By Kristi DePaul
Think back on your first job after college or graduate school. I’m willing to bet that you gave it your very best effort. You probably made extensive plans, second-guessing yourself at times or seeking out advice from others.
It was a time of proving to yourself that you were able to not only survive, but thrive. Just how eager were you to judge your own performance in those early months?
When just starting out in a new career, you might be so focused on completing the job at hand that evaluation feels like a far-off requirement. One of those things that’s more of a nice-to-have, but not such a critical element that it warrants immediate attention. After all, there’s ground to cover, stakeholders to answer to and deliverables to produce.
First you’ve got to actually accomplish the thing before you can reflect on it. Right?
New to Academia, Ready for Assessment
You might have that luxury when your stakeholders don’t include several roomfuls of 20-something college students.
For Owen Parker, an Assistant Professor in Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, ‘professional assessment’ was part of his vocabulary from the very beginning. The Mississippi native graduated from Indiana University in 2015, and soon found himself at the helm of two sections of Oklahoma State’s capstone courses in business.
“As a new faculty member, you really want to know how you’re doing. To that end, I was very interested in assessing my performance and course-correcting or adjusting as quickly as possible.”
In terms of assessing teaching effectiveness, student engagement often plays a major role. And anonymity and strong student engagement often don’t mix. “I’ve always tried to learn all of my students’ names,” Parker says.
Student interactivity and engagement are critical in courses where professors aren’t employing the traditional lecture; rather than being the ‘sage on the stage,’ they’re looking to students to be actively involved in their own learning process.
For Parker, a significant part of that process is rooted in the level of student participation.
“You want to be able to track participation. The model that I’d seen done was to have students follow along with the discussion as scribes. That is, actually transcribing what people say in real time, as best you can. Yet by the end of the semester, it’s always the same students who are offering their comments. Others will inevitably comment on their inability to participate, by saying things like ‘I never get a chance,’ ‘so-and-so is always hogging the airwaves.’”
Parker initially decided to try ForClass beginning with spring semester this year, when he ramped up with two courses. This wasn’t his first go-round with an in-class edtech product, either. “I initially explored other technologies. I’m most interested in tracking student responses and driving discussion, which I’ve found to be best facilitated by ForClass.”
When Parker transitioned from the scribe method to using ForClass, he noted major changes for his students—and for himself as a professor.
Here’s how he describes the ‘massive difference’ between fall and spring semesters:
1) Students’ insights have emerged.
“ForClass draws out students who wouldn’t normally speak because they don’t think they have something to offer. I’ve actually been shocked by students’ insightful comments – not knowing all along how profoundly they’re thinking about something and then this sort of big reveal. It really challenges your assumptions about them. You think: there’s a lot going on in there.”
2) Participation is tracked effortlessly.
“Now, I’m the one keeping track of participation and there’s no burden to me. My students have already spoken when they’ve submitted assignments. ForClass reduces uncertainty on my end with regard to who has done the homework, as well as the operational burden of bringing name cards to class.”
3) Discussions became more strategic.
“ForClass gives you agency to guide the discussion. You know what people are thinking already. Even if you don’t call on them, you can still give them credit for what they did. And you finally have answers to the big questions: Are they getting anything out of this? How do I know they’re reading?”
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Truly Flipping the Classroom
It’s been several years since the flipped classroom model has been considered an especially novel approach to pedagogy. Its many benefits have been enumerated and it has been the subject of countless research projects. In recent years, technology has been a key component.
Since Parker has chosen to use ForClass as a means for flipping his classrooms, students in his classes know what’s expected of them.
Throughout the past semester, Parker’s students would complete case study readings and respond to questions through the ForClass platform from anywhere with an Internet connection—dorms, libraries, the local Starbucks—in advance of their class meeting. Once submitted, their aggregated responses could then be viewed by Parker and displayed in either bar chart or Word Cloud formats, depending upon the response type. Using these data visualizations, Parker has been able to see exactly where each student stands with regard to a particular question.
“On the morning of class, I’ll look at exemplars and contrarian responses and will write down a word or two about what I know I need to say during the lecture portion of the class.”
He notes that he can always ask a specific question following the general concepts that he wanted to cover.
After a semester scanning students’ responses, Parker feels confident that he can clearly see who’s reading, and who is grasping the material. Their comprehension is central to his performance, as Parker views his classes as a unit; by instructing, he is leading.
Their progress is palpable. “I feel like we’re moving forward as a class.”
Dr. Owen Parker is an assistant professor in the Department of Management at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University.