The problem with trying to turn a webinar presentation into a blog post is the same problem as trying to turn the tools of the f2f classroom into the models for the online classroom. There is a category confusion that obscures fundamental differences, and leads inexorably to the kind of horror show that online education has become in some venues. So what you will read here is a hybrid creature, borne of the union between lecture and lightshow, between accessibility and accountability. It’s ugly, but not dangerous. Perhaps….
Reflections from the Webinar I offered to our PLC
The topic of the webinar was Assessment and Feedback. In it I make the following claims:
- The online experience changes the nature of the assessment-feedback loop. The distance it creates makes possible a separation between message and medium that allows assessment to be focused more precisely on the product rather than the producer, on the texte, not the texteur, and this is a good thing;
- This is good because students must be taught that there is a difference between their work and themselves, and that a critique of the former is not a dissing of the latter. The nature of f2f communication obscures this important distinction while the artifice of online interaction highlights it;
- This allows the student to grow in two ways: their work can be more easily improved because their self-regard is no longer directly implicated; and their emotional maturity can be enhanced because they will learn to face intellectual challenge rationally, and come to appreciate the virtues of argument over assertion. By the time students have reached the IB, this is a lesson that needs learning. Their success at university will depend on it.
- Online assessment demands of teachers a concern for precision and clarity that can be finessed in the f2f classroom. For the student, your online feedback is the presence that makes your corporeal absence inconsequential. But that presence must be substantial, and is instantiated, once again, as text, calling on the student to exercise the same care and rigor absorbing its message as you have done with theirs. This evaluative skill, valorized through games such as peer-review, is more likely to be mastered when the only peer reviewed is the one doing the evaluation. Learning can be a shared project, but ultimately, and I believe this deeply, the only real learning is that achieved by the individual student. A class participates in creating the learning environment; it is the individual student who does or does not.
Student – teacher relationship
What are the ramifications of this restructured relationship between student and teacher? The literature on online teaching proposes such things as a new focus on student initiative, a displacement of the instructor from sage to guide (you know the mantra), an emphasis on process rather than content. I am suspicious of these outcomes, both conceptually and empirically, but of one thing I am certain. The online world permits the dispelling of certain myths surrounding the teaching encounter the analysis of which will serve as my conclusion, and my challenge.
I do not want to be my students’ friend, even if their Facebook fantasy says I am. It is very difficult to honestly evaluate a friend’s work, especially when the authority you hold over her is real (and in this case, it most certainly is!).
I do not want to be my students’ parent. Online learning demands of students some heightened degree of responsibility for their own behavior. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make engagement possible and even attractive; it is not her responsibility to make it inevitable.
And finally, it is through the intellectual process crystallized in the structure of online assessment and feedback that students might find a firm anchor for the self-esteem that seems so often insecure (although in my long classroom experience, that is not nearly so true as we are sometimes to encouraged to believe). This will be formed not on the basis of warm and fuzzy wishes, but on the satisfaction which comes when the difficult is both recognized and appreciated, and then, with the teacher’s assistance, overcome.
This post was written by Pamoja Education Psychology teacher Stuart Cipinko