Saturday, November 30, 2019

Week 15: Last Last Words

So, here it is: the Fall semester is over for me as a student in this class. It was so much fun, and I was tempted to wait and write this last-last-words post on Friday as it is the last-last-day of class... but I know next week is going to be really hectic, so I thought it was better to wrap things up now. Every semester since my dad got sick, I'm never sure at the start of the semester if I will manage to get through it. At the same time, having assignments to do as a student in this class has been such a huge help in staying focused and having goals I actually CAN achieve, ha ha, which is very nice when so many things in my life right now feel pretty out of control. At least when it comes to this class, I can say I am DONE. Yay! Here are all the posts (!), plus some thoughts below about finishing up and looking ahead:

Cheezburger cat says: High five!

Brer Rabbit Storybook. I loved getting to work on Brer Rabbit for class this semester! The focus on the stories about Brer Rabbit and the Witch Rabbit worked out great I think. Narrowing down from the whole Joel Chandler Harris collection of stories into something that works as a Storybook was not an easy choice, but I am really glad with what I chose and how that turned out.

Writing new stories! I wrote seven stories this semester: a Twine nursery rhyme maze (that was so fun!), plus two African stories, two Jamaican stories, and two Brer Rabbit stories (in addition to the four stories in the Storybook). Several of those stories were chain tales, which just makes me remember how much I loved working on chain tales the last time I did the Myth-Folklore class!

Working on the Africa units. I managed to re-read all the Africa units except for the Congo one (and maybe I will do that one over break just to make it feel complete). I added notes to all the stories that didn't have notes, plus I changed the dialect Brer Rabbit and Jamaica stories into standardized spelling to make them easier to read. They are still in dialect, but no more eye-dialect getting in the way.

Tech Tip improvements. Thanks especially to help from Alby, I created a new set of Tech Tips related to "ethical ed tech," and I am going to fold some of those into the Tech Orientation assignment. In particular, I want people to think about their browser and search engine options right from the start of the semester, and also to add a word counter and spellcheck to their browser.

Progress Chart improvements. I am excited about having a new spreadsheet to offer which is more dynamic and useful than the current progress chart. Here's what it looks like for me as I finish up the class:

I felt like I was struggling midway through the semester, and seeing my progress charted this way would have made me feel better about that! I was doing better than I thought, even though I had a rough time of it in October when I was in Austin and missed out on some weeks.

NaNoWriMo. Although it is not directly related to this class, I know I would not have been able to do NaNoWriMo without all the good creative energy I enjoy by reading people's stories all week every week. Plus it was so cool that Cate was also doing NaNoWriMo also! By working on that project, I reconnected with my old interest in Sufi teaching stories, while getting to blend that together with Birbal and other storytelling traditions from India. It was way more fun than I ever imagined, and not really hard at all. I want to do a Brer Rabbit novel next November!

Ready for India. I'll be doing the India class in the Spring, and I've got my reading plan in mind: I am going to focus on the Vana Parva, i.e. the Book of the Forest, when the Pandavas are wandering in exile for twelve years. There is some amazing storytelling that goes on in the book. Since I did a Ramayana focus last time (I read the Thai Ramakien and did a Thai Hanuman project), having a Mahabharata focus is good, and the Vana Parva is big enough to give me reading work to do all semester long. Plus it's a natural for a Storybook project since the Pandavas get to hear stories from lots of different storytellers during that exile. I am SO EXCITED about this, and I already dedicated a bookshelf to the books I will be using for that.

Update: I had such a cool idea! For the Vana Parva, I will focus on the "Riddles at the Lake" as a Storybook project. I can use that story, plus other riddle stories from India, to create an Indian Riddle Book. That will build on my NaNoWriMo project, connect with the Vana Parva, and will be a totally cool way to learn about the riddle tradition in India. I found this super-helpful resource already: Indian Riddles by L. Sternbach.

Week 15: Growth Mindset and Measures

As I said in my Tortoise Tale from Cameroon, I am really worried about bad numbers in education. I don't like grades and I don't like testing, but I am not against measures of progress: I just want those measures to be meaningful and motivating.

So, when I created this new spreadsheet for repurposing the weekly points totals from Canvas,  I thought long and hard (and spent a few hours tinkering!) about just what numbers would be useful and, in particular, how to provide a kind of interpretation of the numbers for students who find numbers intimidating and/or confusing. Details here.

In terms of my "algorithm" for labeling, I ended up with four different text labels that get applied automatically to each week, and here are some thoughts about why I think these are labels that are helpful for promoting a growth mindset as students work through the course:

great! The idea here is to recognize a student who is working ahead, and the way I measure that is by comparing the average-points-per-week so far (a measure of participation overall) with average-points-required-per-week in order to get to the chosen goal. The label "great!" means that the student can actually put in less effort in the rest of the semester than they have put in so far. I decided that was the best possible measure of "working ahead" because it is dynamic, responding to all the weeks of the semester completed plus the weeks to come, as governed overall by the student's chosen goal.

on track: The idea here is to focus on the core assignments each week: can the student reach their goal by doing the core assignments for the rest of the semester? That's what I am calling "on track" in the sense that no extra credit is required. All the student needs to do to reach their goal is to focus on the core assignments each week.

do extra: This is a really important flag for students to have! The sooner they are alerted to the need to do some extra credit to make up for missing work, the better. This is not really a complex formula, but it is not obvious to students who are not used to my extra credit approach where one of the main functions of extra credit is to make it possible to make up missing work. They don't have to make it up right away, but at the same time it's important not to put that off too long either.

adjust goal: This is the measure I am most proud of. Basically, it is a message of failure in the sense that it is now literally impossible for the student to reach their current goal: even if they complete every single assignment and every single point of extra credit, they will not reach their goal. But here's the thing: they just need to adjust their goal! It's not the end of the world. So, presto, all they have to do is change their goal and see what that does to all the calculations. Yes, it's like the Canvas what-if feature, but in a way that actually works for my classes (the what-if grading feature in Canvas is a total fail for my classes).

So, for example, here's a student who is struggling at the start of the semester if their goal is to get an A. By Week 5, they are already in a deficit requiring some extra credit to get back on track:

But if they are okay with getting a grade of C (i.e. passing the class for Gen. Ed. credit), they're actually doing really well! Sure, they are missing assignments, but they are still on track to meet their goal of passing:

If they want to go for a grade of B, they are even on track for that as the chart shows:

So, in a dialogue with this student, I could suggest that they think about making their goal to get a B in the class. If they really want/need the A (some of my students are in GPA trouble; I hate the whole idea of a GPA, but it's a fact of college life...), they will have to up their game, going from an average of 20 points per week to 31 points per week. And the chart lets them play with that, adjusting their goal, seeing the results, both in numbers, and also in terms of some positive text labels. ALL the labels are positive: you're doing great and/or you are on track, or you can do some extra credit, or you can adjust your goal. Really, it's all good!

Meaningful. Motivating. That's why these are measures that make sense for my courses. I hope they will be useful to students too, and even if students themselves don't use the spreadsheet initially, I can use it to communicate with anyone who is struggling in order to start a conversation, and then put the chart in their hands so they can play with the numbers to see what happens.

So: fingers crossed! I think this is going to be really helpful to students who are struggling, giving them more control over the whole semester and all their options. I'm excited to see how it goes.

Week 15 Tech Tip: Progress Spreadsheet

So, inspired by the NaNoWriMo stats page, I have created what I hope will be a useful tool for next year's students. Instead of just the static progress chart that I have now, I want to encourage students to use a spreadsheet that they can interact with instead, using the weekly point totals that are easily accessible in Canvas to see how they are doing. This is what I came up with: Canvas Chart.

The idea is that you enter your goal up there in the first row, and then you enter your point totals week by week.

Then, it calculates the following:

total points: which is the same as the total in Canvas

points to goal: you cannot get this in Canvas because it depends on what your goal is, and clueless Canvas cannot let you state your own goal

average points per week so far: which is a way to measure your overall participation; this is a calculation Canvas could do but which it does not do (it's just total points divided by weeks)

future average needed for goal: this is a way to calculate the participation you need every week for the rest of the semester to reach your goal; Canvas could not calculate this even if it wanted to because Canvas doesn't know your goal (the formula is points to goal divided by remaining weeks)

auto-comment: then there is a kind of auto-comment, based on some formulas (I'll say something about how I came up with this system in a separate post, since my goal here is to help people maintain a forward-looking growth mindset):

  • great! this is when your future average is less than your average so far; in other words, you can actually participate less in the coming weeks and still reach your goal
  • on track: this is when the points to goal are less than or equal to the remaining regular assignments
  • do extra: this is when the points to goal exceed the regular assignments remaining, but you can still get to your goal with extra credit
  • adjust goal: this is when your points to goal are less than the remaining regular assignments plus all extra credit; in other words, you won't reach your current goal, so you need to put in a new goal

I also added a chart for people who like visuals.

The formulas all have if statements that mean each row's calculations don't activate until you enter points for that week. Here's a sample showing someone drifting into trouble by low participation as the semester begins: they start off "great!" but then drift into just being on-track and already by Week 6 they need to do some extra credit to make up work missed in those opening weeks:

I really hope this will be useful to students next semester. I always wanted to do something like this but wasn't sure what measures would be really useful. Doing NaNoWriMo helped me figure that out!