Around this time of year I lose sleep debating with myself what assessment patterns to follow for the coming session. No reason why this year should be any different...
Over the past twelve months I have been using Google+ with students to stimulate reflection on learning and hopefully build a more collegiate cohort effect across and large(ish) and fairly diverse group. I have written about this extensively here, published one paper, submitted another one to Research in Learning Technology three months ago (which still hasn't been reviewed yet, sigh), and am currently writing a third. Overall, I've been pleased with the technological outcome of this experiment, so the decision to continue using Google+ in the same way would seem to be a straightforward one.
It isn't. Negative factors which argue against continuation include the uncertainty of my personal circumstances, but more importantly, the knowledge that, like every other social tool I have used with students, 99% of them cease using it, at least visibly, as soon as assessment stops. That's a powerful argument that something is not right, certainly that we have not achieved any sort of conversion of their thinking about social tools. And it's quite a powerful cease and desist argument, my personal circumstances aside.
But before I stop using Google+ with students (no question of shutting down my personal account - that's the most valuable online channel I currently have), there's one more thing that needs to be tried. That is to allow students the choice of whether to use it or not, and not to drive usage through assessment. I'm pretty sure I know what the outcome will be - only a small minority will use it, greatly reducing the value as a support channel, so walking away from the efficiency gain of trying to support nearly 300 students with limited time and staff. But I feel it needs to be done, as the final piece in the puzzle.
I'm debating whether it would be best to continue to use my student-facing account for this purpose (all shared with limited Circles), or to invite students to follow my personal account if they want to (public, and too noisy for useful conversations with many students?). Either way, very much the acid test for my experiments with social tools in education. My own online learning experiences and the debate over the past few weeks make me want to lean towards the cMOOC "bring your own network" model, but the practicalities of implementing this with an inexperienced group of students are overwhelming. I am determined to finish this post on a positive note however. At least backing off on the assessment lever must be just that - even if only relatively few students benefit through participating?
Interesting thoughts from Stephen Downes along similar lines here: New Forms of Assessment: measuring what you contribute rather than what you collect