The materials for week 3 (especially the interview with Laura Gibbs) raised a number of questions for me. Perhaps I missed something important, but it seems to me faculty should not be judged on how “fun” their courses are, nor should they allow students to assign their own grades (unless perhaps they work at the University of Lake Wobegone). If this is what now constitutes good pedagogy, then it really is time for me to retire!
Seems to me, employers, among others, expect a college degree as well as the successful completion of a particular course or a curriculum to have meaning that exceeds a student’s checking off a series of boxes themselves. Clearly articulating (and assessing) meaningful learning outcomes and sharing with employers and others what it means to have achieved them at a level sufficient to earn a particular grade or to be granted a degree is a worthwhile pursuit. A student’s ability to follow instructions and complete a series of defined tasks (e.g. include an image in a blog post and check a box on an electronic form) may well be one “learning outcome” we associate with a college degree, but I surely hope that having been granted one means far more.
To assume that students don’t cheat is simply naïve. We can attempt to create assessments that make it counterproductive to cheat. But alas, some students will complete assignments in a way that costs them the least time and effort (regardless of our well-crafted learning outcomes) and if using others’ work or cheating in another way allows them to do so, some will take that approach. I have tried, with the help of our learning designers, to create courses in ways that reduce the likelihood that cheating will produce the results that students desire and have chosen not to waste a lot of energy worrying about it otherwise. Perhaps it is a self-serving fantasy, but I figure students get to decide how they want to engage with the material my courses offer and I trust that those who engage fully end up not only with better grades but also some skills and expertise that will serve them as they progress through their academic careers and into their lives. That said, the approach Gibbs describes might work very well for self-motivated students who are looking to polish skills (e.g. learn a language) or deepen their knowledge of a favorite topic (e.g. art history), especially where employers and others are not looking to a GPA or a degree as an indicator of achievement or proficiency or the “stamp of approval” of an educational institution with a particular reputation.
The idea of avoiding “throw away assignments” is admirable. Beyond traditional quizzes and exams (which serve specific assessment purposes), I have attempted to create writing assignments that could have value outside of the class for which they are created if students choose to share them in a more public way (e.g. a website, digital commons). That said, I never require students to post their work outside of the LMS. Seems to me, the LMS provides some level of ethically-necessary protection for students that a radically open environment lacks.