As we finish up the "Year of Education Online Work" (aka YEOW!), it's normal to reflect on what has had the biggest impact on student success, and what has not. On the positive side, the mobilization of institutions to provide access to teaching and learning has been phenomenal. Those who are worn out by the Zoom sessions and glitchy technology, still manage to find a way to be creative, experimental, and connected to students. Many are re-thinking the value of hybrid and online delivery from a positive mindset, not a deficit one—they are listening to their students with openness and making adjustments as the semester progresses.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are missed opportunities that abound in distance education, and authentic assessment is one of them. If faculty are the engine on a train and instruction is the cargo, assessment is the caboose. The caboose is coupled at the end of a freight train, intended to keep a lookout for load shifting, damage to equipment and cargo, and smoke. This blog post seeks to debunk the need for ed tech's caboose: surveillance technology. Faculty, keep writing your exams! Assessment should be classified as cargo (more learning is taking place), and not a lookout post that broadcasts to students, "I don't trust you!"
I've been in higher ed long enough to know, some will never be convinced ed tech software is designed to bust students and is not equitable. "Those who are not persuaded by the ethical and empathetic position should know that proctoring software fails miserably when checked against the science of learning too. Students have to deal with the extra cognitive burden of thinking about questions like 'Are my eyes looking in the right place?' 'I didn’t move my head too much, did I?' 'I’m not cheating but will the instructor think I am?' 'I opened another app because my kid's teacher just pinged me.' etc."
I highly encourage you to read, Refusal, Partnership, and Countering Educational Technology’s Harm by Charles Logan, and the New York Times article, Keeping Online Testing Honest? Or an Orwellian Overreach?
In April 2020, UC Berkeley provided instructors clear guidance on assessments in a COVID-era. Below are recommendations from this document, applicable to all segments of higher ed.
Cabrillo's installation of Proctorio is going away in December. What remains available to faculty is Turnitin's SimCheck (a similarity checker), and Respondus LockDown Browser (no live proctoring). We can continue to influence our institutions and define how we keep teaching in an equitable manner. We can also eschew using these tools that pit our students as adversaries, and support each other in using authentic assessment techniques and open education resources. See OER and Online Learning Faculty Quick Start Guide.
Many distance education professionals in the California Community Colleges have spent literally decades working to improve DE, provide access to education, close the equity gap, increase student success, and degree completions. In a few short months, all that progress has been undermined by one single event—the COVID pandemic. Factors include predatory practices by ed tech companies, the massive influx of instructors into online teaching (with little or no experience), bias towards online as a deficit, not a positive principle, and the economic disaster for students and their support structures, mainly family and friends.
Good online learning is so much more than facilitation. "The role of the instructor as subject matter expert and pedagogical architect"1 has been compromised by reliance on web-conferencing (originally designed for corporate business), surveillance technology, and largely text-based digital environments instead of multiple modes of representing knowledge.
In Michelle Pacansky-Brock's Love Letter to Online Learning, she states "The nature of online classes varies dramatically, much like face-to-face classes. But, in both scenarios, the teacher matters and the teaching matters. When an online class is taught by an engaged and empathetic instructor who seeks to be aware of the needs of her students, the asynchronous nature of online learning may become a benefit to students, not a disadvantage. This is contingent upon the design of the course."
We already know that instructors who completed the DE Academy experience transformations in their face-to-face classes as a result of what they learned from teaching online. I guess my question at this point is to ask new online instructors, are you going to swim, or will you hang out in the shallows until classes resume on-campus again?
It's a harsh reality that community college enrollment is taking a big hit. And it mostly affects low income students and students of color. Some students are shopping for classes that don't require a webcam, or don't use online proctoring surveillance. Courses that have redesigned engagement are gaining wider acceptance. For example, redefining authorship, such as welcoming illustrated papers, student video projects, group presentations, or audio soundtrack assessments, instead of short quizzes. Even Harvard acknowledged, students liked the optional breakout Zoom rooms for smaller discussions, “Because the minute the Zoom meeting ends, the entire campus evaporates for everyone." If you learn to swim now, imagine yourself teaching a hybrid class in the future that provides highly engaging activities, flexible learning, and increased student success.
Let's keep swimming!
1 The Manifesto for Online Teaching, 2020, MIT Press
2 Community College Enrollment is Way Down, 10-16-20, New York Times
What pushed back the start of the semester one week? All of the above. I'm writing this post from my trailer in an evacuation center at Cabrillo College, aka Camp Cabrillo.
On Monday, August 31, we start the semester. A trifecta of life changing events has changed our community — a devastating pandemic, disruptions to every aspect of education, and now the fire—loss of homes, displaced residents, and our beautiful redwood forests burning.
May we have compassion for our students, faculty, and staff among us who are struggling. Some are in hotels, campers, or couch-surfing. We wait, we watch the news, we hope to see a better tomorrow. We'll get through this too, and find a way to pull together with support and instill a feeling of connection through our creative work called teaching.
For the faculty reading this, please see my All Faculty email from August 24. It outlines an expanded model of tech support for you and your students. The Computer Technology Center staff, along with the Teaching and Learning Center staff, have worked tirelessly to clear a backlog of tech requests from students who are confused about registration, accessing Canvas, and due dates appearing in their Canvas To-Do list this week.
It'll all be OK if we keep communicating with each other with kindness and compassion.
“Masks provide a hell of a lot of protection. And I’m more comfortable relaxing things if everybody is wearing masks than if they weren’t,” Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert, said recently.
The conspiracy theories about low oxygen and high CO2 levels are bogus. Face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections. It communicates, “I am considerate” (a quote from Brad Pitt.) And it’s the only way we will all get back to work and our kids get back to school.
On June 20, bars were allowed to reopen in L.A. County, about 500,000 people decided to go out for a drink, according to the Department of Public Health. Last week, Orange County reported 1,179 new coronavirus infections — a weekly record overall, and up 22% from the previous week.
According to Damian Carabello, MD, with this amazing mask technology, you magically reduce the chance of spreading Covid by 85%! Worried masks make you look like a wuss? Write your High School bench press max on your mask—everyone will be impressed. Missing sports? You have a zero chance of watching NFL, NBA, and MLB without wearing a mask.
Just do it and get over yourself.