Creating Unique Project Assignments, Written Prompts, and Long Answer Test Questions

Although I wrote my last thought about creating unique tests per student and discussed how to harness the computer for automatic grading purposes, I firmly believe that those types of assessments are only valuable as formative learning moments when students need to understand basic facts prior to creating higher level thinking assignments or prior to moving to the next level of understanding.  The real observation of a student’s growth is in the project, written response, presentation, and long answer question, and this is why it is so vital to make unique prompts to promote individual responses and not easily copied responses.

Students are going to use the Internet, your textbook, its resources and links, friends, and the library’s resources to search for ideas when they are writing responses so your prompts need to be unique, clear, and scaffold.  For example, I know of a history teacher that writes prompts that put the learner in a time period and place, and he requires the learner to write from the perspective of a normal person during that time period.  I also know of a communications instructor who actually makes students go out into the public with their project and communicate to live audiences.  Both of these projects include clear rubrics to help the learner reach the desired goals of the instructor.

As for math and sciences, I have seen teachers ask students to teach a math problem, and I have watched very interesting descriptions of “my life as a cell”.  Once again projects are written that force unique perspectives from the student with clearly written rubric guidelines for the desired outcomes.  These projects, hence, are difficult to copy.

Many instructors who are new to this type of project creation are concerned about grading.  This is why you must create a rubric for the desired outcome and tailor the project clearly with scaffolding.  Once you create the first one, you will see how easy it is to change the rubric slightly and the project scaffolding slightly from term to term to continue to get unique project submissions.  In conclusion, these projects not only force unique responses, they require a generation to think, to express, to present, to support with fact, and to discern the material.  Isn’t that what we need in today’s world?



Online Testing – Generating Unique Tests per Student

Most online learning management systems have quiz creation tools with unique settings on them to insure unique test generations per student; consequently, online teachers can deliver unique instances of their tests or quizzes to their students so that cheating possibilities are limited.  These capabilities are allowing instructors to rethink the test taking time in more traditional settings also and many teachers in hybrid and on campus courses are beginning to set up quizzes and tests for remote test taking too.  If you are planning upon implementing this strategy in your course, make sure that you implement some of the most common settings of your quiz tool in your course management system.

One important feature setting is simply time.  Setting the timer for a student who takes your test is important.  By limiting the time a student may be involved with your test, you are forcing the student to be well prepared with the knowledge prior to taking your test.  Do not be lenient with this time as you can make exceptions for individual needs by allowing special access for an individual or letting another individual retake the test if needed.

Additionally most learning management systems allow you to randomize quiz question answers and quiz question order.  Because these systems just need you to specify a correct answer, you can manipulate the test engine to produce a random order of questions and a random order of question answers per question of an individualized student test.  For example, student A could have question 1 with answer B as correct, but student B would have that same question appear as question 9 with answer C as correct.  The power of computing gets harnessed when these settings are applied, and students will have to concentrate upon their own test and own test answers instead of their friend’s test.

Furthermore most course management system quiz tools are allowing you to take a set of questions from a pool of questions.  Which means that you are able to create unique sets of questions based upon many questions of the same value.  Many teachers are combining textbook questions with their own personalized questions and they are finding that they have too many questions for a test.  Consequently, if valued properly a teacher could have the computer select a set of questions from that pool of questions.  For example, two students could receive different questions or some partially different questions on a test instance that selects ten questions from a pool of twenty questions.

With all of the above solutions applied, you can begin to see how a test could be unique per student.  A student could have a unique set of questions in a unique order with unique answer orders that have to be completed in a limited amount of time.  Thus eliminating reasons for students to even try to collaborate on your exam because there are too many factors that would create false or antiproductive cheating scenarios.  For further information or more detailed examples please feel free to email me directly upon this topic.  I like the way computer science can be applied to test questions, tests, and test settings to create a unique environment that gets graded automatically.

Next time, I will discuss creating unique projects for your students to lower the chances of cheating.  It is all in the language that you use, the expectations that you created, and the objectives of the assignment.

Improving Technology Usage Among Faculty

The title simply states a goal for all administrators and school communities.  As technology improves so do the needs for teachers to teach with those technologies and to provide lessons that allow students to create with those technologies.  Because teachers have little time to be trained, timing is always an issue, and realistic goals should be assigned to allow for these changes.  Also in class sessions, while valuable for teachers, are only successful when “just in time” learning approaches are designed to support the teacher during the school year.

arcsAs we look at the ARCS model of adult learning theory, educational technologists need to keep in mind that most adult learners especially teachers know what they need to learn.  Therefore, making that learning relevant (the R in the model) is extremely important.  One on one sessions with faculty can help them design lessons that use the current technology or that can help the teacher create better learning scenarios with that technology. Teachers also find satisfaction (the S in the model) by getting immediate feedback in a personalized learning environment where they can ask a technology expert for specific skills or creative lesson planning that is unique to his classroom.

Confidence (the C in the model ) is extremely important for an educational technology program as teachers who do not feel confident will simply not use the the tool nor provide the projects for the student.  Educational technologists need to be present for the “just in time” support as teachers do not always know what the technology will bring about in the process of teaching or what students will need during the project.  Open labs with after school support and free period support are great ways to increase confidence among students which then leads to the teachers seeing value in assigning these types of projects again.

Attention (the A in the model) is the hook to get the student and/or teacher to try the technology in their projects.  Teachers know that technology grabs student attention, and they know that the technology can be a valuable tool for knowledge transference.  However, what are we doing to remind them of that?  Best practices must be researched and provided as additional resources for teachers in your school.  They can understand a great project (end result) easily, and they will use or modify the best elements of it in their own lessons.  New approaches and best practices are in constant need of sharing.  A community that shares ideas either within the school or through local conferences with other schools is growing from the reflection of others and the evaluation of how technologies can work in their individual classrooms.  Educational communities are better when they are reflecting the craft, sharing ideas, and improving lessons, and educational technology should simply be an extension of an this type of educational community.

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The Theremin

This past Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning, I learned many interesting facts about Halloween, but one particular story struck me as purely educational technology genius.  It was scripted to teach about a very unique subject that many of us have overlooked even though we have all heard it played.  CBS presented a story about the theremin, one of the oddest musical instruments known to musicians.

Controlled without physical contact with the actual instrument, the musical technician intercepts electronic signals between two antennas to produce electronic sound on the Theremin.  The theremin created by the Russian spy of the same name is frequently heard in eerie and/or out of this world type movies, and it has even been adopted by The Beach Boys‘ in “Good Vibrations”  and various electronic guitar creations by  Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.  Even Bob Moog, the creator of the first synthesizers, credits the theremin in helping him understand and create digital keyboards with varieties of electronic sounds.

But I am writing not so much to discuss how very tricky it is to master this instrument as it is to describe a great educational technology story about technology.  CBS Sunday Morning knows how to tell at story and teach at the same time.  This short segment taught more about history, culture, electronic music, and politics in four minutes than most of us can teach in an entire week or month.  It reaches the audience, it adheres to academic goals, and it cleverly speaks to the learner.  It is the type of video that we should strive to create.

The Danger of One Way Emotional Emails

A friend of mine recently posted upon Facebook her concerns about emotional lengthy emails and cautioned those with a lot on their minds to pick up the phone or to set up a meeting for direct communication.  I responded to her concern with a cheer, but I also stated that as an educational technologist I have been teaching this to parents, students, teachers, and administrators for years, and while I believe they can respond in class and upon tests regarding what to do in those situations, I am seeing little evidence of this in real practice and interaction among individuals.  In fact, there are many one way emotional emails being sent to teachers and administrators that need additional two way feedback from all parties involved, but is that happening?  Are these inquiries and/or complaints being properly handled to resolve conflict?

In my presentation of a one way emotional email, I am referring to those emails that are intended to define in great depth a problem with varying points of dissatisfaction.  These emails are harmful to the person of subject, but these emails are rarely sent to that person.  These emails are also sent without discussing topics with those involved.  I call them one way emotional emails because they remind me of politicians in front of a camera, a preacher on television, or a paid 30 minute advertisement on TV.  There is very little time for rebuttal or real open discussion from the other point of view, but there sure is a lot said about the other party, consumer, religion, or product.  It generally seems like a one sided and most likely biased document of frustration.

In my experiences in schools, one-way emotional emails have taken the form of various parent concerns such as academic goals, social circumstance, and disciplinary actions.  However, I have also seen teachers concerned about student behavior, school policies, and modern learners, and let’s not forget administrators intending to improve the school environment, student learning outcomes, and community visibility.  While I am not perfect in these matters either, lengthy emails of extreme frustration or emotional content are not always the best response to a situation because frequently parties that are involved are not understood, questioned, or expected to respond.  Conflict is defined.  Thoughtful resolution is not.

Well, without continuing to create a one way blog, I am seeking your advice.  How do you feel about email used to describe well documented frustration?  Should email be used to complain in such depth?  Is it valuable or is it defining a generation of complainers who can not solve problems through direct conversation?  Are we solving problems or just telling another person in hopes that some else will solve the problem?

What is a school?

Because I see a society that has so many views of and associations for the word school.  I began studying the Merriam-Webster definitions for the term school.   With references to the actual buildings, groups of thought, and an institutionalized organization, the word itself can imply a variety of meanings and can be used in many references that simply fall short.   Society’s definition and understanding of the word school can miss the most important points of learning interactions among scholars and teachers.  Therefore, I prefer the definition as a group of scholars and teachers pursuing knowledge together.

With this in mind, I am concerned about how the news reports upon our schools.  I can easily read articles about new multi-million dollar buildings being built, expensive technologies implemented, sport team championships, and famous visitors.  While these stories reflect important aspects of schools, they do not investigate, demonstrate, or present what really needs to be defined for the American public . . . a group of scholars and teachers pursuing knowledge together.  Consequently, I believe lesser informed parents, politicians, citizens, and critics of the school system have not understood the complexities of the profession nor the benefits of what currently exists.

Groups of scholars and teachers are pursuing knowledge together on a daily basis in a majority of classrooms across the nation, and the process is as complex as the human brain.  The media needs to interview that, capture that upon its cameras, and display that to the world.  Buildings, Technologies, Sports Teams, Performances, and Other Extras are simply that . . . extras.  The school is a group of scholars and teachers pursuing knowledge together.  When that happens a school can grow, move, adapt, excite, challenge, produce, innovate, transform, plan, develop, solve, predict, experiment, construct, improvise, and invent in any educational environment.

A Manifesto from a Spanish Teacher and Educational Technologist

Next year, I am embarking upon a mission to teach Spanish full time to middle school students, and I will be implementing educational technology methods and products that I have been designing and advocating for many years.  I am not planning on supporting those who can not use technology well, trying to convince administrators and teachers how to incorporate technology into the classroom in the best ways, or solving network and hardware problems for students and staff.  I am planning on teaching, and I am expecting students to learn.  I am planning on incorporating technology directly into the everyday life of my classroom, and I am very happy that my liberal arts education has afforded me this transition with such ease.I will also ask questions about how to improve language learning for middle school students, and I will test out best practices that use digital, blended, and traditional techniques.  I may even design some products and new lesson plans like I have done in the past.  And finally, if all is well I may develop projects for the web and mobile devices in my spare time.  Yes, it is time to blend skills, to design methods, to program prototypes, and to test and release new products and methods.  Lookout! (as my friends from Chattanooga say) There will be more in the future. ( no pun intended students )I wish all the best to my past students, their parents, my friends, my colleagues, and fellow educational technologists.  You can feel free to contact me should you have further questions.