No Really—I’m going to use Moodle to write better recommendation letters.

OK, hear me out.

I just noticed something that will make writing recommendation letters for students in my class. So. Much. Easier. And better informed. Going forward, I’ll use a slick grade reporting feature of Moodle to quickly re-acquaint me with student work so that I can share detailed impressions that in the past I would have forgotten.

Suppose a student from my spring class asks for a letter to support her application to grad school. (This isn’t a hypothetical example!) I go to the Moodle page for that class, select Gear icon, and then Gradebook Setup, and then User Report from the dropdown menu at the upper left

select user report from the dropdown menu

I select the individual student with the dropdown menu on the right of the resulting screen

select user with the dropdown menu

Now the user report looks something like this excerpt:

A table with a line for every assignment.  one column contains my feedback comments for each assignment.

Notice how I can see my feedback to this student for every assignment. A few minutes with this information reminds me about my day-by-day impressions of this student’s work.

For this to be visible, I need to have all my assignments set up to allow Feedback Comments.

Feedback types checkboxes:  Feedback comments, Annotate PDF, Feedback files, Offline grading worksheet

Customized Questions at SmartEvals

It is now possible for individual instructors at K, if desired, to include customized questions (up to 5 per course) in their course evaluations at SmartEvals.

Here’s a short (3.5 minute) video demonstrating the procedure. If you want to jump right in, scroll down to see screenshots of the three important steps

Making an Online Midterm Student Survey for Your Class

I’ve heard from lots of colleagues over the years that a quick survey of students in your class at the midpoint of the term — together with a discussion with your class about what you heard in the responses — improves the class climate and gives the instructor important feedback. Especially at this time when we’re all spending lots of time developing content for online delivery of our courses, a midterm student survey can show us which parts of our course the students appreciate and value. And just as importantly, we might learn that the students aren’t finding some parts of the course useful for their learning, in which case the instructor can stop spending so much time developing those materials!

Below are two quick (3 minutes each) videos showing how I created online student surveys in two platforms: Moodle and in Microsoft Forms.

Setting up a student survey in Moodle using the Feedback Activity

Setting up a student survey in Microsoft Forms

A collection of thoughts on grading

Anne Marie Butler — Art History

Restructuring & rethinking grading, including: How do we measure engagement?

  • I have removed the engagement and attendance policies from my syllabi. One of the major grading areas is group work, and student provide peer and self-evaluations on the group work. In the attendance and engagement areas of the syllabus I note that this is not a grading area, but that frequently missed classes may impact group work and that peer evaluations may reflect that.

Alyce Brady — Computer Science

Along the same lines as Anne Marie, I changed my “Attendance and Participation” section in my syllabus to “Participation and Staying on Track.”  The specific language is now:

This course covers a breadth of topics, with many small activities that build on one another. It is very important to remain actively engaged in the course on a daily basis in order to stay on track.

Given the hybrid nature of instruction this quarter and the constraints imposed by social distancing, students will be divided into small lab groups. Participation will consist of attending at least two synchronous class meetings with your lab group each week, whether in the classroom or online. Your lab group will also have a dedicated “space” online in the course Teams site where you can work individually or together, ask each other questions, and meet with the instructor.

Here are some other changes I’ve made in my classes to reflect my thinking about grading practices. I’ve also posted a longer vlog piece on this topic.

  • Turning rubrics that awarded points for required criteria into ones that awarded checkmarks, dramatically reducing the number of points per assignment. This approach is essentially a very mild form of gamification. (It is also somewhat similar to specifications grading.)
  • Replacing traditional homework assignments with structured reflection assignments.  My original motivation was to reduce grading time, since the class was significantly over-enrolled.  I feared that some content learning would be lost, but found that the weekly writings encouraged students to develop and articulate greater depth and integration than the older homework assignments.

Rick Barth — Mathematics

I’ve been thinking about assessment in the online era from two points of view: equity and honesty. These have led me to a single set of conclusions and recommendations. I’ve come to believe that traditional assessment methods — to the degree that they are designed to reward generic skills rather than individual student experiences — dehumanize further the online learning experience, exacerbate existing inequities that have been made worse by the pandemic, and provide every incentive for students to seek ready-made generic responses to represent as their own. My aspiration in my own courses is to include more assessment methods designed to gauge students’ individual learning and progress over time, and to be as valuable for me in adjusting my teaching as they are in helping me determine student performance. I explore my ideas about this in a longer blog piece.

Josh Moon — Instructional Technology Specialist

I’ve become increasingly persuaded that fixation on grades can be a distraction to learning and productive engagement. Worse, grades function as a tool to disproportionately punish students who are not adept at navigating the college environment. They can be the #1 carrot/stick on a campus, the celestial body whose gravity pulls in time, resources, and attention. I’ve written more about this in a piece at my blog.

A Collection of Thoughts on Building Community.

Anne Marie Butler — Art History

How do we form community? (This was a topic we discussed before the spring quarter began too, but we’re sure you have thought about it more now, and have additional ideas.)

  • like I begin all my classes, in the online version we will continue in the first class to break into groups to discuss how to have respectful discussions and what to do when sensitive topics come up. I give the students agency to set their own boundaries on these issues. We will simply discuss how being online might be different and what else we need to consider.

Sarah Lindley — Art

Here are three assignments for building community:

  • One assignment was “This Became That”, a virtual Exquisite Corpse project. Each week for the second half of the term, students made a response to images of an artwork created by another member of the class. Images of their responses were sent to another member of the class at the start of the next week to be used as the inspiration for the next response. At the end of the term we had “lines” of images representing the transmogrification of their ideas and forms. All images passed through me, so the makers remained secret until the end. I kept my instruction and critique to an absolute minimal and just allowed things to evolve based on their own abilities, thought process, available materials, and energy level. The assignment put them inside each other’s thought process and helped communicate that we are still all connected.
  • The second assignment is on display in fine arts right now. Each student constructed the space where they were living/working in spring term in a 3D modeling program. We then turned those files into plastic molds that I cast plaster into, which resulted in solid representations of the empty space in their homes. The collection of these spaces is displayed as one small installation.
  • The Art Department sent our studio majors two great short colorful books about finding inspiration through community, including We Inspire Me: Cultivate Your Creative Crew to Work, Play, and Make by Andrea Pippins, as a “welcome to senior year gift” for the studio majors. Students will have an assignment that asks them to reflect on the suggestions in the books and develop some community building ideas tailored to the current distancing protocols.  

Josh Moon — Instructional Technology Specialist

There are many elements to forming community in an online course so I’m going to focus on one – time. I know one temptation is to utilize lots  of synchronous time to form community. The more time together, more community, right? This is one area where the in-person experience does not translate to the online experience. I’ve written a longer piece about this.

Alyce Brady — Computer Science

Three things I plan for building community in my fall courses:

  • Before spring quarter began, Sally Reed (Psych.) offered the suggestion to create a PowerPoint deck and have each student contribute a slide introducing themselves.  I used that idea in the spring, asking students to contribute their intro cards before the first day of classes, and found it helpful for me (thanks, Sally!)
  • I plan to break my class down into “lab subgroups” of 4-5 people and give each one a channel in the course team site.  A big part of Day 1 and Week 1 will be having students get to know the others in their sub-group.  
  • I have added a “Community” channel to my course Teams site. 

I’ve described these ideas in more detail in this longer blog piece.

Rethinking assessment strategies in online courses: equity and honesty — Rick Barth

Years ago, when I was a young(er) faculty member at the College, Professor Gail Griffin of the English department was in that era’s equivalent of my current role. She made a pronouncement (she made so many) in a faculty meeting discussion that has remained with me clearly: “When a student cheats, it doesn’t mean they’re bad, it means they’re desperate.”

In this piece I intend to speak from two distinct motivations — assessment with equity and student honesty in their work on those assessments. These lead, in my view, to the same set of conclusions and recommendations. Designing our courses and assessment methods in ways that intentionally address and respond to students’ now-more-than-ever sense of desperation goes a long way toward addressing academic integrity in students work. Especially important to acknowledge and act upon: the circumstances of the pandemic have disproportionately negative impact on students of color.

My conclusion is that traditional assessment methods — to the degree that they are designed to reward generic skills rather than individual student experiences — dehumanize further the online learning experience, exacerbate existing inequities that have been made worse by the pandemic, and provide every incentive for students to seek ready-made generic responses to represent as their own. My aspiration in my own courses is to include more assessment methods designed to gauge students’ individual learning and progress over time, and to be as valuable for me in adjusting my teaching as they are in helping me determine student performance.

Five Do’s and Five Do Not’s

Let’s start with a new (August 2020) piece by Natasha A. Jankowski from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment: “Assessment During A Crisis:Responding to a Global Pandemic” Based on a lot of survey data from colleges and universities gathered during the spring crisis online term, the author notes “Concerns that existed preCOVID have been amplified, basic student needs are not met, and the rates at which they are not met are nearly double for students of color” and offers a concise list of recommendations for going forward into the uncertain fall term of 2020:

  • Do not forget that we are in a pandemic. Still. Do not forget that it is also an inequitable pandemic.
  • Do not cause further harm. Do not support, enable, or endorse policies that perpetuate further inequities or fuel negative perceptions of students.
  • Do not ask students for their approval of a decision that has already been made. Instead, engage with them in advance to help determine a solution.
  • Do not require a higher-level of proof of learning in an online class than you would normally require in a face-to-face setting.
  • Do not forget that this is not the educational experience students wanted or expected.
  • Do use learning outcomes as a guide and means to design and focus educational offerings.
  • Do listen to student voices AND respond accordingly.
  • Do modify assignments and assessments in ways that are flexible, utilize low-bandwidth, and are based in the principles of equitable assessment.
  • Do be aware of and address systemic inequities.
  • Do engage in trauma-informed and healing-centered pedagogy and assessment.

Principles of equitable assessment

What are those “principles of equitable assessment” in the list of Do’s above? In a short 2018 article I read a single admonition that provides a guiding principle:

Assessment should help us learn about students—not sort them.

Confronting Inequity / Assessment for Equity, H. Richard Milner IV

Milner goes on to provide “five interrelated reminders educators need as we work toward assessment for equity:”

  1. Assessments and “measurement” should be used to gauge student learning, development, and improvement over time.
  2. Assessments should be used by teachers to adjust their practices (how they teach, what they teach, when they teach, and so forth) to respond to and meet the needs of students.
  3. Students should not feel intimated by assessments, but see them as opportunities to get a snapshot—a picture of where they are and what they need to do to improve.
  4. Punitive assessments send the wrong message and can raise anxiety among learners, especially the ones who most need our support.
  5. Perhaps most important, assessment tools should be just as diverse as the students who take them.

Individual assessments that bring individual experiences to the foreground

As I write this piece, I’ve been talking a lot with Alyce Brady, whose own piece on equity-based low-stakes high-engagement grading appears here. As she described her approach and some of her specific assessment practices, it occurred to me that a central idea in her work is that reflections and other metacognition-based activities assess individual students on their individual experiences. Especially in fields like hers (computer science) and mine (math) we often assess individual students on work which is entirely generic — the program runs correctly, the calculus solution used the right steps to get the right answer — in ways that are not only anti-individual but seem almost perfectly designed to incentivise students to seek out these generic solutions online and submit them in place of their own individual work. That’s not to say practice and skill-building isn’t a key component of student learning, but assessing those skills can be problematic if the individual experience of students is left unaddressed.

One *helpful* resource to help us imagine alternative assessment activities

Yeah, I know. As I’m sure yours is, my email inbox is full of uncurated lists of online resources that rarely reward me for clicking through them. Here is a list of one resource that I did find helpful from Rutgers:

The Rutgers resource is seems motivated by the fact that traditional memorization based exams will certainly lead students to make use of ubiquitous online resources during exams. It provides alternatives grounded in richer learning models that make it more likely that students will submit their own original work. As I read this resource, I found myself thinking about how these methods can align with the principles of equity-based assessment as well.

An Introductory Tour of #KTeachDev2020

K’s “online backbone” plan for fall courses is designed to provide the flexibility we need to keep community members safe while allowing students to continue to experience the hallmark features of a K education, whatever the public health situation brings. Designing effective courses that meet those goals is the singular challenge of our lives as educators. This year, in keeping with the challenges before us, we are replacing our traditional in-person fall gathering with the aptly named #KTeachDev2020, a mix of faculty-contributed blogs, tutorials, and conversations that start now and will continue to evolve throughout the summer. We invite you to interact with, and contribute to, the #KTeachDev2020 collection of resources.

A 5-minute Video Tour of #KTeachDev2020 resources

The #KTeachDev2020 Homepage

The #KTeachDev2020 homepage can be reached by links at the Teaching Commons Site and the TLC Site, as well as from links at the other #KTeachDev2020 resources. It contains blog entries from a variety of contributors about lessons learned from the online teaching experience in spring and plans for fall.

The Teaching Development Moodle Site

Josh Moon is developing a Moodle site Teaching Development for Online Learning – Summer 2020 that contains lots of resources about teaching, as well as providing a field-tested model for the kinds of things you can do with your own Moodle site.

The Teaching Commons Teams site with Channels for sharing ideas

The most interesting and dynamic part of the #KTeachDev2020 is the discussion it generates among colleagues. We’ve created a space for that at the Teaching Commons Teams site. Members of TLC will monitor the Discussion Channels. We hope you will post your ideas, respond to others, and check back often to share in the collective wisdom of your colleague instructors.

Distance Learning on Insta: Using Instagram Posts & Stories to Co-create and Share Student Ideas — Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada

Here I share how I used Instagram as a replacement for slideshows and more traditional Moodle posts, allowing students to engage aesthetically and analytically with course materials in ways that felt personal and accessible.

I’m sure we all have salient memories of March 13, that final day of classes at K when we knew coronavirus was looming, when we were just wrapping up the Winter term, completely unsure of what was to come. We had just begun carrying around little bottles of hand sanitizer with us, masks were not yet a thing. Maybe we had a pack of Lysol wipes in our offices. Our students sat close together, sharing bagels and iced coffees. We stood close together in the library elevator. At the end of my morning class, not knowing when they were going to see me again on campus, a couple of students asked if we could give me a hug. They were the last people I hugged outside of my family.

That morning students in my Religion and Masculinity class were chatty and restless as we sat in our library classroom. Rather than discuss the reading for that day on the intimacy of 19th century men’s studio portraits, we spent the class time imagining what an online class at K might look like. The first things my students dreaded was having their only meaningful interaction with course texts be through Moodle posts. My brilliant colleague, Ambre Dromgoole, a PhD Candidate at Yale, had tweeted a few days prior about using Instagram Live in lieu of other lecture-delivery platforms. I loved the idea of using Instagram and floated it by my students. Instantly they agreed that it would be fun and accessible to use social media for classes. I was preparing to teach my Catholics in the Americas class in the Spring. Usually my slideshows at the start of each class are full of Met Gala costumes, skulls, bones and other macabre relics, cathedral interiors, statues, woodcut images of burning convents, festivals, and processions. A course on Catholicism begs for visual richness and interactions with objects, architecture, and art. Instagram is the perfect platform for students to think about the relationship between tradition, practice, texts, objects, and images.

Mannequin dressed as Virgin Mary in satin brocade gown and ornate crown.

As I told my students, Catholics are EXTREMELY ONLINE, by which I mean many of them use social media, whether that be Instagram or Twitter to share dimensions of their religion, to post images of saints and rosaries, prayers, and increasingly the internet and social media platforms have become a media of presence. Blessings and the presence of Christ can travel through computer screens and Twitter posts. Just before the Spring term began, on March 28, 2020, Pope Francis delivered the Urbi et Orbi [to the city and the world] Blessing to an empty St. Peter’s Square. In the blue glow of night tens of thousands of people all over the world tuned into a livestream. Catholics watched as the Pope adored the Blessed Sacrament, and as he walked out onto the square in the rain holding the gold monstrance with the body of Christ at its center. This was not simply a symbolic gesture, but an efficacious one. From the square, through the cameras, through thousands of screens Catholics were not only blessed, but could receive a plenary indulgence, a remission of temporal punishment for sin, if they tuned in by internet, radio, or television. In short, the internet, social media platforms, and other digital media technologies are central to how Catholics stay in touch with Rome, with each other, and are essential to contemporary devotional culture and practice. So Instagram seemed the perfect way for students to engage with historical and contemporary Catholic culture, and curate their own images to go with their thoughts on the readings and materials each week.

Every student was required to make a new Instagram account that they would use just for class—to minimize the awkwardness of using their personal accounts, and I too made an account that was private and just for class use. On their account they would post weekly in response to the readings, films, or sources for that week. Each week they would post what I called a “Virtual Provocation:”

These posts should include a reflection on something that interests you in the day’s readings and questions for discussion. Your post can be a combination of your own thoughts and quotes, passages, images, memes you have made, media clips etc.

Use these posts to raise provocations—what stood out to you? Can you make connections with other texts, examples, classes, events etc.? Did something in the text jog your memory? Do you take issue with any of the author’s arguments? Why? These should help jump start discussion and you should read and comment on each other’s posts as well. Posts should raise substantive issues rather than noting minor curiosities or posing purely informational questions. These will demonstrate your engagement with the texts and themes.

For this kind of assignment, fewer guidelines helped the students find their own voice and style. K students, creative, curious, independent thinkers that they are, rose to the challenge and I was delighted with how thoughtful their posts were. In response to videos, readings, and primary sources, students would select an image—sometimes this was a family photo, a picture from their time abroad, a painting, a building, a devotional image etc.—and their caption would contain their response to the readings. They knew these would be read by me and others, so it was the perfect place to ask questions, quote the text, and voice their own perspectives on the course readings. Sometimes these were personal, as students who had gone through Communion and Confirmation themselves, or went on pilgrimages, shared how the text complemented, complicated, and illuminated their own religious histories and experiences. Often these were critical, when they were voicing frustration with an author’s argument or critiquing missionaries and their role in colonization, or the Church’s theology of gender and sexuality, or the entanglement of religion and politics. I found these posts were of much higher quality than any Moodle posts had been in past classes, perhaps because of the reflection and thought required in pairing text and image, or the accessibility of the technology and their ease with the platform. For me, reading their posts was as simple as scrolling my feed, something I would do naturally. Due the night before our synchronous discussions, these posts were useful as I prepared discussion questions, and helped me prompt students to share their ideas and stories. The posts helped me create personal connections with students who I had never met in person, allowing me to learn their voice, and their unique perspective on the world. This made what could sometimes be awkward video chats run smoothly and much like an in-person class discussion would. Students would read each other’s posts and be ready not just to talk to me, but with each other about the materials, and they really enjoyed the use of social media for distance learning. Some student comments:

“Instagram was used so well!!! I don’t know if you have been considering this yet, but when you go back to in person you might consider still using it. That was really amazing.”

“The class platform was super enjoyable – connecting over social media to post provocations and other interesting things. That was super different and exciting, not to mention creative on Dr. Maldonado’s part.”

Some samples of student profiles:

Three Instagram profiles with colorful images of churches, paintings, and saints

Some students made memes, which takes a deep understanding of the material, and I love the remixing of old and new media forms. In the one below, a student thinks about Jesuit’s glorification of martyrdom in New France in their missionary work with the Iroquois. The student even tagged each of their Instagram accounts in the meme.

Three men sitting in a car with text: “get in loser we’re going to New France to pursue martyrdom”

In the pandemic, sometimes with shoddy WiFi, or devices shared between multiple siblings, it is important for students to be able to access course materials and even engage in course requirements on their phones. If I feel like I have low bandwidth for watching videos and other recordings, students might too. Instagram stories became a perfect way for me to deliver background content and share visual media with students without the need for video streaming or even sharing or downloading attachments. They could casually click through an Instagram story wherever they might be, and at whatever time of the day they find time. About once a week, I used Instagram stories in lieu of PowerPoint to create stories that students could click through to learn about historical background and context, whether that be the origins and development of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, anti-Catholicism in the 19th century, violence between Protestants and Catholics, or why saints are so important. I prioritized choosing a compelling image for each slide. I then typed out a couple of short sentences to go along with the image—slotting lecture notes right into a slide won’t work as each needs to be easy to read and minimal. Attention to color, contrast, font size is important for readability too. Just seeing these images helped build a familiarity and facility with Catholic iconography and material culture, an important part of this course. An example of a cover slide and two informational slides:

Sacred Heart: flaming heart surrounded by crown of thorns and Jesus with informational captions

Using Instagram helped students not only understand Catholic objects, spaces, and aesthetics (and learn that Catholicism is about much more than the hierarchy and theology), but also learn and display facility in how to discuss them. They were able to think critically about representation and practice, and about the pervasiveness and diversity of Catholicism in their towns, cities, and online worlds. I found it to be an equitable way to share content and have students engage in the course and contribute their own thoughts using only their phones. The flexibility and creativity of this platform and their facility with posting and viewing text and images in this way yielded strong work, critique, and analysis in ways that directly fed into our class discussions. More, this platform pushed me to consider how to deliver information in bite-sized and visually interesting ways, and it helped me connect with my students outside of learning management software. It met me where I was and met them where they were. I imagine these kinds of posts and stories could work well for a variety of disciplines to help students connect in meaningful ways with class materials and develop and share their own written perspectives, questions, and critiques.

Granting Access to Your Stream Videos

After you upload your video to Streams, you need to choose who will be able to access it. You can allow any user with a account to see it, or you can limit access to individuals or groups of your choosing. Perhaps the most common way to do that is to grant access only to members of a Teams Channel—like for your course!

This 2-minute video demonstrates what you need:

If you want to bypass the video, here’s the step-by-step in pictures