Monday, November 26, 2007

Restructuring Homework In My Class, Starting Today

The philosophy, practice, and dividends of homework are perpetual topics of discussion at my school. For me, they meld with other questions of what it means to be a serious student, what it means to be a learner, and what it's going to take to be successful and happy in the 21st century. To move beyond discussion, I decided to make some fairly significant changes in the way I assign, collect, and assess homework. The seed for this change was planted a couple weeks ago when I was in a meeting listening to a proposal for a 'hybrid' course, which (at my school) means less class time, more independent work and individualized instruction via Moodle and various chat and videoconferencing tools. Personally, my favorite hour of the day is class. I couldn't do less of it. But what occurred to me was that homework in an online course is inherently more independent, individualized, and flexible. These are the values that drive our school's technology initiative. And I want my homework assignments to embrace these values. So here's what I changed:

*First, I set up every student with a Learnerblog and Bloglines account (for more on this, see Clay Burell's post visionary student blogging). Each student put together their own blog reading list consisting of 5-10 feeds, and proposed a purpose or topic for their own blog.

*They are required to publish one thoughtful post a cycle (our 6-day version of a week).

*In addition, during class time each cycle, they meet in small groups to report on their reading of feeds.

Okay, here's the homework part:

*On the first day of each cycle, I post 5 items to our class Moodle page:
1. A prompt for this cycle's post. (They can use it or not).
2. Required reading and viewing. This cycle, for example, I posted a TED talk, a YouTube video, and a link to an educational post.
3. Cool Tools. I post links to tools they might like or find useful. This cycle: Quotiki and
4. And a mini-lesson. This cycle is commenting on blogs: why do it, why not to do it, and opportunity to practice.
5. A forum for discussion of any of the cycle's homework activities.

What's in it for me:
*I feed their posts to my reader and leave individualized comments.
*I can see when and how often they access the homework activities in Moodle. Doing this allows me to monitor and coach students in the art of time management.
*Now, we all do the same kinds of homework, which creates a different kind of learning environment.
*My class time is freed up to do the things I always feel I don't have time to do, like sit in a circle and read literature together, slowly (10 pages in 3 classes - this is a good thing) and critically.
*I always know they've done the reading (no need for punitive quizzes:)

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