Thursday, March 26, 2009

Grading on Participation?!?

Recently, I was asked to review a colleague's assessment plan for an entire curriculum. The assessment plan was to provide feedback to the learner about the skills that they had learned throughout different aspects of the program. 

There were three main components of this evaluation: participation, knowledge, and application. 

I completely agree that application should be measured. It is difficult to measure this with a multiple-choice test (as was proposed); I recommend performance checklists or performance observations instead. 

I disagree with pure knowledge testing in a corporate environment (which is the subject of a future post). 

Participation? I always shudder when my partner comes home each quarter from the first night of classes in her Master's program. She shares the syllabus with me, and the grading section usually catches my eye. Many classes include practical applications of the topics, including role plays, videos, analyses, etc. Without fail, however, class participation is listed as 5-10% of the final grade. I have two problems with this:
  1. Participation should be expected, not incentivized.
  2. Everyone participates in their own way. How do you measure this? Is the person that answers and asks a lot of questions participating more than someone who sits quietly, reflecting upon the information in class?
An instructional designer friend at a college mentioned that in their blended classes, the professors grade on online contributions (or participation). I suppose that it makes sense when you are trying to assign a letter grade and in order to have a thriving online class, people must contribute to online discussions. She said that professors, too, are evaluated based on how much participation their students display.

What do you think about grading on participation?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Class Review: Public Health

As an instructional design/training professional, I revel in continuous learning. I feel that it is critical for trainers and instructors to frequently play the role of student for a myriad of reasons: remember what it is like to know absolutely nothing about a topic, learn from other instructor's best practices (and unfortunately, learn what not to do). Since I value learning so highly, I constantly take new classes in a variety of topics: gardening, guitar playing, song writing, pottery, harmony singing, presentation skills, improvisation, project management, MS Project, human performance technology, and Portuguese are just a few topics I've learned about through classes or trainings in the last few years. I will post what I have learned about teaching by attending these classes from time to time. 

My partner and I recently attended a class offered by our health care provider as a mandatory prerequisite for being admitted to a clinic. 

Here's what I learned:
  • Practice with technology prior to the session. There is no excuse for being flustered by PowerPoint!
  • State your objectives clearly at the beginning of the session. What will we learn? What will we be expected to do at the end of the session?
  • Provide clear, effective handouts. They did give us one, but it was terrible (complicated diagrams were printed out PPTs in "notes" version-- too tiny to see).
  • There were action steps that were required for us to complete after the class before being seen by a doctor: point these out clearly, and give people a checklist.
  • Be careful of gender/sexual orientation discrimination. This class was primarily for couples. Probably ninety percent of the couples attending this class are heterosexual, but this clinic treats couples of all sexual orientations. Instead of constantly referring to husbands and wives, please consider mentioning partners instead.
  • Participants will vary in how much sensitive information they will freely reveal (e.g. a participant who was maybe 25 shared with the class that she had been recently diagnosed with menopause). This class did not include a mandatory sharing portion; this came out in the Q&A portion. I was a bit shocked that someone would reveal so much, but I suppose she felt safe in this environment, for which I have to give kudos to the instructor!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Always make handouts for training/classes

Every single time you deliver a class or a training, you should create a handout. 

Handouts help you convey the most important topics, provide a framework for note-taking, and enable your learners to refer back to something tangible when they go to use the skills or knowledge you are teaching them. It helps enhance both retention and application of the skills, therefore increasing performance. 

Before you deliver the class, after you have determined your objectives and activities, create your handouts. 

Handouts should not simply be a printout of your slides. However, that is a great start, and it is better than nothing! I encourage you to go beyond these printouts to think about creating something that will help your learners organize and synthesize information. If you are presenting a complicated diagram or chart, reproduce it larger for your students. They could add labels as you talk about each part, for example. Think about how your learners will be using the knowledge you're teaching them--make it easy for them to reference this information later.

The handout could be printed out or in electronic form. I like to save trees as much (or more!) as the next person, but I also value having a framework in which to take notes, organize thoughts, and refer back to later. Sometimes, I even hang the handout next to my desk (currently I have a chart of Bloom's verbs, a performance analysis flow diagram, and a Human Performance Technology model hanging around my workspace. Looking around, several of my colleagues have Bloom's verb charts taped to their monitors, too. Above my desk are manuals, references, and textbooks, some of them from trainings I have attended. I love being able to page through the manuals to remind me of an activity we did in class or the 5-point framework that was discussed, for example. Providing this as an electronic reference could also work; that way, people could decide whether or not to print it out to address their own needs. If you decide to do a solely electronic version, please consider sending it to your participants in advance so that they can decide if they should print it out. Several times I have been in classes when I have heard, "Oh yes, we'll giving you this handout at the end, you don't need to take notes," only to be disappointed by the lack of detail in the handout afterwards.

Now that you have created your handout, do you really need to hold the training or class after all? Can you shift the focus of your class to teach people how to use the handout in their jobs or real life, or a discussion about the content? Can you shorten the length of your class?

I cannot think of a single time when I attended a professional training class without a handout. However, the informal training classes within our company, as well as the community/ recreational classes I have attended, frequently lack handouts. It is my professional opinion that every single class and training include a handout of some sort. [Note: college classes may be different. Higher education is not my area of expertise!]