Tuesday, November 28, 2006

8:24 and off-schedule

Today is supposedly my day off between classes, the day I use to recuperate and prepare for tomorrow's classes. Today, for instance, I should be using the day to go to the gym, watch a film and read and article for one class, and finish a novel and prepare to lead a discussion on the ways that it works to sum up many of the themes of the entire class.

This is not what I'll be doing today. At least not in the next couple of hours.

Instead, I'll be finishing up grading two different projects for two classes, running to a meeting, reconstructing my grade spreadsheets, which crashed the week before Thanksgiving. THEN I'll turn to prepping for class tomorrow. [Notice that the gym is nowhere in that list.]

I know that this is part and parcel of the post-Thanksgiving sprint; that my own disorganization and feeling of having no time to finish things is ultimately echoed in the students as well. Part of the problem, however, is due to my happy-ass need to experiment in courses. The reason I'm so behind in grading these projects (and oh, oh my, how shamefully behind I am!!), is because both of them are experiments in student group projects: one is a wiki, and the other is a group blog. Intuitively, I can understand why it's a useful way of asking students to produce and share their knowledge from the course. While not all of the projects have been successful (have you ever seen a really flaccid entry on Wikipedia? I've now seen many...), many were inventive and interesting and informative. Given the choice between reading a paper on radical student groups in the 60's or reading a wiki entry on it, in which the student intercuts her writing with pictures and links, I'll take the second any day of the week. Better yet, the students who have to read it then ALSO enjoy it more. I think. This part of the assignment--getting students to access and use the wiki--is a bit fuzzy in my head.

The point of the detail, there, is to indicate the pedagogical difficulties that experiments can create. I was out on a limb designing and shepherding the students through the creation of these projects (because you can't just build your own wiki to see how it would work). But now we're in different territory. The wiki is there: now how do I assess it?! While I set up criteria for them as they were working (actually, we discussed what the qualities of a good wiki entry were, and then used these to set up a rubric), how do I translate this into a grade? In essence, how do you fairly evaluate student work for which there was no model?

These are obviously not concerns that I share with them; no class wants to be the guinea pigs whose grades hang in the balance of a professor's whims. But it does seem to me that the influx of new technologies and the pedagogical opportunities that they create trouble our traditional notions of evaluation and grading, at the same time that they trouble students who have been successful with standard technologies (i.e., papers, tests, etc.). How do we make the jump in a way that's fair to students, both in terms of their grades, and in a larger sense, in terms of their comfort levels?

I'll wait for your answers. In the meantime, I'll be here grading. I should have done 4 by now. Sigh.

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