Mod 3: Student Engagement is the "Magic" of Online Assessment!

​Happy Spring, everybody!

The "magic" of online assessment, I'm finding, is student engagement. If the student is fascinated by the subject matter, studying what's important to him/her, then assessment really can be magical - because it's feedback.

That's why graduate school is potentially so much fun: we're learning what we want to learn.

Feedback is essential to online learning as well as to assessment. I'm still figuring out the relationship between feedback and assessment and engagement and curriculum, but one thing I really do know: Feedback is essential to online learning. Every student on the other end of the computer from you is mostly likely studying alone just like you are. This state of being alone as a learner is the major - and obvious - factor of online learning that must be addressed for success; and feedback is the antidote.

Every online student understands that they will be studying alone, for the most part, just as most students do homework alone. They can be in the midst of a great jumble of people but they are the ones doing the studying on their own and it is essentially a relationship they are having with themselves, or at least with the work itself.

The feedback continuum may be said to run from shunning to fame to hate speech. In actual life (as opposed to virtual), we're getting feedback from all over the place - if we don't live alone 8-). If we do, it may be to get away from the constant feedback! But regardless, our senses - including our sixth - are constantly picking up messages from our environment reflecting to us the very fact of our existence. Every face we look into is a potential mirror reflecting us back to ourselves; whether they're accurate reflections or not is a subject for another day!

But I think we can all agree that being shunned would be one of the worst reflections (or non-reflections) of all.

Sometimes we desperately long to be ignored, but shunning - or having no mirror at all from our community whatsoever to remind us that we exist and have value within it - I imagine would be right up there (or down there) with our absolutely un-favorit-est experiences. Likewise, being adored by everyone, as many movie stars experience regularly, is a lot of people's idea of the best kind of experience!

No shunning allowed in on-line learning. No reaction, no feedback, no nothing will lose students in no time - because people are not interested in paying money and spending time and energy for being ignored! Even a bad grade is feedback, because it shows SOMEONE IS PAYING ATTENTION!!! Someone realizes the fact of your existence out there in cyber-land and is treating you with enough respect to let you know what they think! But when you put yourself out there to no response and no feedback, it can be pretty hairy.

In society, I've noticed that many times when people behave in a socially unacceptable way, other people ignore them. When we don't read the social unwritten rules right, we often get ignored. It's a very judgmental thing because instead of giving some feedback, such as, "That dress you're wearing looks atrocious," many times people just judge others when they break social rules, written or unwritten. When people judge, they often remain silent rather than appear mean or nasty by saying something mean and nasty aloud.

The trouble is, the silent treatment is well-known for being some of the most painful feedback - none at all! And its antidote? FEEDBACK!

Consider the possibility of expressing so-called negative emotions in a non-judgmental way, such as, "My dear, that dress! Ooh! Maybe you could trade it in!" or some such attempt at humor. Either way, my point: that even meanness is better in some ways than being completely ignored. Because when people are being mean, they're at least tacitly acknowledging that they're thinking of someone! They're not ignoring someone; they are paying attention.

Ignoring's opposite is feedback. Feedback comes to those who ask, to those who listen to the answer. Many people have given up on asking or even voicing; take the small proportion of American citizens who actually vote. Voting is feedback, and when citizens on the whole started distrusting the US government after Watergate, President Jimmy Carter called it apathy; but I call it distrust. The best feedback mechanisms are the ones whose feedback is listened to (not ignored), and then acted upon. When people see their previous advice enacted, they are much more likely to give it and more when they're asked again.

So student engagement. When students are engaged, their teacher certainly enjoys a position of trust amongst them. When students are engaged, they are not afraid of getting yelled at or humiliated for not having the right answer. They are feeling free. They are feeling trustful of the process in which the class is engaged. And since the class is being led by the teacher (facilitator or lecturer) it is the teacher who sets the tone. If the teacher invites feedback and then listens to it, s/he is likely to get feedback. If the students find the teacher cares about them and what they think, chances are very high that the students will tell the teacher what they think. Chances are very high that they will be engaged in the learning process, willing to follow the teacher leading the way, trusting her or him to be leading them down a worthwhile garden path.

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