Categories
Design Pedagogy The University

the double-edged hobson’s choice janus-faced statement of learning objectives

We’re closing in on getting classes started for spring, so I’ve been updating syllabi and course statements.  I’m really trying to cut – heavily cut – what I provide in the current Weblogs and Wikis statement. Not condense, not rework, but just cut.  One problem is that in explaining objectives and criteria for evaluation has to take two forms: one needs to be student-readable, the other is for the administration.  For students to learn with, I state these as guides rather than promises/outcomes/objectives/goals:

This course gives you the opportunity to

– Become skilled in navigating, reading, and creating written content in social media.
– Develop an understanding of how social media systems work technically; develop a critical understanding of the rhetorical affordances in social media systems; develop a critical understanding of how people interact socially in these systems; and develop a sense of potentials and pitfalls in the systems and their use.
– Become familiar enough with the concepts of social media communication able to be able to review and articulate social issues and implications.
– Critically consider how social media has and continues to re-shape learning, social, and communicative practices.
– Publish your work with these issues and topics, and comment on your work as it unfolds. aka: Become a cartographer
– Participate in a semester-long conversation about these issues and topics with others in this class and outside the class,
– Synthesize ideas of social media to develop critically-aware, media-specific responses in a number of media.

For the students, they are guides, hopes, things to aspire to. For me, they are what I have to give opportunities for the students to try. But I also evaluate students using these objectives as the course progresses: They are holistic, heuristic, aimed at pedagogical ends of understaning and comprehension, familiarity with new ideas, increasing confidence and expertise. I leave  how the student demonstrates each of these unstated, in part because the how wouldn’t make much sense to students until the end of the course, and in part because I don’t wish to close off possibilities for their demonstration by over-defining them, and in great part because this is a class where people learn across time rather than just show at the end.  So, how do I know if, for instance, a student is “critically considering how social media has and continues to re-shape learning, social, and communicative practices?” By her way of her writing, among other means. But to specify the criteria by number of words, posts, or something we’ll call engagement is less than useful to the student. I suspect I will see it in her writing, in her use of tags, in her comments on the work of others … I know I have to provide plenty of opportunities for her to practice it, watch for it as she does, and let her know when and where I see it.

But in counterpoint, here are the goals/objectives/criteria/indices I have listed for the non-pediagogical administrative view of the course.

Students will

== demonstrate technical proficiency by ==
– setting up and maintaining a weblog for the course, and using it for course purposes
– ditto wiki pages
– ditto Twitter
– demonstrate a growing independence in technical matters over the semester
– demonstrate a broadening of media attempted over the semester

== demonstrate knowledge by==
– engaging with the work of others in the class by commenting and responding
– posting regular work with readings and topics on your blog
– engaging (meaning //annotating, sharing, remixing, repurposing//) materials both assigned and what you find
– searching for and engaging other materials
– engaging in a continuing refactoring of ideas during the course
– a developing depth and quality in your reflections over the semester

== demonstrate responsibility and academic integrity by ==
– attending face to face classes and maintaining a presence on line
– submitting materials on time
– informally documenting sources in the manners appropriate for the web. Linking, obviously, but look at some weblogs and you’ll see how it’s done.)
– not cheating

What are these really? Because they aren’t goals. They are more like statements of necessary conditions for learning to potentially occur. They are purportedly visible and measurable outcomes – not for my use, not for the use by students, but for administration. But there are problems: Since the administration won’t tell faculty what wants to use these statements for, I can’t be more specific and I can’t be sure that I’m specifying anything meaningful to them.  If they measurable (or worth measuring), they aren’t calibrated, nor can they be in a useful way. I can say with a degree of certainty that they are pedagogically meaningless in a classroom of any significance, and they don’t provide a measure for evaluating learning. They look like they might, but they don’t.

So, in the statement for students, I add a couple of paragraphs to help make the Borges List perhaps useful to students as learner-readable criteria:

That’s the evidence I’ll look at during the progress of the course. Here are the criteria I’ll use for a final evaluation of your work:

– The complexity of what you take on and how you address it. That is, To what extent have you challenged yourself and the medium?
– The sophistication of ideas with which you address the tasks you set for yourself.

In short, the more challenging the tasks you set for yourself, and the more sophisticated the work you take on, the higher the final grade. These features and criteria emphasize //exploring//, //experimenting//, //developing self-reliance//, as well as traditional academic qualities of //complexity//, //insight//, //tenacity//, and //risk//.

So, horns of a dilemma avoided at the almost-certain risk of confusing students. Maybe next semester, I’ll try color coding things: things students need to know in blue, and administrative text in yellow.

Categories
The University

reminder: you can’t force the brand – in class or out

RideDigital natives, aka Millenials, are defined along marketing lines, an approach which may serve university PR and recruitment (to an extent – as long as you don’t push student expectations beyond classroom realities) but is inappropriate for teaching and learning. Never mind the limited sample that is the basis of characterizing Millennials; and never mind the clear stereotyping of the group. The Chronicle covered all that back in October, 2009. And never mind the mid-20th century Mad Ave mindset behind characterizing a homogenous audience in a time of fragmentation: Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus takes that down a notch. (And see also a marketing perspective on the implications of Shirky’s thesis from Jason Falls.)

Instead, consider this: The Millennial group rates their computer expertise higher than they perform.

Second, consider the argument I’ve heard more than once: “Students don’t need courses that deal with computers or the internet. They’ve grown up with that. They know all that.” The fallacy in that argument should be obvious to those of us who grew up with television.

Third, consider that a university’s marketing perspective often drives administrative decisions on programs and courses, in part directly, and in part through local PR, and by defining The One True Story the university is supposed to tell the world.

Well, it does at my university, anyway.

So, here’s The Read Write Web on So-Called “Digital Natives” Not Media Savvy

Having been born into a world where personal computers were not a revolution, but merely existed alongside air conditioning, microwaves and other appliances, there has been (a perhaps misguided) perception that the young are more digitally in-tune with the ways of the Web than others.

A new study coming out of Northwestern University, discovered that college students have a decided lack of Web savvy, especially when it comes to search engines and the ability to determine the credibility of search results. Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it’s legit.

The article mentioned is from The International Journal of Communication: “Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content,” by Hargittai, Fullerton, Menchen-Trevino, and Yates Tomas. Here’s the abstract, and the link:

We find that the process by which users arrive at a site is an important component of how they judge the final destination. In particular, search context, branding and routines, and a reliance on those in one’s networks play important roles in online information-seeking and evaluation. We also discuss that users differ considerably in their skills when it comes to judging online content credibility.

This is the kind of information faculty and administrators need when designing programs and courses – and even the direction of the university – not the marketing orientation. This is the kind of information that drives course design, class and online interaction, knowledge making, and all the other high-minded features we ascribe to our decisions.

Night in PhilidelphiaAnd, finally, a reminder from Falls – not just for Communications and Marketing but for faculty thinking that Social is this Season’s Black (yeah, including me).

The bad news for marketers is that Shirky’s examples quietly illustrate that we can’t force meaningful social activities. They happen organically, if not accidentally. So instead of trying to build branded communities and produce “viral” videos, our best bet is to just be hanging around when something cool happens and be there, not conducting the train.

Faculty can’t force the social, either. Have some more sushi. I’ll be in the corner, reading.