July 22, 2013

Grading and assessment, water and oil?

As I've been getting ready for ACRL Immersion 2013 Program Track (I leave in 1 week!), I've been finishing up a lot of readings on assessment. I've actually been really glad to read these articles, because as I've better solidified my notion of assessment through applying it to the instruction I am doing, I am finding my ideas are aligning with what I am reading.

The pattern I am finding in these readings is that assessment needs to be more holistic; assessment should be a method for students to learn rather than a focus on evaluation; and assessment should provide ongoing, meaningful feedback for students to practice instead of being judged.

We are wrapping up the summer semester with the badges pilot, and Purdue Passport incorporates assessment within earning a badge. Typically, a badge is given after a skill has been achieved, where assessment is more evaluative and judgmental rather than to provide feedback for improvement. This clashes with how I would prefer to teach and use the badges, so I've been using the feedback/assessment mechanism in Passport differently than it might be intended.

This is good because I think students are getting more out of the class, but also poses some conflicts:
  1. If badges being awarded are not based on more rigid judgement of skill acquisition, how valuable are they?
  2. On this note, how interoperable are they? Can their qualities be translated or compared to other institutions or libraries offering similar badges if desired evidence isn't as clearly enforced?
Because this is a credit class, grades need to be tied to student work. For this, the badges are essentially pass/fail. You either earn the badge or you don't. If a student is late in finishing badge work an exception is made to give them half off, but this is the only partial credit awarded. There are pros and cons to this as well:

Pros: Students can take risks in their responses and have less fear of failure (this positive aspect is rooted in game mechanics); I can focus more on the quality of my feedback rather than what level of good or bad the student's work falls into

Cons: How is good student work differentiated from bad work? Particularly if bad work is due to sloppiness or disinterest. Shouldn't a student who submitted excellent work (or evidence) for a badge be awarded the badge, where less stellar work would not be awarded the badge? Isn't the purpose of awarding badges to demonstrate that a skill was successfully acquired?

I have such mixed feelings on this. But one feature of Passport is to allow students a re-do. I use this often for sloppy work. I will leave feedback explaining exactly what I'm looking for and give the student a second chance (next semester I will be sharing specific rubrics for each badge with students so they have an even better concept of what level of understanding is desired). 

I am not a stickler on lower-level concepts like formatting a citation perfectly or memorizing exact steps on how to find an article when you only have a citation (these are specific assessments in the class to address more basic skills within learning outcomes). If a student has most of a citation right but forgets to italicize the journal title for MLA style, it's really just busy work for them to make them re-do it or for me to take points off. I leave feedback letting them know they mostly got it and to remember to double check these things for formal papers; and then I give them all the points. I love Barbara Fister's 2013 LOEX Keynote (in fact, my team read it as part of our strategic planning for the new fiscal year). I agree so strongly with her whole presentation, and using a specific example here, "very rarely outside of school are citations needed." I care way more about if students are able to understand what the purpose of a citation is and to incorporate this into their new understanding of "research as conversation" than about styles and how to format.

One assigned article that has been part of this class for a long time is a CQ Researcher article on cheating: why students cheat and how they cheat. It's interesting to see what students agree with in their reflections and a number do say that when a student doesn't feel course material has real application in their lives (or when an instructor provides little to no meaningful feedback), a student has no motivation or investment to put in quality work, and so cheating is easy. Focusing less on grades and more on understanding and a conversation between the students and us as instructors creates a richer experience for all. Their reflections resonate well with what we're doing in the course to make it apply to their lives, to attain better work from them, and in turn to provide more meaningful, continuous feedback. This also allows for continuous improvement on our end; the crux of assessment.