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Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a Mash Up: Online Learning meets Classroom Teaching

Lesson: PgCert Teacher Training: Online Assessment and Evaluation – Wednesday 30th Jan – Group 1


This was the first group of three, to be taught on this lesson. I was drafted in to help deliver this classroom based 90 minute session on online assessment and evaluation with colleague Heather Conboy. It was an interesting and rewarding experience. Rewarding in that I did feel that the session went well, which was by and large confirmed in feedback from the 10 strong group of PgCert group of tutors.

Leading up to the class there was a little apprehension. Reasons for this: I) I was dual presenting, so delivering and writing a lesson plan for two was a new experience 2) The subject matter I had not delivered a lesson on before and the style of lesson was different in that it was a one-off session for me although for the students it did feed into an ongoing series of lessons. Heather and I agreed a lesson plan, which I am acutely aware of is a great anchor to support you through a lesson. The lesson plan gave us confidence that we had a clear strategy (to deviate from :-), I’ll explain more later).


Delivering this lesson emphasised the fact that preparation and a flexible approach are vital to try and make any lesson achieve the intended learning outcomes, ensure the lesson goes smoothly and that the students benefit from the lesson. So in addition to the lesson plan, a series of examples to demonstrate were identified by myself and Heather, as well as additional resources that we could direct the students towards. The approach in actual fact is very similar to the recent online synchronous lessons that I have run which is characterised by a very detailed lesson plan, (which has some flexibility built in for the teacher to deliver in their own style), emphasis on participant activity, discussions and demonstrations. All of which are an important part of teaching in both arenas.

Social and Active Learning

From my reading and practical experience I am ware of the benefits of social and active learning and therefore hoped to take advantage of this by using a wiki in class to promote discussion in small groups, thus enhancing the enjoyment of the session(by adding a social element to the learning), laying the foundations to learn from each other and then using the attributes of the wiki to capture and store the thoughts of the small groups as a record for themselves to return to and reflect on and for myself and heather to also be able to reflect on the participants activities and offer constructive written feedback at an appropriate time outside of the class.

Feedback from the participants seemed to vindicate this approach as when asked about the best part of the session many replied with comments relating to this active and social approach saying for example “using the wiki”, “playing with the computer”, “Community as a group”, “practical hands-on”. Other participants commented that the best parts were general discussion and demonstrations. So the feedback was good to me in that the variety of strategies helped to cater for the needs and enjoyment of a broad spectrum of the audience.

Adapting and being flexible

The initial part of the class was planned around the fact that the participants were to have completed a number of pre session tasks, one of which was identifying any online assessments that they currently used in their practice. It was quickly apparent that the participants had no or minimal experience in using online assessment and the initial task planned for; a small group wiki based task was not going to happen. Recognising this fact, it was obvious that the session needed moving along to give the students an appreciation of what opportunities there were to use online assessment and evaluation in their work, so we preceded to demonstrating examples of various technologies to show what could be achieved. Heather led this part of the lesson and I contributed to the discussion as and when appropriate. In retrospect the time initially allocated to demonstration and discussion was probably too short and that for future lessons and bearing in mind the time constraints, a brief discussion to garner the use of online assessments amongst the participants maybe sufficient, rather than a hands on task. However I am aware that there may be a new batch of tutors with different levels of experience and it may be that a wiki based task early on might be the way to go. So being flexible and prepared to adapt I would say is quite a necessary attitude/ skill to possess.

Participant Perceptions

I believe we actually achieved a lot in the lesson. This group of students came with little knowledge and I sensed a little reluctance to be bothered with online assessment and evaluation. There was an obvious lack of knowledge about what is possible and a questioning of whether there was any value in online assessment in comparison with the traditional ways of doing things. After discussions and demonstrations, myself and heather were able to highlight advantages and possibilities of how online assessment could be useful and emphasised the point that there is not a set prescribed method for using the tools mentioned, but once they have an appreciation of what the tools can do they may recognize opportunities for using them. Also it was pointed out that online assessments don’t necessarily need to replace current practices but are there to aid and assist current learning and assessment strategies.

Off the back of the demonstrations and the discussions, students engaged in a small group wiki based task. With one of the group acting as a scribe they devised an online assessment and recorded this on a wiki page. This further shifted perceptions as to the potential uses of online tools for formative, summative or diagnostic assessment. You could sense that by the end of the lesson with increased knowledge, that participants were overall feeling more favourable towards the use of online assessment and this was reflected in participant feedback where seven of the students indicated that would probably or very probably change some aspect of their practice as a result of the workshop, one would change a little, one was unlikely due to work constraints and the other did not respond.


I think a predominantly social and active learning approach is correct in both online and face to face teaching and learning. The use of the wiki as a tool in the classroom is a good medium to pull together small group discussions, where participants can be benefit from face to face interaction and thereafter ongoing discussion, debate, collaboration and decision making online and out of class if necessary and desirable.

The example demonstrations were most definitely useful in laying the foundations of knowledge to comprehend the possibilities and engage in subsequent discussions, where participants benefited not only from teacher input, but also from fellow participants.

This session was very much an introductory and awareness raising session and with links provided participants have some initial signposts from where to gather deeper knowledge. With a more knowledgeable group, discussions may focus on the success or failure of online assessment approaches and this will emphasise the need to be flexible and adaptable in this type of session.

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