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. 

July 15, 2013

Feelings and games

I'm currently enrolled in a MOOC (I am unsure how I currently feel about MOOCs overall in theory, but am liking this one so far). It's the Game Elements for Learning (#GE4L) MOOC offered through Canvas.

One of the readings we have been directed to is Karl Kapp's post, The emotional toll of instructional games.

(Kapp also wrote: The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. 2012).

I am finding this very intriguing because I have been having reservations about incorporating some game elements into the badge pilot I have designed for our 1 credit course. I wanted to have a leaderboard so students could feel good about doing extra work, but I did not want people to "shut down," as Kapp says, for not making it onto the leaderboard. The intent is to motivate, but in reality, it could have an opposite, unintended effect.

Kapp says, "If you decide to add game-elements (gamification) or if you decide to create a learning game with winners and losers, you need to find a way to deal with those who do not win. You need to help them avoid some of the negative feelings. You may even decide that a cooperative game is better than placing someone in a losing situation."

In the class, we are not offering enough rewards where certain people would feel like everyone but them is winning, and I am trying to mix it up so that a variety of people are included. I am also incorporating easter egg "mini-badges" for exceptional work, cooperative skills, or etc. be varied so the same people are not winning for excelling at particular skills while ignoring other skills. Students can unlock them without knowing. Still feeling it out as I go, and since this is the pilot it will be great to see what worked and what did not. I'm honestly a little worried that there is the reverse effect, that students might not care at all about the leaderboard. I'm still getting great work from them, but I'm not clear on if it is factoring into their submissions or not. They are very likely more motivated by the grade. And since this is a summer class, people are traveling and might have their thoughts elsewhere. Looking forward to survey data at the end of summer. I think I'm going to need to revisit the game + instructional design to make it more well-defined, include more motivational game elements, and find a way to make it not so heavily grade-focused (if possible since it is a credit course).

Kapp lists 12 ways to "mitigate losing in an instructional game or gamification situation," and I thought it might be useful to comment on each:

1) Forewarn the learners that they might become upset or frustrated if they find themselves losing and that is part of the learning process.
I did not do this, but I have at least tried to address affective learning outcomes and how research can cause frustration; that it's not easy or linear and you have to practice. I hope these skills can be applied to the game mechanics and course content as well, but perhaps it's better to come right out and say it.

2) Inform learners that they might lose the game and that is OK, learning will still occur.
I have done this in a way to allow students multiple attempts at a badge. This really can tie in to taking risks and having a decreased fear of failure. Since assessment should be to improve learning, not just judge work, I try to make the feedback really count.

3) Carefully brief all the learners on the instructional objectives of the game and de-emphasize winning.
Since the badging structure is tied directly to the course, the course objectives are the main focus. In this case, badges are more of a visual way to track progress.

4) Acknowledge the frustration or anger at losing.
Similar to my response for #1.

5) Ask learners to find lessons and reason within the lose. Have them dissect why they lost. Ask “can those insights lead to learning?”
Perhaps I should have students do more cognitive work here, but when they get it wrong when submitting work for a badge, I reiterate and clarify what exactly I'm looking for so they have a better opportunity to "win" the badge when they try again.

6) Don’t spend a great deal of time extolling the winners. Acknowledge winning and move right to the instructional lesson.
Exactly. I post a leaderboard in the news section and just leave it at that.

7) Provide a list of strategies that will help the learner win next time. (After the game.)
I try to do this in the assignment description so students know exactly what I'm looking for. It might even be better to post the actual rubric next semester.

8) Within the curriculum, follow the game activity with an activity where everyone can feel positive.
I'm not sure how this would play out in my scenario, but I think the participation points for discussion might work in this way. Rather than being graded on what is said, general points are given simply for being involved.

9) If in a classroom, allow people who did not win a chance to discuss why they didn’t win. Online, provide chat opportunities.
More chances for reflection would be very beneficial. The badges offered are so incremental, however, larger reflection might not be a good fit.

10) Consider if creating “winning” or “losing” is really what you want in the learning experience. Sometimes it is appropriate. Often it is appropriate but be prepared for unintended consequences and negative feedback if you don’t handle the situation properly.
Yes, definitely reconsidering even having a leaderboard. Maybe these easter egg "mini-badges" could instead be private between instructor and student.

11) Create different levels of winning, can a learner win a round, or one task, can small victories occur throughout the game. This is helpful because if a learner falls behind early, they may mentally drop out early in the learning process. Find ways to keep them engaged.
Love this.

12) Finally, you may want to consider building a cooperative rather than a competitive game. Working together is far more inclusive than competition.
Love this too. Just have to find a way to track each student's own work to tie to badge earning.

July 8, 2013

#ala2013 recap: Badges, student retention, and over-capacity parties

Wow #ala2013 went by so fast! This was hands down my favorite conference that I've been to over the last 3 years. Here's my brief recap of highlights:

I didn't attend as many sessions as I would have liked; I presented twice, led a discussion group, and reviewed people's resumes for NMRT's Resume Review Service, so a lot of my time was already nailed down, but it was all stuff I wanted to do so it worked out.

On Saturday morning, I presented on the LITA: What to know before gamifying your library panel. We had a range of topics including: Bohyun Kim (moderator) giving an overview of gamification; Dave Pattern's use of Library Game / Library Lemontree at the University of Huddersfield (UK); Annie Pho covering the not-fun-but-very-important stuff on how to create institutional buy in and obtain grant money for these sorts of projects; and Young Lee explaining the technology aspects involved and how he plans to use badges in a law school library. My presentation was titled, "Anchoring the badge: Setting standards for game-based learning in library instruction." I discussed my current implementation of badges for instruction at The University of Arizona Libraries. You can see the Slideshare presentation with everyone's slides; though, since it was such a large panel not all of us contributed slides (myself included). So you won't get much from what I discussed in that link. Here is a very brief summary below; I am sure I will be speaking and writing about this project more as it progresses (have IRB approval!), so I plan to share more information in the near future.

Importance and benefits of using badges for instruction:
  • Makes instruction more scalable, can ensure wider adoption of IL skills: trackable, measurable
  • With trackability and assessment built in, this presents possibilities for customized learning ("microcredentialing," demonstrate specific skills; customization can greatly improve motivation and learning)
  • Evidence is tied to the idea of competency-based learning (use specific outcomes to show criteria has been met for assessment, accreditation, program SLOs, other standards like the ACRL IL Standards, etc.)
  • What we are doing at the University of Arizona: my overview was very brief since I'm still currently studying this and have gotten IRB approval to do so
I left those in attendance with some thoughts from Dan Hickey of Indiana University, via a Campus Technology article, How badges really work in higher education:
  • "What sorts of claims will your badges make about the earners and what evidence will your badges contain to support those claims? 
  • What assumptions about learning will frame your consideration and implementation of badges?
  • How will your badges program be introduced? Will it be a centralized effort or pockets of innovation? "
You can read more about badges and gamification in academic libraries from what I have published in ACRL TechConnect on initial plans for badges at the UA Libraries, as well as our use of SCVNGR back in a pilot:
Char Booth also has a great post on badges at her blog, Info-mational, looking at badging in higher ed and discussing how she is using this form of micro-credentialing in the ACRL Immersion Teaching with Technology track. See her post, MYOB: Make your own badge.
More on Badges for Instruction
On Sunday, I presented a Conversation Starter with Annie Pho and Young Lee: Achievement unlocked: Motivating and assessing user learning with digital badges. Our hashtag was #alabadge, and you can see some helpful Tweets summarizing the session.

Student Retention
On Saturday, I also co-facilitated my and Jaime Hammond's ACRL Student Retention Discussion Group meeting.  You can also find the group on ALA Connect. Our topic for this meeting was:
How do we measure causation versus correlation in the library’s role in student success and retention? The ACRL Student Retention Discussion Group will be discussing the impact of a “culture of assessment” on libraries and demonstrating value on campus in regards to retention. We will discuss how effective demonstration of value in campus retention is through traditional methods and hope to explore ideas participants have for new initiatives.
To help guide the discussion, we used Megan Oakleaf's article on assessment strategies:
Oakleaf, M. (March 01, 2013). Building the Assessment Librarian Guildhall: Criteria and Skills for Quality Assessment. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39, 2, 126-128.  
We had some great discussions about what people are doing at their institutions, and seemed to have a good mix of academic librarians from community colleges and universities. The minutes should be posted within the next week or so; if this interests you, joining the Connect group will keep you up to speed. We also organize monthly article discussions during the regular academic year, with volunteers choosing articles and facilitating.

Other things included the Librarian Wardrobe + Every Library After Hours Party, which will have a solid recap on Librarian Wardrobe soon. We had a great time helping to raise awareness and $$ for Every Library, and so excited to plan more events with them at future conferences. Apologies to anyone who could not get into the party, it's very, very hard to find venues that allow for a large capacity without charging tons of money that neither LW or EL have to spare. We do have plans to accommodate more of everyone for #ala2014.

There was a lot of other great stuff but I'm going to stop there since this is already getting pretty long. I had a lot of fun spending time with friends and meeting new people at this conference. In the meantime, I am getting ready to go to ACRL Immersion in Seattle later this month for Program Track and have some other, exciting projects in progress as well. Check back here for more updates on badges and other stuff!