quand le jour s’endort

Well another term is wrapping up, as is another cohort of ETEC565A. Teaching is interesting: in the same group there are usually a handful of students who think you’re the most amazing teacher (involved, fair, supportive, flexible), or the most horrible (unengaged, biased, critical, rigid). Most students’ experiences land somewhere near the middle of the two extremes.

I hold students to standards; I believe it unethical not to do so. Ambiflexible standards based on a person’s life experience, circumstances, or personal (dis)inclinations are a disservice in a world that is, from my experience, largely pass/fail. As an instructional designer my professional life doesn’t afford me the luxury of aiming for 80% functionality in a course design: it either works or it doesn’t. I’ve no option to, say, do a heck of a job on the course materials and a cursory job on the assessment strategy. They’re both integral parts of a whole product.

Taking courses is different. Anyone with a full set of fries in their Happy Meal™ can look at the weighting of assignments and “work” the system: do what will get a good enough grade, even if parts are left out. Students in online courses sometimes don’t participate in discussion forums if the assessment strategy makes that tenable. Or do a cursory job on their final assignments. Because they can.

Fair enough. What I find troubling is that instructors do this too. Except what they do is give rubber stamp 90s, or allow work to be submitted weeks late. For sessional instructors there’s actually an incentive to do this: high teaching evaluations. This isn’t theoretical: I know folks who have done (and, I assume, still do) this. Which in the long run says “your work ethic here means nothing.” Short term smiles (ooooh an A+); long term cynicism.

Paradoxically, my mastery pass/fail approach to summative assessment means most of the students in my class do exceedingly well. They earn their 90s through hard work, focus, and collaborative engagement within a very active learning community. Their effort also necessitates a greater effort on my part: more frequent formative feedback, more support offered, more detailed summative feedback.

I’ve been sneaking looks at the final course sites this term’s cohort has produced on the MET Moodle server. And I’m stunned yet again by the quality of the work. And I particularly love that most of the best work has been done by students who 3 months ago were unsure they could build a site at all (and the “experts'” sites are often rather pedestrian).

About John P Egan

Learning technology professional.
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