Last year I signed up for my first MOOC, run by the University of Melbourne through Coursera. Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills* focused primarily on the process of learning collaboratively, arguing that this is an essential skill in our current world. Of particular interest in the course was the way that these skills might be assessed.
Four aspects of the MOOC have stuck with me:
1. The rubric for assessing collaboration
The team presenting the course, led my Patrick Griffin and Esther Care, developed several rubrics of increasing complexity to allow consideration (and assessment) of the skills and dispositions that, together, might be called collaborative learning. Broadly divided into 2 categories – the social and the cognitive – these rubrics prompt good discussion about the nature of collaboration (as opposed to mere cooperative or group work), the changes in classrooms that would allow it, and the ways in which it might be assessed.
2. The opportunity to engage with a very wide professional network
More than I expected, there were lots of colleagues from a much wider range of backgrounds who signed up for the MOOC. As a result, the exchange of perspectives was, on the whole, a bonus. For example, hearing about the way collaboration might feature in a language classroom in central Europe was quite different from how an arts class in Singapore might see it. Again, the rubric allow common ground for discussion, although it was noticeable that some colleagues were not distinguishing between working together and working collaboratively, and this was borne out in some of the assignments submitted for peer assessment.
3. The challenge to derive practical applications for classroom use.
The course was very much focused on the practical – essentially, how could we design activities for our students that were truly collaborative and allowed us to assess their collaboration. Ideally, technology plays a big part in tracking collaborative activity and allowing analysis of patterns, and some interesting work is being done in this area at Melbourne University.
4. Peer assessment
Each of us was required to assess three others’ submissions and, in turn, to have our work assessed by three peers. The criteria and the way that Coursera was set up to allocate a mark from a small range of marks to a relatively discrete or technical element of the submission seemed not always to allow the kind of assessment one felt might be most useful, and the overall sense of what a submission was ‘worth’ was sometimes not reflected in the total mark assigned. Some of the criteria, in other words, biased the result in a way that seemed unfair to some.
I would recommend this particular MOOC as the standard of materials is high, the activities worthwhile and the focus, relevant to contemporary education. I find that the work we did continues to be relevant in discussions with colleagues (a couple of whom have also participated in the MOOC) and in assisting colleagues meet their professional development interests.
*I know lots of people object to this term, but that’s what the course is called!