Rubrics: For Teachers and Students

Rubrics have become main stream in today’s educational systems.  Often times educators include rubrics at the prompting of their administrators or because it is an expected component of a course, but there are substantial benefits for both teachers and students.

Consistent use of rubrics aid students in understanding the core concepts of an assignment and what they should be taking away from a particular assignment or project.  Rubrics can function as a checklist and provide guidance when completing small and large assignment alike.  Another positive is the concrete feedback that comes from a rubric.  Often times grading, especially for subjective assignments consisting of writing, can be perplexing for students without specific feedback; rubrics provide frameworks for these grades and allow students to focus on areas of weakness.  The benefits towards students are fairly obvious, but what are often overlooked are the benefits for the instructor.

One of the most laborious aspects of teaching is the grading component.  Using specific and structured rubrics insures that each student is graded fairly and consistently within the expectations of the course.  It removes some of the subjectivity of grading and allows a teacher to focus only on the elements presented in the rubric.  Not only does it remove inconsistencies, but rubrics increase expediency as well.  Using a well-developed rubric can reduce the number of comments from a teacher while still maintaining a high level of constructive feedback for students.  For teacher and students to reap maximum benefits from a rubric, it is always best to provide rubrics at the beginning of a course or project.  This will provide students with objectives to work towards and help guide teachers in their instruction.

There are many sites that are dedicated to providing educators with rubrics.  Two sites that provide teachers with the opportunity to customize and create their own rubrics are http://rubistar.4teachers.org/ and irubric.com.  Both sites are free and have categorized premade rubrics with the option of tweaking their rubrics or starting your own from scratch.

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Lights, Camera, Action???

The online module due date is looming in the near future, and I have begun shooting some of my lectures to post in my course.  I feel comfortable using Canvas as a learning management system and have no problem with content, but I am stepping into realms unknown with video production.  Due to my video inadequacies, I sought the advice of John Potter, the Senior Vice President of Professional Development for the Radio Advertising Bureau.  Potter has been working with the RAB for more than a decade and has in large part been responsible for their training videos and materials.  I asked him to provide a set of basic tips for the beginner videographer.  Here they are…

  • Use a tripod. Stabilization for the camera is key.  Never try to handhold the camera.
  • Record audio using an off camera microphone. Most cameras have an auxiliary audio input; use it.  Audio quality is more important than video quality.
  • Use visual cues or hand signals for scene cuts and retakes, so you can scrub to the appropriate edit and then make your edit.
  • Always record in the highest quality the camera has to offer (preferably 1080P). You can always reduce quality when you render for reduction in file size, and you will have the opportunity to zoom in without losing resolution.
  • Be sure to fully light your shot. On the cheap, you can use shop lights.  Position two lights, one on either side of the talents with one a bit closer to create very light shadows.
  • Manually focus the camera; otherwise, it may hunt for the focus causing it to go in and out of focus. In addition, set the aperture manually to reduce lighting fluctuation in a shot.
  • The Hollywood standard is to have change in the scene every 3 seconds. Although this may not be feasible for an online course, it is important to include changes or motion as regularly as possible to keep attention.  This may be as minor as a camera pan or a new bullet point appearing onscreen.
  • Recommended video editing software for people on a tight budget would include Sony Movie Maker or Adobe Premier Elements. Free software recommendations would be Windows Movie Maker or Apple iMovie for Mac Users.  Another mid-level Mac program for editing would be Final Cut. (Audacity would be Potter’s recommendation for free audio editing software)

With these eight tips, it should be possible to create a video that appears to be high quality for the budget conscious student, and I can remove that question mark after action.

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The Dark Side: Negatives to Technology?

This week I was asked by school administration to supervise our online learning component since the regular teacher suddenly became ill.  The students came into the classroom, took their seats, put on their headphones, logged in and began working.  Never saying a word to one another.  It was unnerving seeing the students complete their learning objectives (some with more focus than others) with zero interaction, both from teacher and other students.    As I sat there, staring at the backs of their heads, I began wondering if all of this technology is the best path for education.  The current buzz is that technology is the future of education, and it is an unparalleled advancement for learning opportunities, but is it?

I did a couple of google searches and stumbled across an interesting article. “The False Promise of Classroom Technology” states that throwing millions of dollars into technology around the United States has had little to no impact in increasing learning outcomes.  Shockingly, overseas classrooms that have implemented classroom technology have experienced a decrease in learning outcomes.

A google search yielded a myriad of negative side effects of classroom technology: technology overload, decrease in focus and higher-order thinking, shift from essential content to how to use the technology, decrease in hands-on learning, a game-mentality where everything must be a game, and less processing with more copying.

Obviously, technology is not the savior of our education system.  The general consensus among most articles, and I agree with this, is that with proper training, technology can be a positive in classrooms.  The problem is that schools are investing thousands of dollars into technology without training teachers how to properly implement the technology.  What is the point of buying these tools if no one is taught how to use them?  The issue is not with the tools, but with how the teachers use them.  You can’t give someone a hammer and chisel and expect them to create the David without any training.

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Group Work: For Better or Worse

This week my group and I completed our team discussion.  It was my first foray into the online group work realm.  I was lucky to have a great group to work with, but I couldn’t help but wonder, at times, if there was a more effective way of collaborating with my group than just through email.  Often times, we would be shooting emails back and forth about easy topics that could have been answered in a matter of seconds, but ended up taking days due to everyone’s work and email schedules.  An assignment that could have taken an hour to do in person with a group, ended up taking a week to get sorted.   So, I am wondering if the benefits of group work are outweighed by the inconveniences of a digital classroom.

The obvious advantages of group work include developing collaboration skills and the sharing of ideas; however, to take full advantage of a group scenario, synchronicity is almost a necessity to do it efficiently.  The dilemma that arises is the main reason students take online courses, the flexibility.   Despite the conflicting elements presented with online group work, it is a safe assumption that it will remain a dominant component in online courses for the foreseeable future.  One must ask then, what tools are available to help streamline the group work process?

Of course, we are all familiar with sharing files on google docs and using skype for video chat, but there is a myriad of other programs available for group collaboration. A great resource for group tools is 20 Collaboration Tools for College Students.  Although some of them are quite basic, many of them were new to me.  A fair number still utilize synchronous aspects, which doesn’t help with flexibility, but there are a lot of options for sharing information in different virtual settings.  Out of the 20 presented, Vyew caught my attention because of the speaking capabilities while viewing a document between all group members.  Titan Pad is another intriguing site that allows multiple group members to edit a paper simultaneously.  I have not had the opportunity to try either, but I look forward to the possibility when the next group project inevitably arises.

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Get the Point?

This last week, I’ve begun to investigate tools to use for my module and how to present information online in a variety of modalities.  I’ve come to the realization that just like in a traditional classroom, the way that information is presented should be varied.  It would be tough to classify a teacher as exceptional if all he or she did was stand up and lecture in each class.  I believe this holds true for online learning.  To be great, you must have variety in your teaching strategies.  When starting an online course, I was naïve as to the options out there for presenting new information in a digital format.  After researching and playing around on different sites, I have compiled a list that caught my attention and included a brief synopsis of each.

Prezi: A very visual style of presenting information that excels at showing how multiple topics are all related or interconnected.  Great for visual learners and easy to implement audio narration as well.

Ppt. Mashup:  Although a bit more abstract than having a website to assist you, this appears to be about the closest delivery method to a traditional classroom.  A nice way to keep learners engaged and still present text/graphs/data in a visual manner.  Any video editing software should be able to help create this combination of video, slide and audio.  I will be attempting mashups with adobe premier pro.  I have not tried it yet, but I am very excited about the prospects.

Video: Fairly straightforward, but a great way to engage students, whether it is an original video or something you have found in the infinite space of the world wide web.

Audio: Audio can be a great tool in supplementing lessons and providing reminders.  It can definitely create a more intimate class setting than simply seeing the same old announcement messages come up.   After playing with audio, I have found that a good microphone makes all the difference and audio editing software makes life much easier.

Written Documents: Tried and true.  Obviously can be used just like in a traditional classroom.  Documents can provide students with an opportunity for them to peruse the information themselves and then determine what is important.

Animoto:  This is a video website that I’ve used in the past to create glorified slideshows.  I’m not exactly sure of the educational applications at this moment, but I’m sure they’re out there!

Glogster: A cool site that allows you to create a poster that has the potential to implement audio and video.  Again, like prezi, it is very visual and presents information in a dynamic and interesting manner.

These are a few of the options I have come across in the last week or two.  If you have any tools that you love or are interested in using to convey content, please share!

It’s exciting that there are so many ways to help students get the point.

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Online Course Culture Shock

When deciding to complete an online master’s program, I had a few reservations about completing a degree exclusively online.  Now, 3 weeks into my first ever online course, some of those concerns have been erased, but unfortunately, others have taken their place.  At this point in the term, my learning has been more focused on trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of Canvas, getting used to using discussion boards and trying to keep all of the different assignments organized than on the actual class focus: creating an effective online experience.

Canvas is a relatively intuitive design, but there are a number of more intricate functions that take time to figure out.  A webinar orientation on the ins-and-outs of Canvas would be great for new students and would have saved me a fair amount of time.

I am a very visual and social learner, so being sequestered from other students feels a bit unnatural.  The introduction assignment is a good idea, but something to consider is how that could be taken even further in developing a community of learners.  In a few of the discussion posts, a synchronous discussion board was brought up allowing real time communication between faculty and students.  For me, something like this would be immeasurably helpful.

Organization has never been something I have struggled with; however, with all of the assignments being posted at the beginning of the week, it is a challenge sorting tasks and working them into a manageable schedule around work.

Despite the difficulties in adjusting to this form of class, the first part in learning to create an effective online experience is to fully understand what students need and go through in an online environment, and what better way to learn than from first-hand experience.  It would be very difficult to be a driving instructor without ever having driven.

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