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Tuesday, March 8, 2011


IMG_7922a enhanced  smell the roses

I never thought I would find myself at a place where I am encouraging instructors to add multiple choice and other automatically graded assessments to their classes.  Weird.  That comes from a discussion on balance and prioritization though.   I believe in the concept of opportunity cost (remember your first semester macroeconomics class).  When you choose to do something with your limited resources, in this case time, you are also choosing not to do something else with that time.  Because our time as an instructor each day is limited we need to prioritize our activities.  

I strongly believe (and the literature seems to support that belief) that active, teacher-led discussions help learners stay involved in a course and help them successfully complete courses.  But facilitating good discussions takes at least some time almost every day.  Responding to learners, gently leading the discussion through the course content takes though and effort.  

Written assignments are required to be a part of all guaranteed transfer courses in Colorado and most faculty seem to agree that they are an important part of most courses.  Assessment design is critical here also -- carefully thought out, scaffolded assignments get better results from learners than simply assigning a 5-10 page research paper.  And of course good feedback every step of the way is critical to the success of an assignment - again fairy time-consuming.  

This does leave room for assignments with automated feedback, especially in the non-graded, self-assessment area of the course, but also in the graded area.  Not everything learners are expected to end a course with involves critical thinking.  In many introductory courses learning the vocabulary is also important and one of the important outcomes.  That can be assessed well with a multiple choice exam with automated feedback, leaving the instructor with more time to focus on the discussions and written assessments.

I'm suggesting instructors think about the learning outcomes and how they are best addressed.  Sometimes that is better than drowning yourself if written assignments requiring significant grading time.

(Photo credit: Photo taken in Oakley, CA by Mark. N. Woodcopf, Flickr,

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