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Posts Tagged ‘project

Ah, project work in school. High on ideals, low on returns. So low that the tweet below is humorous version of a common response of students.

Good educators also focus on the social skills and metacognition of learners, not just the timelines and final products. But not enough do and that is why this response will persist.

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Yesterday I reflected on how teachers might dumb down a complex tool like project work by not embracing complexity.

Today I examine the other side of the same coin: Using too complex a tool for a simple task.

If you had to remove a bottle cap, you could just use a bottle opener. That is what the tool is for. Or you could do the extreme and use a helicopter.

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Some teachers might say that project work is just a different way of measuring the understanding of content. But why go through all that time and expense to do something relatively simple?

The helicopter approach is like requiring students to do a stage production just to find out if students understand a Shakespearean play. Or asking them to plan and execute a journey overseas just to determine their understanding of geography, mathematics, or report writing.

It is an overkill approach because project work is meant to do more and it requires more.

Here are other overkill examples. One is flipping your classroom to be a better content practice coach. Another is acquiring or co-opting a school LMS to create “social” spaces. You can coach without flipping and you can leverage on the usage and popularity of existing social media tools.

I might sound like a buzzkill. I am merely warning teachers not to use the wrong tool for the job, like using a helicopter to remove a bottle cap. You can do that, but it will be messy and require disproportionate effort and cost for marginal returns.

Today’s reflection is part one of two on project work.

I read with a combination of interest and concern a recent chat in #edsg about grading project work.

It started with a legitimate question:

Equally legitimate answers streamed in like:

All that was interesting. Here was what created dissonance for me. The task was scaled up (project work), but its “measurement” was not. This was like needing to solve a problem in quantum physics but only being armed with Newtonian physics. Or like needing to build a skyscraper and walking in with a sandcastle construction kit.

Good sense prevailed towards the end of the conversation:

But I doubt any book or sane assessment literate expert will recommend what I am about to. Focus less on objectivity and embrace subjectivity when measuring more complex social phenomena.

To understand why I make that recommendation, we need to consider the escalating complexity of various assessments.

Assuming a multiple choice quiz is designed well, its measures are as objective as you can make them and you can even automate the grading. But even in such a black and white situation, human errors and interpretation in phrasing a question and providing answer options leave room for whether an answer should be A or B.

Move on to a more complex marking situation like essays. In the assessment domain, this is the realm of the rubric. In a more subjective space (the essay), graders attempt to standardize their reactions on scales of, say, 1 to 5. They might also conduct standardized marking exercises where teachers grade a poor, average, and exemplary essay, and then compare results. Ideally, a grading pattern follows what teachers intuitively already know is poor, average, or excellent. In reality, the points and grades rarely, if ever, coincide.

Now consider group project work. It mirrors working life in that it typically involves cooperation and/or collaboration, multiple tasks of varied complexities, minimum standards to meet, and different expectations among group members. Unlike working life, teachers resort to guidelines and rubrics because it seems logical to be as objective and as fair as possible.

But should an escalated task be measured with a simplified yardstick?

I grant that teachers will attempt to create more detailed and complex rubrics and might even have auditors (assessors of assessors and assessments) of project work. The instinctive teacher part of me views this as trying to contain or simplify a complex and subjective task.The wiser educator part of me realizes this is not only an exercise in futility, it is also an unrealistic model to perpetuate.

The context of the original Twitter post on grading group project work was to test understanding and application of content. You can certainly design rubrics for that.

But here are what most rubrics do not address if they focus largely on content:

  • What if a group cheated by relying on a knowledgeable parent or by recycling a previous project?
  • Suppose one group did their project slow and steady and another waited till the eleventh hour, but both delivered as expected. What then?
  • What if one or more members in a project group ticked all the right boxes, but those members are extremely unpleasant?

Are teachers going to compartmentalize and focus on just the content or are they going to embrace the complexity that mirrors real work and life?

You do not rely on a rubric when deciding who to vote for in an election or the winners of a talent contest. The human factors are too varied and complex. The judges might have rubric-like tools, but they also have X factor vetoes. I have been in far too many interview and judging panels to see guiding forms abandoned because they are inadequate and ineffective for both assessment and evaluation. That is real life.

Project work is an opportunity to examine outcomes outside the box, not more of what is inside. Creativity, resilience, strategizing, problem-finding, problem-solving, and so much more. All these are traits and abilities that are important in life and work, but difficult to put in a test or rubric.

A complex task requires a complex evaluation. Teachers must know what they are getting into when they design and employ project work. If they do not, they should find some professional development to help them make informed decisions.

Rubrics are too inadequate a tool for project work. As @hsiao_yun mentioned, there are multiple strategies and tools to assess and evaluate the multiple facets of project work. Teachers need to be skilled in all of them if they are to embrace the complexity of processes and products of project work.

Group photo courtesy of @rachelhtan

Photo courtesy of @rachelhtan

A small group of #edsg regulars got together over the last quarter of 2014 to devise an online experiment for 2015. We call it our Thematic Tweets project.

This is my contribution:

We are doing this to market #edsg, to draw lurkers out into participating, and to create greater ownership of topics we might discuss.

I am doing this as a founding member of #edsg because I predict its demise. I have written about why some teachers do not tweet, and there is widespread documentation online about how Twitter is failing to recruit and then retain users.

That said, there are very passionate educators who participate in regional or international hashtagged tweet chats, often on a weekly basis. However, even a cursory content analysis might reveal limited social interaction. Audrey Watters wondered out loud if Twitter was the best option for online professional development. I have critiqued the processes and the pedagogy of Twitter chats.

What should be chats become proclamations. Where there should be interactions there are rhetorical projections. We want to avoid that in #edsg.

I still worry that #edsg as a community is on its last legs. Regulars leave, lurkers refuse to contribute, and trolls or spambots disrupt. Without the injection of fresh DNA and ideas, and the commitment of players to keep going, we might be the last of the Mohicans or the remaining white rhinos in a zoo.

I do not know if we will be successful with our project. I predict we will know by mid-2015 at the earliest or the end of the year at the most logical.

We will not know until we try, so try we will.

The National Library Board (NLB) has an effort called the Singapore Memory Project (SMP). It is seeking blog pledges.

Like some other bloggers, I have been invited to pledge my blog to the SMP so as to contribute to the gestalt of Singapore or being Singaporean.

At first I wondered why someone might want to archive a mirror and magnifying glass. I use this blog to reflect and to examine things that catch my eye more closely.

Then I started to I wonder if we need an archive given that there are no borders in the blogosphere.

I understand the rationale of the project though, but I have other perspectives.

From the FAQ of the SMP site:

3. Why should I pledge my blog to the SMP?

By contributing to the project, you are affirming that every memory matters. Whether your posts are an account of your daily life, or an expression of your thoughts, the SMP hopes to find a home for your memories so that it can help build towards an understanding of Singapore. Last but not least, you will enjoy the traction provided by SMP with more visitors reading your blog.

I agree that online memories and artefacts matter, but they are not limited by borders. That is why I operate as a global citizen and make my contributions with blog entries, tweets, social bookmarks, SlideShares, YouTube videos, concept maps, and other artefacts.

What if I do not care about driving traffic to my blog? I did not start blogging with this objective and it is still not something that drives me to blog.

I am still not sure if I should jump on the bandwagon. I am not obliged to. And at the moment, I am not inclined to.

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