get started.
  3. Ask your students what they think. Any time you try something new, it’s a good idea to hear from your students. Creating a short survey in your course to solicit student feedback is an excellent way to get informal feedback.
  4. Be flexible. If you have a student with a hearing impairment or another barrier that makes audio feedback a less than optimal option for them, be prepared to provide them with written feedback or another alternative.

Are you ready to try something new? Have you tried using audio feedback in your course? Tell us how it went!

References:

Image by mtmmonline on Pixabay.

Note: This post was based on a presentation given at the STAR Symposium in February 2019. For more information and a full list of references, see the presentation slide deck.

 

“…expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.” – Daniel Kahneman

Students are eager to receive meaningful feedback quickly. With hopes of improving their class performance, timely and substantive feedback is essential to helping students get on track before it is too late. Yet, knowing this doesn’t change why feedback and grading sometimes gets put off, despite our best intentions – it can appear daunting and time consuming.

8 ideas on how to take the sting out of providing feedback:

Self-checks

Not all feedback requires your intervention or even a grade. Can you set-up an activity where students can check their understanding and get immediate feedback? A simple solution is to create a short practice activity (e.g. multiple choice quiz, drag and drop interactive) which provides immediate results. The prompt feedback supports students to move on to more challenging work with confidence. In some systems, including Canvas, you can provide comments for wrong answers that clues them into where they could find the right answer.

Screencasts

As a student, I really enjoyed a course where the faculty member used screencasts to give feedback. I never had to schedule time during her office hours to feel like we were sitting down and having a conversation about my work. Her tone was approachable, I could rewatch the feedback to make sure I understood it, and it was so personal. It was also a nice break from reading text.

When I later heard her share at a faculty training event that she used this method because it was faster than providing text feedback, I was shocked – that had never occurred to me as a student! She has found that by using screencasts she doesn’t have to labor over editing her words to make sure what she is trying to convey doesn’t get interpreted the wrong way. She saves a lot of time by making them intentionally brief and informal, all while providing students an experience that feels relatable and relaxed.

You can check out this Faculty Focus article on Using Screencasts for Formative and Summative Assessment to learn more.

Campus Partners

Could you require students to see a campus partner, like a writing center, to review a first draft of an assignment? Of course, you will want to discuss your idea with these offices before designing your assignments. If they are willing, they can help you by catching a lot of simple errors in students’ work, so you can focus more of your grading on the content in a later iteration. Also, feedback from multiple people broadens the scope of perspectives a student receives, which deepens their learning.

Here at OSU, you might contact the Ecampus Student Success Counselors, OSU Library, Math Learning Center, Online Writing Lab, or other offices to chat about options for partnership.

Self-assessments

You might be surprised how honest students will be about their own work if they are given the opportunity to grade themselves. Providing a rubric and asking students to respond to each criteria can be a helpful way to encourage students to take a moment to step back, reflect on what they have done, and provide suggestions to themselves on how they could improve.

Group feedback

Providing group feedback quickly allows the ‘go getters’ to get started with at least some advice from you while you are finishing giving more specific grades and comments. While you want to use group feedback sparingly, because students need personalized feedback that relates to their specific work, it can help you to prevent a lot of individual email questions. If you are able to offer group feedback that notes class-wide trends more quickly than individual feedback, it shows that you are reviewing the work and paying attention to how students are doing.

Text expanders

Do you often find yourself writing the same types of comments for students over and over? Text expanders allow you to write a small string of text and it expands into a larger piece of text. Some ideas:

  1. APA => Please review the APA in-text citation guidelines at Purdue OWL.
  2. Rubric => See the rubric requirements regarding this section.
  3. Great => This is great work – way to go!
  4. Research => What research are you using as a basis for your claim? What evidence can you provide for this claim?
  5. Replies => This discussion forum required two replies. Please make sure to post at least two replies in subsequent discussion forums to receive full credit.

If you are unsure where to start, check-out this instructor video You Type Too Much! Use a Text Expander To Save Time from Cengage Learning (duration 01:59).

Social pressure

Consider leveraging social pressure through assignments that are public, like e-portfolios or blogs. It’s amazing how much our work improves when we think it will be viewed by others. If students are presenting their work in a public forum, they may take more ownership over the quality, which reduces how much effort is required by you to grade. You will want to check with your instructional designer on how to do this while still adhering to FERPA.

Chocolate

I hate looking at finances, so when it is time to go over my budget, I put on relaxing music and treat myself to a favorite chocolate. If grading is painful, creating a positive ritual around it can make it easier to engage. Are there ways you can make your environment more inviting and focused?

If you are interested in exploring any of these ideas in more detail, contact your instructional designer to discuss what could work for your course and your teaching style. Remember, meaningful feedback will help your students focus on the learning, rather than just the grade.

By: Amy Munger

Great places to find answers to this question are the Lilly Conferences on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning held annually at six sites from coast to coast. These conferences invite participants to engage in lively dialogue about the scholarship of teaching and learning, share best practices and hone teaching skills. Lilly Conferences are not specific to any course modality; they cover classroom, hybrid and online teaching. I found the three topics from August’s Lilly – Asheville Conference of particular interest: alternative approaches to traditional grading, faculty and student empathy, and strategies to enhance the effectiveness of lectures.

Alternative Grading Systems

Michael Palmer,  director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Teaching Excellence, challenged conference attendees to address the question “How does grading influence learning?” He then encouraged examination of alternative approaches to traditional grading practices, and explained specifications (“specs”) grading, which he personally uses. Briefly, specifications grading involves:

  • Grading assignments and assessments on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis, where mastery (passing) is set at a “B” level or better.
  • Bundling assignments and assessments together and allowing students to select these “bundles” based on the final course grade they are seeking. Bundles are aligned with specific course learning outcomes. Higher final grades require students to do more work and/or more challenging work.
  • Building in flexibility by giving students a few tokens at the outset that they can trade in for an extension on an assignment or an opportunity to revise/redo an unsatisfactory assignment.

Advocates of specs grading tout its effectiveness in motivating and engaging students while restoring rigor, providing actionable feedback (Palmer gives audio feedback) and supporting deep learning. To learn more, see Linda Nilson’s book Specifications Grading. Regarding ways to provide feedback that enhances learning in online courses, see Wanted: Effective Instructor Feedback.

Empathy and Student Success

Katherine Rowell of Ohio’s Sinclair Community College spoke eloquently about “The Importance of Teacher and Student Empathy in Student Success.”

  • She noted that positive faculty-student relationships are a principal factor predicting student success. In fact, the 2014 Gallup-Purdue survey found that college graduates were far more likely to be engaged in their work and thriving in key areas of well-being if they had one or more positive relationships with faculty.
  • Rowell encouraged the audience to learn more about the role that empathy plays in student success, and to look at how empathy—by both instructors and students—is manifest in the college classroom, including the online classroom.
  • She recommended Christopher Uhl and Dana Stuchul’s book Teaching as If Life Matters which encourages teachers to nurture students in ways that make learning beneficial for a more meaningful life. In this regard, OSU Business instructor Nikki Brown’s recent post in this blog on meeting students where they are is a excellent place to start.

Improving Lectures

Todd Zakrajsek of UNC-Chapel Hill presented evidence-based strategies to enhance lecture effectiveness. His message can be applied to asynchronous online learning as well as to on-campus courses:

  • Lectures and active learning are not mutually exclusive. Using lectures, including short online lectures, plus active learning can reach more learners better than using either technique in the absence of the other. Think of strategies to get learners to interact with the lecture content!
  • “We have to stop thinking there’s only one kind of lecture.” Just as there are many varieties of active learning, there are multiple kinds of lecturing!  The classic college lecture model is continuous expository lecturing, which can effectively stifle student engagement when delivered non-stop in one-hour doses! It’s useful to consider how other approaches such as case-study, discussion-framing, and problem-solving lectures can be used in online and hybrid courses.
  • We all benefit from examining the research on how learners learn, and applying this knowledge  to inform course development and teaching, including lecture design. For more on this, see The New Science of Learning, co-authored by Zakrajsek and Terry Doyle. Also consider meeting students where they are.

What are your experiences with these topics: Have you explored alternative grading systems? How do you use empathy in your teaching? What are some strategies you use to improve lecture effectiveness and incorporate active learning? Please share your ideas here.

 

We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve. - Bill Gates
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

In online education courses, providing effective feedback is essential. It’s can be easy to provide students with a number or letter grade on their assignments, but it is the additional feedback where the opportunity for student growth occurs. While there are many forms of effective feedback, there are 5 elements that can help you provide more meaningful and effective feedback regardless of the method of delivery.

  1. Give Timely Feedback
    • Timely feedback to students sends the message that you are engaged in the course and the student’s work. Having just finished an assignment, the student is also going to be more open to the feedback you provide because their work is still fresh in their mind. They have the opportunity to immediately incorporate your feedback into the next assignment, improving their overall performance going forward. Students in a master’s degree program were more likely to ignore feedback comments on their written work that were not provided promptly. (Draft & Lengel, 1986) Including a statement in the syllabus about your expected time of feedback on assignments, and sticking to it, helps students understand your timeline and will reduce questions to you later on.
  2. Start with a positive message
    • Creating a feedback sandwich (compliment, suggestions for correction, compliment) for your student pairs together both specific positive feedback and any elements the students should work on. The positive feedback encourages the student and prepares them with a positive outlook when hearing about areas that need improvement. Finishing again with positive feedback such as “I look forward to seeing your next assignment” tells the student that even though they have corrections to make, their work is still valued and that they can improve on future assignments.
  3. Use Rubrics
    • One of the best tools that can be used are rubrics. A detailed rubric sets clear expectations of the student for that particular assignment. While completing their assignment they can constantly check their work against what you expect to see in their finished work. Another benefit to creating the rubric is that you can use it to analyze their papers with that same criteria. Some instructors have found that by using a rubric, it helps to be more consistent and fair with grading. No matter if it is the first paper, the last paper, or if you might be having a good or bad day, the rubric helps.
  4. Give personal feedback and help the students make the connection between the content and their lives
    • Connection is key. Providing personal feedback to your students while helping them see the connection between the content and their lives will show that you have taken time to personally respond to them instead of using “canned responses.” Students who don’t feel as if the content in the class will ever relate to their lives now, or in their careers later on, will often lose interest in  assignments in general as well as feedback because they don’t see the connection. Getting to know your students at the beginning of the term assists in giving good personal feedback while helping them see the connection between the content and their life.
  5. Consider using alternative formats of feedback
    • Students are used to getting feedback in written form and while that format can be very effective, using an alternative way to provide feedback can be equally or more effective. They enjoy the personal connections that can be created through audio and/or video feedback. Students appreciate receiving specific feedback relating to the grade, rubric, and overall assessment. In fact, some students say that: “..video encouraged more supportive and conversational communication.” (Borup, West, Thomas, 2015) Give it a try!

By employing these strategies, your students will be appreciative of the feedback you provide and you might just get some fantastic feedback yourself. In one case, an instructor shared a great comment from one of their students comparing past courses to the instructor’s:

…I never received personal feedback [in some other courses]. Your course however has been wonderful. Thank you for putting so much time into each of your comments on my writing. I can tell you really made personal feedback a priority. You don’t know how nice it was to really know that my professor is reading my work.” The student goes further to say; “Thank you for taking your teaching seriously and caring about your students. It shows.

Getting personal and effective feedback like this should inspire you to begin or continue that great feedback!

 

References:

Borup, J., West, R.E., Thomas, R. (2015) The impact of text versus video communication on instructor feedback in blended courses Education Tech Research Dev 63:161-184 doi: 10.1004/s11426-015-9367-8

Draft, R.L. & Lengel, R.H. (1986. Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design. Management Science, 32(5), 554-571

With the migration to Canvas comes many new features and methods for facilitating your course.stock-photo-female-tourist-holding-a-map-890139 The Canvas Guides provide a lot of information, but you may be wondering, where do I even start? Here at Ecampus, we’ve put together a few guides to help you become familiar with some of the tools in Canvas.

First, if you’re wondering, “I did this in Blackboard, but I can’t find it in Canvas; how do I…?”, we’ve created a few design options for that. These design options explore how to adapt features that you’ve used in Blackboard to the new Canvas environment.

 

We’ve also created some more in depth quick references that help explain how to use some of the most popular Canvas features.

 

The Quick Reference guides and other helpful Canvas-specific information can be found on our Canvas Faculty Resources page. We also have a list of resources for teaching an online course on our Teaching Resources page where you can find our favorite presentation, web-conferencing, and other tools.

 

Are there other features you’ve discovered or some you’d like to know more about? Leave your feedback in the comments!

Have lots of papers to grade? Lots of student assignments that need your expert, detailed feedback? Instructors and students alike know the value of formative assessments, but instructors know how much time quality, detailed feedback takes to supply. Shortkeys is a helpful program that can help instructors provide detailed feedback and save time in grading by reducing the need to re-type the same passages repeatedly.

Shortkeys is a macro program, which is a program that allows you to set up replacement text for a small number of user-defined keystrokes. If there is anything you type multiple times, this program is for you. There is a limited-use free version, called Shortkeys Lite. The full program costs around $25.
Benefits of using this program:
  • Significantly reduces grading time – a clear benefit for instructors
  • Much more efficient than copying and pasting from Word files
  • Reduces errors due to typos
  • Significantly improves the depth of feedback instructors can provide, given time limitations – a clear benefit for students
  • Useful for URLs, HTML code, phone numbers, email addresses, library card numbers, page references in textbooks, or any other information you find yourself having to look up more than once

How it works:
The user programs each “shortkey” code and types out the replacement text. Once the shortkey is saved, it is ready to be re-used. For instance, for a shortkey that is programmed to explain a comma splice and how to fix one, a user could set the shortkey as “##cs.” As soon as the user types that code, a full explanation about comma splices is placed in the document: This is a type of run-on sentence called a comma splice, which is two complete sentences linked with nothing but a comma. Two complete sentences need more than a comma to separate them. To correct this, change the comma to a semi-colon, add a conjunction, or simply make two separate sentences.

Possible applications:

  • To explain common grammatical and punctuation errors
  • To provide examples to students, such as example thesis statements
  • To refer students to outside resources
  • To demonstrate proper citation styles for various types of sources
  • To include “here’s what I was looking for & here’s how your assignment measured up” notes for student assignments
  • To record summaries and announcements that you re-use in my courses from term to term
  • To remind students of course policies, such as late policies
  • To record HTML code you use frequently in Blackboard

Where to get it:

To order the software or to download a free trial version, visit www.shortkeys.com.