Reflecting mid-week in the fifth and last week of First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT). In four one-hour webinars, two on Monday and two on Tuesday, I have seen and participated in 12 Virtual Conference presentations by participants in week 5 of this open online course. And, for the first time I can remember, I let out rock-and-roll whoops. Not something often said about teaching conferences. In part this was because I can take credit for some of this course design and it didn’t totally break down; in part it was because the platform has just about stood up; in part because the level of digital capability of the participants has for many broken through the novelty barrier. But mostly because these were among the 12 best presentations I have seen and participated in. Well argued, evidenced, structured, illustrated and in scope for time (not over the “wordcount”).
In week 5 the topic is assessment and coincidentally (?) we are in the final assessment week of the module. The assessment is by means of the Week 5 “Virtual online conference”. So kind of by necessity, I am thinking about assessment.
I have asked the participants
What do you think? Is it authentic, fair? These are two key questions to be asked of any assessment. I know we are doing this online but the thoughts apply to all modes of teaching and assessment. Is the assessment aligned with the teaching approach and learning activities that precede it and on which it should be based? Is the assessment as inclusive and accessible as possible?
These are questions that I can ask of the FSLT virtual conference assignment task.
Authentic? Yes in a way, though we are pushing the envelope of current teaching practice and sometimes the going is less than smooth. Most participants, use or are starting to use Moodle or some VLE or library or course, information and student management system. They may not use systems exclusively online. They may engage with people primarily face-to-face in classrooms, lecture halls, field study, studios, laboratories or one-to-one. Often they engage on and off-line in more than one setting.
Fair? Well certainly so far 12 participants have successfully completed the task. There are at least 10 more to go on Friday. Of these at least one was not signed up for credit (10 UK level 7 credits), only participating from interest. Several of the candidates for assessment have dropped out along the way, but alt least one has stayed participating in the “audience”.
Aligned? Well at least one participant explicitly drew on her week 2 workshop on Reflective Practice to inform the question, which framed her week 5 conference presentation. Many of the presentations have explicitly drawn on theory to inform, illuminate and support arguments. The participants have all nearly kept to time, and most very precisely so. Most of the slight running over has been due to me and to the platform. Participants have been tolerant of my ruthless chairing. One participant got short shrift, but was graceful and participated well.
Inclusive and accessible? Here I think we may be on shakier ground. Many of the people staying the course are doing so because it is assessed. And they are struggling bravely with the platform and mostly making it work. But it has needed a lot of individual support. Largely, I think this is interface and navigation design. But, if there are a few who are experiencing enough problems to put them off, and they are being vocal because they are being assessed, how many, who didn’t need the credit or didn’t need the aggro for the credit, were put off by inconsistent navigation?
I try to excuse this by asserting that we are at some leading edge of practice, and are practising emergent design, reflecting in action, RAPID development, life in beta. But maybe I am only flattering myself. There are some frustrated people whose lives have not been made better by their interaction with this particular teaching studio. It is for and to them that we need to answer. If we can’t how can we be said to be practising inclusively?
What is the answer? I think it is, in part, to use a much richer spatial metaphor for the Workshop and Conference. Use the terms “Workshop” and “Conference” as if they were spaces or rooms. Overall, I am beginning to conceive of this type of online course as a teaching studio where practice is showcased and examined and enjoyed. Ideally, the conference room might have a lightbox or carousel or poster wall displaying embedded content, videos and slideshows and a “booth” where participants could pick up the richly illustrated proceedings as html or pdf. There would be clear signposting to a staging area where content could be uploaded or embedded. But even if this were not possible because of graphics limitations: even in words, the sense of a Workshop or Conference could be enhanced.
But as I started, we are half-way through a conference with about 25 papers and 35 participants, and it is one of the best teaching conferences I have been to.