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Posts Tagged ‘work

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.

I recall playing a childhood game where we would cock a pretend gun to someone’s head and ask, “Your money or your life?”

That was just a game. I had to ask myself that question yesterday because I had to decide between taking a well-paying consultancy gig or taking care of my health.

As chipper as I have tried to be about the last week since being diagnosed with a kidney stone, I have been in considerable pain. While I am better now, I still cannot stand up straight or walk properly without punishing myself.

I was ready to bite the bullet and do a consulting gig today which required a quick trip overseas. Just the thought of all the months of planning, preparation, and effort was enough to push me to go. But deep down I knew that I was being stupid.

When I had an office, one of my walls was covered with a spiral of my son’s photos to remind me why I did what I did. The photo above is one that I took in 2010.

The photos reminded me to do what I can (and even push myself to do what I think I cannot) to ensure my son has the education that he deserves, not just the schooling he is provided. To do that, I must change the mindsets and behaviours of teachers and educators of all kinds and at all levels.

That mission has not changed. But now that I am at home more, I have a more immediate mission of being there for my family. So the question of money or life was easy to answer. I am glad I chose life.

T minus zero normally means “out of time” or it marks the launch of a projectile.

5 seconds by lecates, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  lecates 

Today is the start of my identity sans NIE labels. No professor, no lecturer (I hate that term!), no appointment holder, no leader or manager. No unnecessary baggage either.

But I will still be doing some of those things over the next few months as I provide consulting work for various institutes: pedagogy workshops, change management experiences, strategic planning, ETC. ETC not as in et cetera, but as in Education and Technology Consultant.

I am looking forward to a more focused, relaxed, and rewarding work life. If I take one of the full time positions I have been offered, my blog readers will be among the first to know.

I have been reading the opinion articles in local rags and social media about whether kids with promising talent should work as soon as possible or stay in school.

Conventional wisdom, particularly in a place like Singapore, favours schooling because paper qualifications seem to be what employers recruit and reward. But that tide is changing, particularly in fields that do not require specific professional qualifications, where drive, experience, and attitude are more important.

I do not see why we have to think along the traditional lines of either starting/continuing work or furthering one’s schooling/education. Why not both?

After some basic schooling, much of what needs to be learnt is done on the job (OTJ). Some OTJ training and development is provided at the workplace, sometimes a vendor provides it. Sometimes the worker signs up for Coursera, sometimes s/he takes a night class.

Then there are those who take courses online, face-to-face, or a combination, but also work part-time, are apprentices, or have internships in their fields of interest.

We have workers who realize that they must be learners and we have learners who are working on the side.

These days you can have your cake and eat it too. You can start with a culinary diploma, set up a cake shop, and learn more trade skills from pastry chefs on YouTube. You can also start with one job, wish to dabble in some frosting, switch careers, and get the necessary qualifications one way or other.

There are many permutations and combinations for how a person becomes a pastry chef. Or anything else for that matter. Open your eyes and ears and ask around. The exceptions are becoming the rule. There is no one size or method that fits all.

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Hot off my YouTube subscription line is this video from RSAnimate about reimagining work with current technology.

Short version: It is about undoing the industrial productivity mindset and adopting one based on trust and technological affordances.

The thing I like most about this video is the observation that most still feel the need to go to work (a place) when the work can come to us (the tasks). If as information workers we take the latter half seriously, we can walk the talk of “anytime, anywhere”.

This tweet popped up on my Twitter stream earlier this week.

Talk about overkill.

I wonder if the same person would like to monitor personal email for evidence of work too. After all, if staff should not be shopping at work, they should not be working during their personal time.

Such black and white dichotomies of thinking and acting are not just outdated, they are also harmful. They show a lack of understanding, currency, and concern. This could lead to an erosion of trust and morale.

Why enact policy when there can be guidelines? Why impose technical monitoring when there can be social systems of checks and measures?

I have been inundated with administrative work since returning from leave.

4 by mag3737, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

When I paused for breath, I realized that there were at least four patterns of work.

  1. Doing the same things the same (old) way. This type of work is getting hard to find if you deal with knowledge work.
  2. Doing different things the same way. This either a response to meaningless change or resisting change.
  3. Doing the same things differently. This could be a sign of innovation or a lack of communication.
  4. Doing different things differently. If you add constant sense-making, communicating, and cooperating or collaborating, then that is knowledge work.

On a seemingly unrelated note, here is my second Monday CeL-Ed video. I shot it while I was on leave. It is a fifth pattern of work. It is not distinct from play.

Video source

Some might argue that I am doing the same thing (interviewing) a bit differently or a different thing (working) differently (while at play). That is why it is a pattern of its own.

By the way, the videos so far have been shot with webcams on my iMac (the first video) or on my Macbook Air (this video). They were trimmed in QuickTime with the minimum of editing.

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