No Warm and Fuzzy Wishes – A Critical Interrogation of Assessment and Feedback


Feedback and assessment in online educationThe 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.

Webinar excerpts


This post was written by Pamoja Education Psychology teacher Stuart Cipinko

Stuart C













MOOCs for Professional Development

Coursera – My first two weeks

Mooc for PDI am a Coursera student and I am not alone! Coursera has literally hundreds of thousands of students – studying for FREE. They are not unique, there is also EdX, who may not have such an extensive choice of courses but is also impressive, well supported by top universities and definitely “la tendence”. A quick look through Coursera shows that it has a impressively wide range of course choice and is supported by top universities in the US, including Stanford, CalTech and UPenn.

And it’s free????

Yes it is. I am currently following a seven week course from Stanford on Game Theory and it is well presented and fun….don’t forget that I like Math!

I would recommend you to read the following article about who created Coursera and how it may be monetized in the future. The key point is that for the moment, and the foreseeable future, it is free for the individual student.

How can it be free?

The coursera model is scalable. Once the work has been done to create a course, and in these courses the use of green-screen and tablets to make the video lectures is really impressive, then there is no limit to the number of students that the course can accept. The course includes short video lectures, discussion forums (optional), simulations (optional) and problem sets. The problem sets are multi – choice and graded automatically. Apart from dealing with technical or organizational problems the lecturers have no need to be involved in the course, apart form the odd input into a discussion forum. This scalability means that there is a front end cost to create the course which is known but after that there is little additional expense.

What is the student experience?

I am really enjoying the course. That is not surprising, since I love doing mathematics and my reasons for doing the course are self – motivated. However, if I did not have a strong math background and if I was not used to a certain type of thinking about problems then I can imagine a student becoming quickly discouraged. There is not much technical mathematics in the course but it does require a certain approach that a general student might struggle with. If I was not capable of this then the course would not help me develop the key meta skills that allow me to cope with the thinking required.

There are study groups in the course and if I hooked up with the right people we could collaborate to develop the necessary thinking or technical skills. However, the key point is that there is no “teacher” to go to that supports or models these approaches to mathematical thinking. Meta thinking and learning is not explicitly built into the course. I think this is a similar situation for another much vaunted education platform – Khan Academy. Coursera and Khan Academy are content delivery platforms, no bad thing, but that is just one (perhaps rather small and unimportant) element in the education of a person. I would argue that this is just as true for a subject such as Mathematics as a “creative” subject such as Art. One could argue that pure content delivery is a general model for university education and not the fault of the online platform. However, I would rather you compare such an experience with the learning environment in a good school

Courses vs Curriculum

One thing I really like about Coursera is the name. I do not know whether this was a definite decision or subliminal but Coursera provides courses and this seems an honest acceptance that Coursera is about content delivery. I am aware that the etymology of Course and Curriculum  both come from the idea of forward movement, a race. However, in modern usage I think a Course is a body of knowledge to be communicated whereas a Curriculum is a broader definition of learning. Curriculum implies process, meta thinking, methodology and a set of values. Curriculum needs teachers and teachers are not scalable. If I have hundreds of thousands of students I need thousands of teachers. The more students, the more teachers. That costs money.

So what is a teacher for?

My positive experience with Coursera and my (also positive) experience as an online educator is helping me to crystalise my thinking about education, teaching and learning in these environments. We seem to be getting to the nub of the issue. During the next few weeks I will blog about what it means to TEACH online and what it means for students if they are to LEARN. Here are some questins that will motivate my next few blog posts.

If content delivery can be leveraged for quality and made scalable for access where does this leave the role of a teacher if they are no longer the primary means of content delivery?Do online “taught” curriculum allow students to learn or are they just content delivery with bells and whistles?Can teachers in online environments help students develop meta thinking skills and transmit value sets, approaches to learning and routines that help students learn how to learn? How?

This is all fascinating stuff and I really hope you will join me on this journey. I am excited about hearing your thoughts.


This post was written by Pamoja Education Math Teacher & HoD Tim Knight

Tim Knight


Image Credit – Flickr Commons



Creating Reference Materials for Online Education Students

Reference materials for online studentsWhen evaluating students’ learning, a clear understanding of the nature and expectations of the assessments is one of the keys to successful outcomes.

How I informed my students of IB curriculum  and assessment changes

The IB Languages curriculum and assessments changed for 2013.  Therefore, it was important to create resources that could be used as a quick reference for our students to go back to better understand the new components. The Language guides provide detailed information presented for educators but, they are not student friendly or sufficient.

In order to make Assessment explanations and rubrics accessible to all my students, I decided to create webinars using student friendly explanations.  These videos are becoming tools for Site Based Coordinators, parents, tutors and other educators who need to get access to a quick and reliable reference.

One of the tools that we work with in the Pamoja courses and possibly my favorite one is Elluminate.  I use this platform to present information using organizers designed by me, taken from the language guide, procedure handbook or the On Line Curriculum Center (OCC).

After recording the webinar on Elluminate I also make a copy on Screencast-o-matic, as it allows me to share the resource in two different formats and it allows me to keep track of how many viewers are using the resource.  Based on the received feedback, I have realized that these webinars are serving not only the students but also our PLC.

It is important to keep in mind, that the webinars are a reference and that IB teachers need to continue using the Language Guide for more detailed information.

Find an example Webinar below: “Tips for the Internal Assessment”



This post was written by  Pamoja Education Spanish Teacher Laura Locker

Laura L


Image Credit – Flickr Commons


Beyond Content – Research Skills for 21st Century Students

Online education research skills



All good teachers go beyond teaching the content of a particular subject.  Teaching students how to learn is just as important, if not more important, than any specific content item that appears on an exam.



The International Baccalaureate (IB) has recognized this for a long time with the IB Learner Profile and now, with the launch of the new program models (shown below), developing effective ‘approaches to learning’ is emphasized throughout and at the center of all four programs.

IB Programmes Pamoja Education

© International Baccalaureate Organization 2012

Beyond Research Skills

One skill set that often gets overlooked is the student’s ability to access, use, and evaluate information effectively and efficiently (i.e., information literacy). The phrase information literacy is frequently misunderstood and sometimes limited to the term ‘research skills’, but it is really so much more than that.

The Association of College and Research Libraries defines information literacy and outlines what information literate students are able to do here.  But in essence students need to consider the following questions on a more regular basis:

1) What is the purpose of my research?

  • Do I need to complete an assignment?  Create a presentation?  Is the task focused around knowledge acquisition or does it require higher-level thinking like analysis or synthesis?
  • Do I need text?  Video?  Pictures?  Audio?
  • Is the information I am downloading legal? Ethical?

2) How can I find the information?

  • What is the best way to search for information? Database? Google? Facebook? Twitter?  Interview an expert? Creative Commons?
  • Is the internet always better?
  • What technology tool works best – smartphone, tablet, or computer?
  • Do I understand the difference between academic and popular information?  Primary vs. secondary?  Quantitative vs. qualitative?

3) How do I evaluate information?

  • Can I detect bias?
  • How do I ensure the validity of the information?
  • Does the information satisfy the original purpose of my research?
  • Can I detect crap information? (See Howard Rheingold’s video Crap Detection 101 or blog post)

4) How can I best use and share the information?

  • Who is my audience? Who should I share the information with?
  • Should I be using copy/paste?
  • How do I cite my sources?
  • Which tool/software will work best to use/present my information?
  • What are the next steps?

What To Do – Five Useful Tips For Educators

As you can see this is a long list of questions that students rarely consider.  It can’t be done in one lesson and can’t be done by just one teacher.  So, how can we as educators help our students become more information literate?

  • Make sure assignments ask students to go beyond copy/paste of basic knowledge and clearly outline expectations for any research.
  • Look for opportunities to discuss the legal and ethical issues surrounding the downloading of movies and music as well as images and citing text.
  • Model effective information literacy by using Creative Commons and citing sources accurately in your own presentations.
  • Use resources like as a teaching resource not as a way to catch and punish students, but as another way to teach students how to use information properly.
  • And finally, if you are lucky enough to have a librarian at your school (or if you are like me and are lucky enough to be married to one) plan and collaborate with your librarian on a regular basis. 

Additional videos and links:

This post was written by Pamoja Education Business & Management Teacher and HoD Brad Opfer in collaboration with librarian Kim Opfer
Brad Opfer


Mathematics Online – You Must Be Joking!!


Math OnlineWhy on earth would a student take an online math course? Especially one as tough as Higher Math? Surely with Math it is all about having concepts, ideas and problems explained to you and being in the same room is obviously the way to go.

Not so fast Batman!!!!!

I am now one of those mythic online teacher. The fingers, voice and widget juggler behind the online educational screen. I was really not sure how this would work out for me since as a face to face teacher one of my key skills was the ability to enthuse students with my own passion for the subject. On top of that I had the ability to give students confidence with clever anecdotes and metaphors. This allowed my students to see the subject from a different perspective that put them at ease (usually!). I also loved using tasks and activities that could go in many different directions, solving problems cold so they could see me making mistakes and getting deep into discussion and questioning. How the heck would I ever be able to do this ONLINE?????

The tech counter intuitive

So, after two years experience what I have realised is that the online environment is counter intuitive in that in reality you know your students better as individual students. Perhaps we lose something of how they interact with that community we call “the class” with its friendships, dislikes, envies, crushes and jealousies. All the kids I teach are in school so I do not worry about them missing out on these. But I do see how each students interacts with the content that they have come to in a democratic and even handed manner that is hard to achieve in a face to face classroom. There are also now plenty of tools available for the egotistical teacher such as myself to do their “thang” synchronously in live sessions.

But what is in it for the kids? 

Well first off the online experience itself is extremely worthwhile for all students and if they are strong and/or enjoy in Mathematics  this is a good avenue to explore this experience.

I think that face to face schools traditionally reward and serve extroverts extremely well. Not all students in my mathematics classes have been extrovert by a long way. Students’ personality becomes more important than their character in determining success which has got to be unfair. This can also be a cultural issue (e.g. a quiet, able ESL Japanese girl in a Math class where half the students are bright, loud, confident US boys – this is a serious stereotype and you can reverse the roles with a bunch of Korean girls and a shy boy from the UK). I often hear  statements from kids in my class when talking about themselves of being “quiet” and “finding it hard to ask questions in class”. The online environment allows students to ask questions in both public and private forums without having to physically “put their hand in the air” or worse be put on the spot by the teacher. This can be huge for some students. It breaks down barriers and reduces math anxiety one of the key causes for students struggling in math classes. Just take a look below at a question asked by one of my online students. Did you notice how naturally and confidently she spoke? Huh, simply amazing!


The online classrooms change the locus of control. There is a “flip” in the classroom and this changes who controls the communication and how the student interacts with content. This requires a more mature approach by students (and this has to be developed). However, this kind of generic learning approach is vital for students to develop as they move beyond school to higher education and a career (well just LIFE!!!!). This is important in Mathematics where a lot of (bad) teaching of the subject occur where teachers “TEACH” and students (sometimes) “learn”. In the online model the focus is purely LEARNING and after that assessment of learning, reflection and remediation. Students have to take responsibility for their own learning but is that a bad thing?

The nature of the course writing and course protocols means that as a subject my course can leverage the quality of our content by working with some of the best math educators around. The time, resources and energy spent on producing the course is infinitely more than what will ever be found in any single school. The transparency of the environment means we have to have policy and procedure in assessment, student interaction, communication and feedback that is far more standardised and scrutinised than in any regular individual school.

So, just place the kids in front of a computer and we will enter the promised land…



This post was written by Pamoja Education Math Teacher & HoD Tim Knight

Tim Knight


Image Credit – Flickr Commons


Live Stream of the IB Americas Common Core Summit

Today, Wednesday December 12 at 10:00 a.m ET (3:00 p.m GMT), educators are meeting for the IB Americas Common Core Summit (Hashtag: #IBCore).

And  guess what?????  You can view the summit live and as it is happening right here in our blog.

So, get your cup of coffee or tea, click on the play button and enjoy:



If you are able to view the live stream, we invite you to share any comments and notes in the comments section below.


Guest Post – Using QR Codes in Online Education

This guest post was written by Colleen Lee-Hayes of Language Sensei.


Colleen Lee-HayesWe are, as teachers, always looking for a unique way to engage students and facilitate their learning. Online education offers many innovative options, one is the fact that it is linked to mobile learning. And here is where QR Codes can be incorporated.

What are QR codes?

QR (Quick Response) codes are 2-dimensional barcodes which store information such as URLs, text, phone numbers, images, videos, audio files and more.  Easily scanned by any smart phone, iPod Touch or tablet with a free reading app, these codes provide a new ‘tool’ in getting information to students but also empowering them to seek information themselves. I do not teach online, but there are some  ideas pop to mind:

What if your web-quests were a real quest?

Imagine a typical online web quest where students follow links to find information. Now imagine that same web quest and students armed with their mobile devices scanning secret codes to get to the final objective. Finally, imagine that along the way, they saved important resources and tools that were to be used in the online course throughout the year and learned how to use these tools and how to access them.

Now, compare both imagined web quests. Which one would be more engaging, productive and innovative for students?

What if your students could take their assignments/important documents anywhere?

Students are on the go and surely you want to beat the “I was away” excuse. Then give them easy options to take their course and assignments with them. Prepare ahead of time for those expected travel weeks by offering material in QR codes so that students can simply scan and bring up anywhere they go.

What if you could reduce excuses?

Create a QR code with important dates, events, deadlines and office hours. Display it in your online course. Ask students to scan and to access it constantly from their mobile devices.

What about those Elluminate sessions?

On the whiteboard post a QR Code of materials/notes/slides that you want them to take.  Students can easily scan the code and save the materials as they listen to your session.

Or, post a QR code of an extra credit assignment/activity/question.

Are you wondering how I use QR Codes in my face2face classroom?

Take a look: What if your bulletin board could speak?

Would you like to know more about creating QR codes?

These are the slides that accompanied my recent presentation on QR Codes:



QR code for presentation:

QR Code Presentation






Other useful QR Code resources

How else would you use QR Codes in Online Education? Let us know…




The Global Education Conference 2012

The GlobalEdCon has Started…

The Global Education Conference 2012 started today. It goes on until Friday November 16. There are 400 online sessions scheduled and they run for 24 hours everyday (Nov 12 to Nov 16). Oh, and the best part is….they are all free!

Amazing conferences are being offered and given by international teachers. I just attended a session about “Online MUN”. There are subject specific sessions, general education sessions, EdTech sessions and much more. Many sessions talk about online education and 21st century skills.

The schedules are displayed in all time zones, therefore it is very easy to look into it and find out which sessions you can attend. They are all held in Elluminate, so it is a good way to see how else it is being used.

Did you know or very own John W. will be presenting one of the sessions? Don’t miss it!

The sessions and schedules can be accessed here: GEC 2012

Below is a short video on how to join the sessions. Enjoy!


Desire2Learn – D2L Useful Tips and Tricks

Pamoja Education PLC D2LBelow is a collection of  D2L tips and tricks that are sure to come in handy…

  • DropBoxes

    • Closing drop boxes
    • Giving special permissions
    • Hiding drop boxes
    • Adding feedback if there is no submission
  • Miscellaneous

If you know of other tips or tricks or would like one displayed, please let us know about it in the comments section.



Displaying Student Work in the Online Course

As in a face2face class, it is important to display the student work not just to make the classroom look pretty. The recorded webinar below will walk you through:

  • Why display student work in the online classroom
  • The purpose of displaying student work
  • Where to display student work

“Displaying Student Work in the Online Course” Recorded Webinar


Other Useful Tools

Any other ideas? Tools? Questions? We would love to hear from you!