Brain Clog

It’s a Saturday night before the last week of the term, and I am sitting on my desk briskly typing away journals, papers, assignments, DF posts and what-nots. I am getting antsy with the thought of impending freedom, however short-lived it may be, and my mind starts to wander. Here are the thoughts that have gone through my head in the past couple of days:

Somewhere in between the crazy, random thoughts amidst this mental congestion are my take-aways on assessment.

1. Ok, I can do this. There’s a week left of this term, and then I’m free.

2. I wonder if I’ll pass Audio in Multimedia. I hope I do. I pray I do. (fingers crossed)

3. I really should tweak that mid-week assessment for the class I’m running at work. Why do I need to do that again? Oh yeah, one of the sections turns out to be poorly-constructed and vague.

Check this out:

Untitled

Well, so much for copy-pasting online quizzes 😦

To be honest, I’d always found the task of creating assessments a tedious bore. Seriously, who wants the burden of creating assessments on a weekly basis (yes, that’s how often I do it. Well, I do recycle and tweak some questions or sections) when I have got to catch up on the latest episodes of Arrow and The Flash (to name a few). I concede. Grant Gustin can wait. No wonder a lot of my students were getting low scores in that section. Note to self: I need to go over my test bank to check if there are any more poorly-constructed items.

4. I should schedule a massage on the 26th. It’s been ages since I had my last massage.

5. *Sigh* My room needs attending to. I can barely see the top of my desk. And my laptop needs some serious TLC.

6. My MMS172 (Audio in Multimedia) professor could do well by learning to employ Differentiated Assessments so non-multimedia students like me don’t get compared with the rest of the class. He could also use some Self- and Peer Assessments.

7. I owe my class a seriously long-overdue feedback. Ever since I started OU, I’ve always managed to employ the “No News is Good News” to my classes and even the agents I do call-monitoring for. I’ve been reminded that people will not become great at their jobs unless they know what they are doing well, so they can keep on doing these things, and where they need to change to get a better result.

8. An entire week left!

9. What other things do I need to do for this last week of the term?

EDS113 Finals – x

MMS172 Assignment 4 – CHECK!

MMS172 Final Project – CHECK!

MMS172 DIY Bonus Project – x

EDS113 Final E-journal Entry – CHECK!

MMS176 Final Requirement – ???

Ok, 3 down, 2 to go and one big question mark.

I wonder if MMS professors know about assessment reliability and validity because I’ve been dinged for using an External RSS feed for my e-journal and for submitting the link to my External RSS feed (wordpress account) instead of  providing a link to my E-portfolio. I actually got a zero for doing so when the instructions merely instructed us to provide a link to our e-journal. Well, I did and got a zero for a technicality. Go figure! I think my professor confuses assessments with punishments.

And while we’re at that, I think somebody should introduce him to a rubric so that students like me know what is expected of them.

He doesn’t even accept late submissions. While I’m personally indifferent to that rule (given my Type A personality), I do question the principle behind that rule. All the EDS professors I’ve encountered discourage late submissions by giving penalties. Where’s the reliability there when apparently even if I do a swell job but happened to miss the deadline by a hairline of a second due to poor WiFi connection, for example, another classmate who does a botched job will ultimately still get a higher grade than me because I automatically get a zero for that task.

10. Freedom is within my grasp. I can almost feel it now. August, here I come. I wonder if I can take a month’s holiday so I can fully enjoy my term break.

11. Professors are wrapping up discussions and final requirements, every OU student is fidgeting in their seats, and everyone is waiting for sweet release.

12. Someone recently told me that the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try again” is a myth; it should be, he said, “IF at first you don’t succeed, check to see if what you’re doing is a strength.” Moreover, the old proverb “Practice makes perfect” is erroneous because you can never turn a weakness into a strength. You can improve them, but they will never be your strength. This got me into thinking that maybe I’d been approaching instruction the wrong way.  Perhaps I should be building and playing on their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. I guess differentiated instruction for the purpose of conducting differentiated assessments is what I should be looking into.

13. Let the countdown begin!

14. Yes! I’m free to live my life and partake in new and exciting adventures or to uTorrent an entire season of The Big Bang Theory and 2 Broke Girls. Either way, I won’t be taking notes or writing e-journals.

The Oreo Sandwich

Nothing feeds desire than obstacles placed on its way.

I feel like a phony. I’ve been a Language Specialist for a number of years now, and quite recently have taken on a new role as Project Manager. Yet I must admit that the art of giving feedback still baffles me. I’m  a no-nonsense, no BS, say-it-as-it-is type of person that tends to resonate into how I am as a trainer.

I understand the essence of providing feedback and have seen for myself how students lap up and proactively seek comment, suggestion, consult, advice from me, no matter how small or insignificant, in order to perform optimally and learn more. I’ve witnessed how their faces light up and they have more pep in their step each time they get a commendation from a customer. Effective feedback is to students as heroin is to junkies is how I like to illustrate it. And with each commendation, they seem more and more like Oliver Twist asking for seconds.

Please, Sir, can I hace some more.
Please, Sir, can I hace some more.

But I’ve always struggled on how to start and deliver feedback. My previous manager favored and preferred that we use the Sandwich Method. Positive-Negative-Positive. Personally, I always find myself grasping for  words, and sometimes even running out of positive comments.

The logic behind the Oreo Method seems solid. By cushioning the blow, you’re engaging the pre-frontal cortex of the brain; negative feedback may just get stuck in the primitive amphibian brain and put the student in a defensive mode. On the other hand, it seems to go against the Theory of Latency. The tendency is that the filling, the key message may get completely lost in the fluff. As a result, change might not be forthcoming.

Yet, as I focus on the how of providing feedback and meaningful assessments, process thoughts and churn out papers, assignments and journal entries in completion of the final requirements for my courses, a moment of lapsed judgment and thoughtlessness reminded me that the when is just as important as the how, that theory and head knowledge is only secondary to the heart.

Sometimes I forget my humanity makes me subjective and prone to outbursts and lapses in impulse control. It is at that point when all that hard work, well-meaning intentions and book smarts get thrown out the window. In the past few weeks, I’ve been too absorbed in assessment types, arguably the meat of any instructional design. In the blurry of it all, I’ve missed that raw emotional center of the learning process.

I’ve realized that feedback is not just about timeliness but also timing, and that the timing is everything. I’ve realized that my over-zealousness to improve performance has turned me into a megatron-dominatrix with a whip in one hand. I’ve learned, albeit the hard way, that one  should consider whether s/he is in the right condition to provide feedback. Sometimes, teachers, in their dedicated passion or perhaps merely out of sheer exhaustion, have a tendency to zero in on inaccuracies and should be reminded to cool off before facing a student to provide feedback.

After all, a big cat ready to pounce on any unsuspecting victim is not the picture we want to leave our learners with.

Hey

I’m running a B2 Upscaling class these days in completion of a client mandate. To give you a better idea of what the B2 level is, let me share with you an overview of the descriptors for the required level.

Communicative Competencies
Communicative Competencies
Sociolinguistic Competencies
Sociolinguistic Competencies
Pragmatic Competencies
Pragmatic Competencies

So this agent came to class today, late as usual, by about an hour for a 2-hour class. (This has been a particularly annoying habit, but my hands are tied due to lenient, pro-workforce company policies.) He sat down, quite defiantly, as though he’d called for the training and was merely passing through in between meetings. He nodded at me in acknowledgment and said, “Hey!” No apologies. No explanation. No courtesy of rhyme nor reason. Not ever.

This student is not a friend, my next-door neighbor, my cousin, a part of my Twitter-sphere (not that I have one)  or someone from the coffee shop that I frequent. I am his trainer. I have a name by which I ought to be addressed, and though I have no gripes about being called by my first name outside of class, I prefer and advise my trainees to address me as they should a person of authority. Different people have different takes on this, of course, but I belong to the bygone generation who would like to give spoken English a celestial hand in preserving its already compromised beauty. And it’s not just a personal preference or a matter of style or my inability to acquiesce. It’s a standard that I’ve communicated in advance. It is also one of the benchmarks of sociolinguistic competency which is one of the skills I have to develop in them.

If you ask me, that moment and opportunity spoke volumes about this student’s communicative competencies and eligibility for program certification more than any of the tests I’ve conceived for the program. This was actual and authentic. In no other way would I be able to assess how well they’re able to apply the skills they acquired than at these rare, non-manufactured instances.

It was also an opportunity for feedback. I cannot chalk it up to youthful ignorance from a crazy entitled/disrespectful hybrid that seems to be permeating society nowadays. Furthermore, I would be doing this student a disservice by not correcting him.

His absenteeism and tardiness had reached its permissible limit. Yet he had yet to communicate with me to address or even justify such inexcusable behaviour. That’s professional discourse. His inability and failure to get in touch with me with regard to the sessions and hours that he missed tells me that he is incapable of initiating, let alone sustaining professional discourse.

It is better that he learn this lesson from me now than his manager or a client who might not get him fired for your lackadaisical manner, but might think twice about elevating him to a position in the company that requires decorum.

An acknowledgment of mea culpa would have been nice. But looking at the bright side, this is why teachers should not be too quick to dismiss the power of informal assessments.

The Quantum Physics of Assessment

What does it mean to “work hard”? How does one measure another’s effort? How does one quantify blood, sweat and tears?

I’ve recently concluded another run of the B1 Upscaling class I’m running at work. The participants’ performance left a lot to be desired. The Post Test I administered was very close in nature and content to the activities we’ve had in class, as well as the Checks For Understanding I rolled out throughout the training period, yet they still got unsatisfactory grades. I had discussed the course expectations and rubrics by which they would be evaluated, and had consistently provided feedback (constructively, and not condescendingly if I may add). Naturally, the participants were disappointed and consequently lobbied for a re-assessment or reconsideration since they had worked so hard for my class and have managed to attend the pre-shift training for 3 consecutive weeks without fail. They’d put in so much effort attending the class considering this was outside their work hours.

This got me thinking as to what it means to “work hard” on something? How does one quantify blood, sweat and tears? For my English Proficiency class, that’s rather easy to lay out. It means that one has managed to come in on time, fully participate in all classroom activities and discussions, made sure to speak the target language no matter the difficulties one perceives for fluency can only truly come from immersion in the language (not some half-hearted attempt to do so for the sake of pleasing me) and showed a measurable and acceptable level of improvement compared to their previous performance. By measurable and acceptable level of improvement, I mean being able to distinguish and accurately produce the target sounds, show good thought organization and showcasing fluency exhibited by the ability to engage in conversation and express oneself spontaneously in personal and general topics.

I, personally, find it hilarious how they could request for a reconsideration for merely rendering pre-shift OT to attend my class while blatantly disregarding and ignoring the need to come in on time and speak the target language at all times. It seems like they’re expecting to be given a pat on the back for breathing in and out and merely taking up space in my classroom. Do you ask a math teacher to give you points for trying even though parts of the mathematical equation are incorrect? If you took an astronomy course, would you expect partial credit because even though you mistakenly identified a star for a planet, you at least recognized and got the part that both are in the sky right?

I clearly understand their frustration at rendering OT and having nothing to show for it. I remember all too well how hard they’ve worked during the training while they worked equally hard at monitoring their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram updates, playing COC and at some point during the training decide that they need to fulfill the basic requirement of participating, albeit perfunctorily. I remember them checking their instant messages on their smartphones and work email every few seconds while working equally hard at seeming bored and disengaged, and looking at me expectantly to hand them a pill so they can magically transform into proficient speakers of the language. They’ve indeed worked very hard at creating the appearance of rendering OT for training when they have actually utilized some parts of their OT to run errands or attend to personal matters.

I’m not sure about them but I would rather that papers for Surgery 101: How to Cut People Open and Leave Them Bleeding to Death and Architecture 101: How to Design Buildings  That Don’t Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Own Early Demise be graded based on a student’s demonstration of correct understanding of concepts instead of the virtue of the fact that they showed up for class which was a basic requirement in the first place.

My Unfair Disadvantage

I nervously handed in my MMS 172 assignment on a Friday night. I had no idea what my professor wanted in the blog because the criteria was not discussed. I had a template which was hell of a tough one to match because he’s a professor and I’m not even a multimedia idiot. Even worse, when I shared my opinions in class, the professor usually made me feel stupid, especially if we didn’t share the same ideas as is the case even for the rest of my classmates. But I did the best I could, and wrote what I thought my professor would agree with in hopes of getting a passing mark, the most I could hope for in this course, I believe.

For the first time in my OU life, I’m feeling deeply disadvantaged. This term I am taking 2 multimedia courses. To make matters worse, I am the only non-multimedia major in both classes. I am trying my  best to cope and catch up with the requirements and the discussions.

There are discussions to which I am inherently unable to contribute due to the nature  and subject i.e., gears talk and tips, but I do join in and give my two cents on every other topic.

At this point, I find it appalling and unjust that I am being rated with the same criteria, and that the same standards apply to me as the rest of my class who are composed mostly of sound engineers or technicians, video editors, web designers, musicians and artists. I hadn’t even heard of a Digital Audio Hardware before I enrolled in this class, yet for some strange stroke of unpropitiousness, my professor expects me to churn out a blog post on Digital Audio Hardware in the same quality as that of a sound engineering technician or even better. Is it not possible for me to be rated on my individual learning and development and not be pitted against unreal standards and myopic view of intelligence.

I reckon many students encounter an unfair professor at some point during their education, and the criteria varies widely. The educator may have little availability outside of class, a confusing grading system, vague and unrealistic expectations, or favor certain classmates. Although this is a common experience, some students don’t know how to approach the situation or even whom to turn to for help. Therefore, they may ignore the problem, and the professor isn’t even aware that students are having issues.

To say that I am having a rough time with this course is a gross understatement. Not only is the professor unclear about assignment requirements, but also with the grading system.

He doesn’t know how to teach. He would post lectures, discussions questions, assignments and not-so-friendly reminders in a condescending tone and get angry with us for not meeting his criteria and standards for grading which was not and has never been discussed, and has managed to almost always make us feel incompetent idiots who is not worthy of being labeled a UP student. I feel like there is no set method to his grading and he just revels in the power he has over us and his unquestioned and unrivaled expertise for the mere sadistic nature of the experience. And even though he gave us a guideline, he didn’t follow them. I followed his template to a tee as did everyone in class, and yet he was still grossly unsatisfied.

When he posted this feedback in the portal, I was genuinely disappointed, confused and irked by the manner in which he was conducting himself as an FIC. I expected more from him because I’ve had nothing but noteworthy experiences in my EDS courses. My classmates, much to my aghast chagrin, were all too subservient and apologetic. I honestly still could not understand how they could just lap up such unprofessionalism and unbecoming behavior, speech and language. How could they, I thought, when they had not been exposed to anything other than this idealistic, traditional teaching philosophy?

I wish I could talk to this professor about the course in general and my grades not in an effort to raise my grades or to ask for undue consideration but to clarify and set things straight, but I’d rather not because I feel the professor isn’t open and lest I earn his ire even more and he starts taking it out on me by giving me a failing grade.

At the risk of sounding like a griping lazy-assed student who feels a sense of academic entitlement, I do feel that this is unfair. It’s not a good experience and I don’t know what to do about it.

I believe both student and professor/teacher/trainer come in to a class, each with a different set of expectations. It becomes crucial that those expectations are clarified, otherwise a student may experience problems. It’s a two-way street.

Professors should be both clear and realistic in their expectations for a class.

While it’s important for students to approach their professors, professors should maintain their positions and be aware of their students. If a student isn’t doing well and hasn’t approached them yet, it then becomes the professor’s responsibility to reach out to the student without shaming them or making them feel incompetent for not turning in an output that does not match the professor’s unreal  expectations or failing to ask for assistance or clarifications when doing so would merit nothing but a smart-ass “you-should-know-this-by-now, haven’t-you-learned-anything” response.

Across the board, I think you could consider it a foundational assumption that faculty would be expected to reach out to students to say, ‘Hey I’ve noticed you didn’t do too well on the last test, is there anything we could be doing?’” I believe it’s the professor’s job to create an environment where students feel comfortable asking questions about course content and grades.

It’s important to establish general grading criteria up front and reinforce them before each assignment, especially if different or new criteria apply to avoid the ‘I-didn’t-know-what-the-professor- wanted’ excuse/response. It’s our job to make that clear.

By the Powers of the Almighty Professor and His Haranguing Rants

Disclaimer:  This post is in no way directed towards Teacher Malou or any of the EDS professors.

Let me just digress here a little and rant. My professor is obnoxious. He is a pompous and abrasive jerk who chastises his students, bullies them and whose idea of a feedback is a sharp, stern criticism that points out our failings and inadequacies. He is pretty fond of pointing out our “lack of common sense”—something, he says, that is inherent and not lacking among UP students. For the most part, he’s been snappy, impatient and quick to lash out on us for even the littlest post in the discussion forum that he feels is misplaced, irrelevant and beyond the scope of the course or the module but the student feels the need to raise for the sake of learning or stock knowledge.

Most recently, he berated the class for not meeting his expectations when we turned in our second assignment. When he gave the announcement about it, I knew it was bound to be technical as we were going to be discussing and explaining the signal flow for the equipment that we’ll be using for our final project. I must admit I felt overwhelmed when it was given, but I went on, sucked it up and did my best. I consulted with him I the support forum and tried my very best to not let his snide comments about my feelings of inadequacy, apprehensions and lack of multimedia and technical skills get to me. A couple of days prior to Assignment 2 deadline, he posted a template of what he was requiring from us. It was his own work which he submitted some years back for a multimedia course in Coursera which happened to receive a perfect score from 5 peers. The challenge was to outdo him. There were some minor flaws, he said, which he could fix in an hour so we should be able to do it in 2 days. Challenge accepted! The eager-to-please student in me jumped at that rare chance to compare my draft to the model and proceeded on tweaking mine to replicate it as closely as I could. I gobbled it up like no one’s business, typed away and made revisions in maniacal frenzy, clicked ‘Submit’ and hoped for the best.

Feedback wasn’t too slow in coming this time. And as always, he wasn’t one to mince words. He made it known in no uncertain terms that he was most disappointed with our output, and even sullenly titled his post ‘OMFG!’.  Suffice it to say that his verbal assaults did not stop with the title. The minor flaws he mentioned in his template have, at this point, been magnified into major flaws. I now seriously think he’s deliberately provided us with misleading information to set us up for failure.

I never started the said course with hopes of earning a stellar grade. I knew what I was getting into and realized I was way out of my comfort zone. One look at my classmates’ profiles told me that I was no match against their expertise, background and knowledge; I am a fish out of water. I did not and have not let that deter me. I’m determined to learn (grades be damned!) and make the most out of this experience.  I’ve been in the corporate world long enough to understand that incredibly precise 1.00 grades don’t matter in the real world and most certainly will not make me eligible for a higher salary more than a grade of 3.00 would.

But I cannot help but compare BES professors with non-BES professors.  This experience has only served to affirm my belief that this profession is an art and a skill at the same time and that knowledge is but a small part of the equation. Even with this traumatic OU experience, I am not regretting anything. It’s a tough journey, and it definitely is not for the faint-hearted. If anything, this perilous ride has humanized me.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all that hard work, those sleepless nights and struggles in multimedia hell don’t come to naught. I do feel like my professor stands to learn a thing or two about the teaching-learning process. I don’t discount the fact that my output for Assignment 2 is nowhere near that exceptional mark, but I have done my best. To assuage this nagging concern of possibly getting a failing mark because of my inability to match my professor’s impossibly high standards and unpredictable whims, I checked my progress and performance against the course objectives. Putting my already injured self-esteem aside, I think I’ve made some progress. I now have some  understanding of the basics of sound and how it works. I have somehow developed baseline critical skills. I now can tell the difference between an on-axis and an off-axis, compare bit rates and audio quality. It’s one of the things I can be most proud of in this course. I started out with zero critical listening skills with regard to audio. My posts to discussion forums took twice as long to formulate because I could not detect and pick up these subtle differences in sound as well as my other classmates could. But hey, I’ve made some progress. However minimal they are, it’s still an improvement compared to where I was when I started. I can now operate and do audio editing on Audacity—a thing I had not even heard of when I started the course. So based on these, I don’t think a should merit a failing grade. But then again, I’m just a lowly student whom he wouldn’t mind lambasting for his own personal, twisted pleasure. I rest my case.