An early problem I encountered was how to narrow down the wealth of information in this subject area to enable the students to gain basic concepts to build on, while at the same time trying to make the material relevant and contemporary to help develop skills they will need in the workplace. This is no easy task in a subject where the world of information, multimedia and TV/video bombards students and is changing daily.
Since this is a vocational program and not the first class in a sequence of skill building classes, I thought a little broader about how to assess student outcomes. I asked the students questions such as: "what do you want to get out of this class," "what topics do you feel are most important," and "what do you feel you need to know for your future jobs?"
Responses I heard at first were typical: "what is going to be on the test," "what's most important to learn," and "you should be lecturing, not the students," and so on.
It became apparent to me right away traditional delivery and assessment would not help me accomplish my goals. I have begun to experiment and change the delivery of the course material as well as the assessment techniques. I avoid lecturing and have begun to use cooperative groups wherever possible to encourage active learning. Students now work in small groups to do class presentations, test reviews, equipment reviews and exams, lab exercises, final projects, discussion groups and homework review. Some of these small group techniques were used by the former instructors, but I have expanded their use.
I have taken this a step further in assigning group grades for many of these activities in an effort to build in group and personal interdependence and accountability. I also try to test on various thinking levels. For example, I give practice problems and test on visual design problems that require creative application of concepts and skills. Students are tested on problem solving skills in operating equipment. In their final projects students must design, plan, and produce an instructional media project including writing objectives and evaluating the projects.
It is commonplace and easier in this subject area to test on a traditional factual knowledge base level such as identifying the correct light bulb for the correct projector. But, it is also necessary to teach on an application skills level; i.e. identify and choose the correct bulb while at the same time troubleshoot operational problems using the projector. In addition, identifying the critical attributes of the various media and where and when non-print media resources can be used in place of traditional sources of information is another outcome.
On the last day of class this semester, I will have the students fill out the grid again and grade their progress in the course. I will weigh their responses and come up with a scale for the level of progress for an A, B, C or D. They will also assign themselves a final grade A, B, C or D. I will use their self-assessment grade as part of their final exam grade -- I am still using a final but not relying on it in the same way. My intuition tells me that their self assessment will closely match my own scoring and overall grading.
Many of the students come in with skills in videography, photography or graphic design -- these students will typically score better. Traditional testing cannot account for the differences of entry level skills. The "skills grid questionnaire" technique allows me grade the student on their individual progress.
It also can be a signpost to the students to see what levels of achievement they want to shoot for rather than worrying about what will be on the test. They can set their goals and work to reach them.
Most importantly students, are more in control of their learning and their grade depends on their achievement, and not luck in studying the right material for the final. It also allows for individual differences in allowing them to concentrate on skills that they view as meaningful to themselves for future career plans.
One final alternative technique I have begun using is a student portfolio -- a collection of student work and student descriptions of their classroom experience. Portfolios allow me to see the broad range of development and achievement through the two years I have the students, and is extremely helpful because it includes examples of assignments, labs, projects -- many in a visual medium.
So far the reaction has been mixed with lots of curiosity of why I am doing this. Perhaps I'll be able to answer that question some day soon as I move toward a more student- centered environment.