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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Preparing for Fall Teaching – Assessment Through Comprehension Checks in Physically Distanced, Hybrid, and Remote Courses

This post is part of a series on preparing to teach in the fall.  For the other posts in the series, see here.

In an earlier post, I laid out a five step approach to redesigning your courses for a physically distanced, hybrid, or remote semester.  Over the next two weeks, I will be focusing on the second step, which is designing assessment & engagement techniques for these new learning environments.  I covered the basics of assessment theory as it relates to these new learning environments in my last post.  In this post, I will begin to talk about specific assessment techniques.

Aside from all of the other challenges of teaching in a distanced classroom, we will all have to figure out whether and how to change the ways in which we engage and assess our students.  The techniques that we’ve used in the past may not work in these new learning environments.  As we have seen, it can be much harder to get students to participate in discussions when they are participating remotely.  You can’t just put people on Zoom or in a room with masks and trust that conversation will naturally develop.  Group work is similarly a lot harder in a physically distanced classroom, as is peer editing.  You have to thoughtfully and deliberately re-engineer interaction from the traditional classroom to fit the physically distanced, hybrid, or remote space. 

Over the next two weeks, I’ll talk about six different assessment and engagement techniques – comprehension checks, Socratic dialogue, discussion, group work, community-based learning, and reflection & metacognition.  I also hope to include a few guest posts from legal analysis & writing faculty and clinical faculty on specific assessment techniques used in these classes. 

The rest of this post will focus on comprehension checks – i.e., quick assessments to make sure that students understand the material and can apply it.  I am going to break down comprehension checks into those done before class to make sure that students have completed and understood the reading and those done during class to check that students understand the class discussion and are able to apply it to new situations. 

Pre-Class Comprehension Checks 

I’ve used a number of techniques to check students’ comprehension before class, and I’m considering a few new ones this year.  The benefit of these techniques is that I can move some of the analytical work into students’ before-class preparation, leaving more class time for deeper work.  I can also easily gauge whether students understood the material, allowing me to correct common misconceptions in class.

Google Doc Assignments.  My Civil Procedure syllabus often includes a brief assignment that students must complete before each class session (see here for a few examples).  The assignments are designed to take no more than 15-20 minutes.  The logistics are pretty simple and are designed to (i) keep students from emailing their assignments to me and flooding my inbox, and (ii) make it easy for me to review and comment on students’ answers.  Each student has their own google doc for class that they share with me; they are all based on the same template that I provide them.  I grade their answers for completion (i.e., they get full credit if they made a reasonable good faith effort), flipping through them before class so I can see the common mistakes or points of confusion.  I try to comment on approximately twenty percent of the submissions before each class through comment boxes, mixing up who receives personalized feedback each week.  If you use this approach, make sure you have the students order their responses in reverse chronological order so the most recent answers are always at the top and share the document with you so that you can both view AND edit the document. 

LMS Quizzes.  In other classes, such as Business Associations, I assign short quizzes for students to complete before each class.  My law school uses Blackboard, which allows me to create quizzes right in the learning management system (LMS).  Your LMS probably has something similar.  The questions are usually objective, which Blackboard can grade for you, although I’ll occasionally include a short answer question that I grade manually.  I call these quizzes, “Are You Smarter than a 1L?” with the idea that our 1Ls are quite smart but they typically do not know business law.  I thought students would complain about the quizzes, but they don’t seem to mind them at all.  Students often comment that reading the questions ahead of time helps them pick out the relevant issues as they do the reading.    I briefly review the questions and the right answers when we get to the relevant issues in class. 

Video Assignments.  I’m contemplating a new approach this year.  The Google Doc assignments and LMS quizzes work well in a typical year, but this year I’m scheduled to teach in a physically distanced classroom where everyone is in masks.  So I’m thinking of more assessments where we can see each other without masks on.  I’ve been looking at Flipgrid, which allows instructors and students to post short videos.  So instead of having the students answer a question in a Google Doc, I might ask them to answer it through a short recorded video in Flipgrid.  Flipgrid is free for educators, and there’s an option where you can initially keep student responses hidden and then decide whether to reveal them all once all students have turned in their assignment. 

Embedded Questions in Asynchronous Videos.  I hesitated in the spring to use too many asynchronous videos to cover course content because I didn’t want to spoon feed everything to my students.  I don’t want to tell them what the case is about or what the statute says.  Instead I want them to read carefully and find these answers for themselves.  In class, I’ll frequently pause during my discussions and ask them to re-read a statute, for example, and answer a specific question about the language.  I thought I would lose that ability if I relied on asynchronous videos.  It turns out, however, that there are pretty easy ways to embed questions into these videos.  My law school uses Panopto, an online video platform, which I recently learned allows instructors to embed questions right into the video.  Here’s a tutorial.  If you don’t use Panopto or if this feature isn’t enabled at your school, you might check out edpuzzle.  Angela Upchurch at Southern Illinois University School of Law has a great video that was part of CALIcon on how to embed questions into videos uploaded to edpuzzle.  I tried it out, and it was incredibly easy, although you do need a paid account if you want to upload more than 10 videos. 

In-Class Comprehension Checks

In class, whether physically distanced or remote, you can see whether students understand the material by asking questions of individual students.  But this approach is limited—you know whether those particular students understand the material, but it’s harder to get a broader sense of the class.  There are many tools, however, that allow you check the comprehension of the entire class, and most of them work regardless of whether the class is physically distanced or remote, so they are a good choice if you may have to transition between class formats at some point this semester. 

Polling Software.  If you haven’t tried polling software before and you teach a large doctrinal course, now is the time to check it out.  Polls are a great way to see whether the class understands the material and can apply it to new sets of facts.  I embed polls into my PowerPoint slides, and students can answer them using their browser or phone.  I use PollEverywhere, but Mentimeter, iclicker, and many more companies have similar products.  Zoom also has a polling feature, but I find it very clunky and far prefer other options.  In these other options, you can require students to register so you can see which students are struggling or you can make poll questions anonymous if you want students to be able to share their thoughts without attribution.  I typically use standard multiple choice questions, but I’ve also used surveys, which allow students to move through several questions at once, such as when they are working through a statute, or word clouds, which allow them to answer a question in a few words.  You can see the various types of questions that PollEverywhere offers here

Kahoot.  I’ve never tried this tool, but my teenage daughter highly recommends it!  Apparently Kahoots are like PollEverywhere, except that students get also points based on whether they answer the questions correctly and how quickly they answer them.  There is a leaderboard that shows the top five students, so it is like a gamified version of PollEverywhere.  There are Kahoot accounts that require the instructor to pay, but the free version (which isn’t prominently advertised on their website) should work for most people.  See the different account types here.

Jeopardy.  Again, I’ve never tried this one, but it turns out that there are lots of tools out there that allow instructors to create their own Jeopardy games.  Here’s a free Google Doc template, but there are also sites like Factile, Jeopardy Labs, and Flippity that offer easy-to-use templates.  I wouldn’t put up a customized jeopardy game every class period, but it could be a fun way to structure a review session or inject some fun learning into the flow of the semester. 

This set of suggestions is pretty tech-heavy.  In my next post, I’ll get away from tech and focus on ways to spark discussion in these new learning environments. 

Posted by Jessica Erickson on July 15, 2020 at 02:43 PM in Remote & Physically Distanced Teaching, Teaching Law | Permalink

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