Saturday, October 7, 2017

Evaluation Evaluation

Guest Blogger: Bill Donohue

Why should students complete course evaluations every semester? Are they even looked at? Are the questions even producing worthwhile information? Both students and faculty members appear to have asked themselves these questions from time to time. The low response rates for the course evaluations the last few semesters have led some to believe that students do not care much for the end-of the semester opportunity to give feedback on their instructors and courses. Others think they care, but don’t feel that their voices are heard. Technical glitches haven’t helped matters.
So what are we to do? Over the last year, the Committee on Assessment and Evaluation has been considering different options. Soon, all faculty will be asked to participate in a survey about the course evaluations, which means that now is a good time to start thinking about what we really want to accomplish with the instructor/course evaluation.
In my research on how to revise the  Instructor/Course Evaluation instrument, I came across this report from the Hanover Research Council. The report addressed some key questions about course evaluations:
  •          Can and should one survey instrument be used for all courses?
  •      What standard questions should be asked?
  •      Should students be required to complete course evaluations?
  •      Who should see the course evaluation results?
  •      Should all courses be evaluated every delivery cycle?
  •      Should evaluations be administered online or in paper format?

      Here are my thoughts on the matter:
Can and should one survey instrument be used for all courses? I have heard enough from faculty who teach lab courses to believe that a separate evaluation is needed from the standard form every course currently uses. The committee would like to develop a lab specific evaluation. Beyond that, we need to decide where we draw the line. A mixed survey that has some standard questions and some course specific questions may be doable and valuable in the age of assessment and learner outcomes.
What standard questions should be asked? Overall evaluation, difficulty of course/workload, teaching effectiveness, perception of volume of learning…
Should students be required to complete course evaluations? No. The major limitation would be the seriousness of the reposes if it is required. I would not want my tenure or promotion decisions to depend on how seriously a student took the evaluation if they were quickly filling it out so they could see their grades.
Who should see the course evaluation results? The faculty person being evaluated, the chair, and whomever the faculty person authorizes, such as PTS. Beyond that, generalized results for the University community would be beneficial. Those results could inform actions, such as CETL workshops, and demonstrate to the students that we take those evaluations seriously.
Should all courses be evaluated every delivery cycle? I don’t see a reason to stop our current practice of evaluating at least every course offered each semester. A question raised in the report is should the courses be evaluated more than once a semester. Facilitation of a mid-semester evaluation would be beneficial. I’ve liked it when I have done that, and some structure might get me to do it more often.
Should evaluations be administered online or in paper format? Online. Especially if we are going to have a mix of standard and custom questions. The major drawback, of course, is participation. But I have had some encouraging conversations about how we can increase our response rate even before we have a conversation about incentives or requirements.
What is your response to one or all of the questions about course evaluations?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Learning with Technology

Guest Blogger: Uzoma James Chikwem

There is no question that there has been unbelievable technological revolution in recent years that has changed our businesses, governments, travel and pretty much everything but our educational system, which for the most part, is still stuck in the past. There has been a silent but quick mobile apocalypse that have made most smart phone users, especially millennials, become almost like mobile zombies, or social media fiends, that live with an uncontrollable urge to be plugged into their smart phones at all times. In education, we always observe that it gets tougher each year to grab the attention or interest of students due to what’s trending on social media or some new technological announcement like the new iPhone coming out. Even after creating the best PowerPoint presentations or coming up with simple but profound handouts that explains everything about a topic, a majority of students will still be on their phones or passed out during class.  The fact that students have the internet in their palms on a mobile device that has more power and memory than some personal computers, makes them feel like genuine geniuses. Students can find out any answer or solution by asking Siri or Google or get the latest information on certain fields by following pages on social media. I believe this misleading intellectual feeling of being able to know it all by using their second brain, their smart device, is hindering or distracting students from paying attention or wanting to learn anything in the classroom.
With all the technological advances that has happened just in the last year alone, for example the use of Virtual Reality plus Augmented Reality on phones, students often feel like they are in an ancient dungeon when they come to the classroom and all they see are desks, blackboards or whiteboards; even books and smart boards seem old fashioned to them.  When Apple coined the phrase, “There’s an app for that” it literally revolutionized the way everything is done in our day to day lives; instead of reading books we can now just listen to them using audible; if one doesn’t know how to solve a math problem, they can simply take a picture using PhotoMath and it will quickly show the results and steps to solving the problem.  These two simple ideas for apps are making lots of money and made life easier for users but can ruin the fun of learning and the challenge of understanding how to get solutions to a problem. Through critical thinking, analysis, memorization and repeatedly practicing problems anyone can learn any subject or topic by putting time trying to understand it. Even though it seems like a lost cause trying to teach nowadays, I often get praised for how fun my classes are or get to view the excitement of students when they figure out a lab or project. All because I use technology to get students to learn, and if I can do it, we all can.
Since the educational problem we face isn’t just happening at Lincoln University but internationally, computer scientists, web designers and others are teaming up together to try and tackle this huge issue of lost interest in learning and education. There are tons of resources out there to assist in getting the interest of students in different topics. I would like to help by listing some programs and websites I use in my courses but would like to hear from faculty or students if there are other sites, apps or anything else they use to grab students’ interest in participating and enjoying the learning process.  First off, I’d like to mention that I am in Computer Science and my focus is Educational Game Technology so I am already at an advantage because most of my labs, projects and tutorials involve use of fun technologies and hands-on learning. Although, I have had a lot of computer science faculty just lecture the whole class and totally lost me because I wasn’t practicing or being hands on with the topic, I have had some great professors, like Professor Barimani, whose style of teaching I try to utilize every time and add my own flavor to it. He made sure that in every class he left room for students to practice what he just taught, then gave feedback plus projects before ending the class.  When using technology for teaching, just don’t throw it at students and expect them to pick it up easily; one should always give a tutorial or workshop on how it works, what you expect them to accomplish; guide them by giving requirements, labs and more and make sure they know it’ll be part of their final grade to complete plus participate.
Here’s a list of apps and website that can help students to Learn through Technology:
Link 1
Link 2
Moodle rooms
Khan Academy
Google Classrooms
Google Hangout
Please research the names on the list, click on the links, download the apps and in Part 2, I will describe in more detail how to use them in classes.  Also, please leave a comment on how you utilize technology in your courses and any other tips you might have of grabbing student’s attention.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Teaching and Learning Lessons from Turnitin

Guest Blogger: Bill Donohue

Here we are in Spring, and as we all await those final student products that demonstrate student learning from another successful semester, I know what you are thinking: “I wonder how Donohue’s use of Turnitin that he blogged about in January went this semester.” Fear not; I am here to give you an update!
Throughout the semester, students were required to submit select writing assignments using the Turnitin feature on Moodle. These assignments were ones that I have seen plagiarism in the past from essay mills or Sparknotes.
Overall, I saw five instances of plagiarism, two of which came from the same student. These are interesting cases to discuss as they shed light on both teaching and learning at Lincoln.
In ENG 101, students had to write an essay about Langston Hughes based on a close reading of his poetry and essays. Two students submitting essays to Turnitin had high similarity scores that proved to be opportunities for formative teaching and learning.
Both essays had sentences copied and pasted from internet sources. One student had minimal use of plagiarized sentences, and I addressed the issue through feedback about proper citation on the assignment through Turnitin’s feedback studio. The other had a very high rate copied sentences. I addition to feedback on the essay, I followed up with the student during a writing workshop. An underlying issue for the student was not understanding the writing assignment and the critical thinking concepts we had been discussing and practicing building toward the essay assignment. In a desperate attempt to submit something, the student wrote a biography of Langston Hughes, mainly by copying from internet sources. Not only was this teachable moment about plagiarism, but also a formative learning opportunity regarding the more difficult concept of close reading and critical thinking. The student revised the essay and was able to engage in the independent thinking and writing exercise intended by the assignment (without plagiarism).
In ENG 099, there were three instances of plagiarism for assignments related to the reading of the novel A Lesson Before Dying. Two of the plagiarized submissions were by the same student. My concerns are broader than difficulty with course content as seen in ENG 101.
All three plagiarized papers were emailed to me as opposed to submitted to Turnitin, as required. Part of the reason for need to email the assignments was that the assignments were completed after the due date. Turnitin will not accept submission past the due date. (The regular Moodle assignment submission function allows for a due date and a grace period. Good to know if using one or both tools during a course). I uploaded these emailed assignments to Turnitin for analysis and feedback. However, the emailing of the plagiarized assignments may be an attempt at subterfuge by avoiding the plagiarism checker altogether.
One student had a similarity score in the green at 23%, but the plagiarism detected was enough to fail the student. Although the assignment required analysis, a more difficult task than writing a summary, this is a student who usually does not have problems thinking independently and is quite vocal in class. One reason for the plagiarism might be the desperation to submit a late assignment. However, the student came to class high last week (smelled like marijuana; glassy, bloodshot eyes; delayed responses; evasive). My fear is that the student is heading down a road that will adversely affect academic performance.
The other student emailed both a chapter summary assignment and a character analysis assignment after the due date. Both were heavily plagiarized. The student has been consistently inconsistent all semester. When she is on, she does quite well. But other times, she misses class or does shoddy work, if she has completed the work at all. Other than online feedback, I have not had a chance to talk to the student directly, mostly because she has missed class. In an email exchange on a different topic, she did indicate how “swamped” she is with work, especially in trying to complete overdue work with work that is due next week. Is this another case of plagiarism due to desperation? Does she not know how to properly complete the assignments? Is she struggling with course content? Is she failing at organizing and prioritizing her work? How is she spending her time outside of class? Is she going to make it? What can I do for this student?
Such are the questions that keep me up at night.
One change that I made for a final writing portfolio assignment in ENG 099 was to engage higher level thinking skills. The straightforward character analysis that was plagiarized by two students has been altered to an assignment where students are placed in a position of running for sheriff in the fictional Louisiana town where A Lesson Before Dying is set.  The students need to have an understanding of the character responsible for much of the systemic racism in the town in order to create an argument as to why they should be sheriff instead. The critical thinking started right away in our class discussion of the assignment when one student asked about the time frame. Should they write in the 1940s setting of Bayonne, Louisiana, or current day? We settled on 1940s Louisiana, but without voting restrictions based on race or gender. 
I look forward to reading those assignments and all the final portfolios due next week from another semester of teaching and learning. 
What was your experience with student writing and/or the use of Turnitin in your classes this semester?