Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

The Choices of WEXMOOC

posted: 7.2.13 by Traci Gardner

By the time this post is published, I will have finished The Ohio State University’s Writing II: Rhetorical Composing Course (#WEXMOOC), and I hope that I will have managed to squeak through with a Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction. It wasn’t the five compositions or the requirements for peer review that were the biggest challenge to earning that distinction. It was the seven Check Your Progress activities.

Perhaps because I don’t like to use multiple choice quizzes myself, I hated the Check Your Progress activities. Five of the seven activities presented videos and reading information on issues like research strategiescopyright, and fair use, all from The Ohio State University Libraries’ net.TUTOR collection. After exploring the information, I was presented with ten multiple choice questions. I had 25 opportunities to complete the quizzes. Only my highest score counted.

The quizzes suffered from the normal problems with such assessment. They presented ideas from the documents with the expectation that the test taker would parrot back the information. There was no room for debate or discussion. I had to give the expected answer or I would fail. Here’s a sample question:

Which of these resources takes the shortest time to produce?

  • Articles
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Web Sites

The correct answer (web sites) doesn’t square with my personal experience, especially if the question truly refers to web sites and not to a web page. I’ve worked on web sites that took significantly more time than articles that I have written. Without more detail on the kinds of texts—and for that matter the writers—the correct answer to that question is a generalization at best. Computer-graded quizzes like this offer no room for critical thinking. It’s a place for rote repetition.

I struggled with these quizzes, especially when the expected answer differed from the choice I would make in any other context. Since I had 25 tries, I took most of the tests before I read or viewed the material, and I was able to pass with a 10/10 score after only two tries. I’m sure the quizzes were more challenging for students who have less experience than I do.

The quizzes were not challenging, but I had a hard time thinking of them as anything other than busy work. As a result, I missed the deadline for the first two quizzes, and that is why I almost failed to get my Statement of Accomplishment with Distinction. Fortunately, a short essay quiz was added during the last week, and I was able to meet the requirement of completing five activities before the end of the course.

What bothers me about these Check Your Progress activities is the choices that they reveal. The massive enrollment in these online courses makes assessment from a writing teacher impossible. As a result, the course designers choose peer-driven assessment via peer review and computer-graded multiple choice quizzes. If MOOCs force this kind of choice, I’m not sure they are any more useful than the activities I completed for that Statement of Accomplishment. Unfortunately, the architecture of an online course like WEXMOOC leaves us little other choice.

[Photo: Exam by albertogp123, on Flickr]

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