Reflection in small, assessed, bites?

Following a very thought-provoking post by Alan Cann:

http://scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com/2009/02/dont-mention-b-word.html

…I’ve been mulling it over with a coffee. His post talks about his students’ dislike for reflectve writing in blogs – mainly due to the time and thought it requires. It combines two key topics (reflection and modern, appropriate, assessment) – both of which are vital, I think, for the near future in education.

Myself and Alan have already tweeted about the difference in expectation/ease of reflection in Arts/Sciences, which means that some longer forms (blogs, wikis) do work to a certain extent in Arts subjects, contrary to Science contexts. However, this still leaves two problems: reflection for scientists (that could be a conference in its own right, no?!) and appropriate and clear assessment.

For the first, I like the idea of micro- or mini- blogging. short statements which encourage instant and secondary reflection (just finishing a class/activity, and in the evening – for example) combined with communal comparison (‘I thought bit X was really unclear: I can’t see how it fits in’ / ‘I agree – foxed me too. Anyone get it?’) We know scientists talk in single sentences 😉 so Twitter (or my proposed 300-character mini blogging service, Yakkus) might be just the thing.

Visual Assessment Guidelines

Visual Assessment Guidelines

For assessment, I’ve had the same problem as Alan. Complaints from students that it’s too difficult to comprehend; increasingly convoluted attempts to express it. With micro- mini- blogging, this should be easier. A string of sample tweets/yakks down the page, each with a green-yellow-red coloured bar indicating the depth of reflection and collaboration (see example at side). At-a-glance assessment guidelines.

The more I think about this, the more I like it. Any thoughts from the scientists?

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8 responses to “Reflection in small, assessed, bites?

  1. Thanks Alex. I’m definitely done with banging my head against this particular wall, I have lots of others that need my attention. While the students on my module are going to be writing something much more (but not entirely) like traditional essays next year, I’m thinking about how to get a Twitter backchannel going… (it’s not as easy as you might think).

  2. If it were assessed, I have a feeling that science students would either get irritated (in a ‘why are they assessing me on something other than my understanding of the science and ability to communicate it?’ type of way) or try and game the system, or quite possibly both!

  3. Thanks both. Most assessment suffers from the ‘why are they assessing me on this’ comments – anything which the student doesn’t deem of significance (which is often 50% of the course), so I take your point.
    But, based on my experiences in Arts, I’m prepared to say that students respond better when they are given clear, attainable targets: they might think it’s useless, but can see a way to progress and pass, so they’ll take it. The hope is that, by preparing that ‘easy’ path carefully, they’ll pick up skills, understanding and confidence as they go.
    Twitter is, of course, an untested assessment platform, and my suggestion above is playfully fanciful. But I do think the way forward for many of these ‘supporting skills’ (research skills, personal development skills, study skills etc.) is to use obvious, easy chunks. With luck, they’ll love to hate it.

  4. Still all I can think though is how much I’d have hated it if as a student we’d been made to do this (and it’s not like I don’t reflect or don’t like twitter or didn’t talk with other students about the course).

    I’m trying to pinpoint why but it’s difficult. Maybe it’s being told by somebody else that there is one ‘correct’ way for me to learn? (what about if I find it more helpful to talk in real life rather than over twitter say?) Or maybe that as soon as it is assessed communication with my fellow students becomes inauthentic? Or that I am being assessed on the means rather than the end? Or that one of the reasons that I decided to study mathematics was precisely to avoid things like this?

    It’s an interesting question though. I do know that I would have thought twice about applying to a university that assessed in this sort of manner. It’d be interesting to pass it by people who did different subjects and get their reaction. I wonder if I’m unusual or there’s a correspondence between the subject the person studied.

  5. Good points Juliette. I think two of them are key:

    ‘one of the reasons that I decided to study mathematics was precisely to avoid things like this’

    and

    ‘as soon as it is assessed communication with my fellow students becomes inauthentic’

    Should reflection be assessed? It it’s not assessed, do we want it to occur anyway? Will it, if we don’t encourage it? How do we encourage it if we don’t assess it? If it’s assessed, are we encouraging or forcing? The timeless circular questions.

  6. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – the question is ‘how do we get students to do anything if it’s not assessed?’!

    I spent *lots* of time discussing with my students how they went about studying mathematics, what I had found worked for me and so on, but if a student did really well through studying in a completely different way I didn’t see that as a problem. I think the question is with weaker students, helping them learn how to study mathematics is often more important than actually explaining the subject to them, and how do you help them if they don’t follow your advice or act on your feedback?

  7. Morning Alex

    I like the red-green bar gadget for assessment – it is nicely visual

    Twittering nicely fits with at least one of the Classroom Assessement techniques in the Angelo and Cross book – the muddiest point in which students, immediately after an activity, write down the point they found least clear. Twitter would be ideal for this.

    Related to twittering is the journalism technique called writing the lede. The lede is the first 30 words of the news story, and it should tell the story and grab the reader. It is described on several journalism sites round the web.

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