One of the best parts of of being a union president is that you get invited to new faculty orientation and similar events every year, so you get to meet new colleagues from all over campus. This year, at lunch, the topic of discussion at my table eventually turned toward learning management systems vs. roll-your-own assignments. New part-time faculty often have the experience of having to juggle multiple LMS platforms–one for each campus or system–every semester, which isn’t fun or efficient.
I mentioned a variety of assignments–wikified class notes, blogging, etc.–and, after some initial interest, one of the more experienced faculty said, “sounds like a lot of grading, though.” Which is true! There is an awful lot of grading, more than I’d thought when I started moving toward many of these assignments, years ago.
But there’s a line from David Allen’s Getting Things Done that I think is relevant:
You have to think about your stuff more than you realize but not as much as you’re afraid you might.
This is certainly true about networked, student-centered assignments: On the one hand, a lot comes up that can’t be anticipated easily. (Bad: There’s always some weird, hard-to-replicate technical problem. Good: A student comes up with a powerful, interesting idea that shifts the course of a few weeks’ discussion into terrain you weren’t expecting.) And if you have students blogging, and commenting on one another’s blogs, regularly, then that’s a lot to read. There’s no getting around it. On the other hand, the other thing to see is that grading online writing isn’t exactly like grading formal papers.
Moreover, there are multiple factors that help you stay on top of the online work:
- RSS is your lifeline. The thought of regularly wandering through 50 or more blogs to keep up with your students ought to give anyone pause. Fortunately, Really Simple Syndication, or RSS, which is supported by all the free blogging platforms I can think of (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Posterous, etc.), means that you don’t have to. Get started with RSS with my “Keeping Up Online: An Intro to RSS,” and with George’s follow-up, “Use RSS to Keep Up with Favorite Online Services,” and find an RSS reader/aggregator in the comments to Julie’s survey (I use NetNewsWire and Reeder). Then, check out Amy’s post on “Managing Class Blogs,” or Boone Gorges’s (non-PH) post on “Hub-and-spoke blogging with lots of students.” Nothing will save you time and aggravation during the semester like having your students’ new posts automagically appear in a folder.
- Rubrics are your friend. Just as rubrics can save time and energy in grading formal writing, they can also simplify the effort of engaging with the flood of blog posts/wiki edits that might come your way. The canonical posts on this topic are Julie and Jeff’s “‘How Are You Going to Grade This?’: Evaluating Student Blogs” and Mark’s “A Rubric for Evaluating Student Blogs,” but also see Julie’s post, linked above, on “Integrating, Evaluating, and Managing Blogging in the Classroom.”
- Your students signal where your attention should go. Networked assignments mean that the teacher isn’t necessarily the only source of authoritative information in a class. Generally, students help one another with technical questions about the wiki, for example–which means I don’t need to! Similarly, floods of links or comments–or an absolute absence of them–can indicate that something’s going on in class that you need to talk about. You start to pick up the rhythm of your students’ interest, and that keeps your focus.
If you are considering trying an online assignment, or are trying to convince other people to try one, the pedagogical benefits aren’t enough. It’s also important to see that while the work involved is different, it doesn’t have to be unmanageable.
Do you have a strategy for keeping up with online assignments? Let us know in comments!
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