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Managing the Digital Flow

We're going to go ahead and turn a question that Amal had into a task. In an email to the group he wrote: 

I'm interested in discussing with everyone ideas for setting up a gradebook around YV assignments.  With kids writing more than a teacher can read, how do you do your grades? What do your rubrics look like, if they exist? What values do you place on certain assignments, and elements of writing within them? If you don't grade everything, how do you choose?

These were such good questions that we thought we should make this conversation public instead of taking place among ourselves. In my pre-Internet classroom, I used to think about managing the paper load. But in digital writing, it's more about managing the digital flow. How do you do it in your teaching?

Task Discussion

  • Fred Haas   March 7, 2012, 5:10 p.m.

    While I will admit that I have not always been as ambitious as Paul or Chris about pushing so much student content into the digital realm with the regularity, I certainly have students working in digital spaces and producing content. So, I will add a couple of my thoughts to the mix.

    First, I am pretty up front with students about not being able to grade everything, while stressing the value of doing all the work. I am always amazed at how compliant they can be about this. As long as there is a means for them to make an appeal if they are dissatisfied with an ultimate grade, there is generally not a lot of trouble with not grading everything. Most students can be remarkably understanding about this.

    Then I almost always take a cue from the portfolio paradigm. For example, students have to complete all of the work that I make a requirement. However, I give them the choice of selecting their best work from the collection and I will grade that. I will give them some kind of credit for doing it all, which I usually negotiate with them. Then I will more rigorously grade what they want me to grade. This alone can cut the grading issue down considerably.

    I should add that grading is not usually the struggle, however. It is providing timely and regular feedback, especially in the area of writing. I have come to recognize that often students need earlier and more regular feedback and guidance and then a gradual release. Thus, with this understanding, very often the item that student will present to be graded is a fairly easy affair. targeted and early feedback is one huge advantagethat can be gleaned by having students work in digital spaces. Simply commenting on their work, provided that is an available feature, can be a boon on this front.

    Another technique I definitely use when I am in the thick of a lot of digital work is constructing a Class Monitoring Portal (CMP). This is a term that I got from Vicki Davis (Flat Classroom Project), although I had been unknowingly building these things for a couple of years without labeling it. I actually adapted from a technique I saw Steve Hargadon do in the Ning heyday. Essentially, I use something like Pageflakes, Netvibes, or even iGoogle and make a dashboard of RSS feeds for each student in my class. Routing all of the various RSS feeds from the multiple sites being used into a single repository allows me to instantly monitor student activity and verify that they are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing. In some ways, it is very nearly a digital version of Paul's charts he shared in the video. Here is a very simplified version of a CMP with a bunch of blogs from some classes of mine last year.

    I generally figure that I need to find ways to make the tools serve my needs and I try to leverage the power of RSS as often as I can. Plus, then I can share some of these techniques with the students too and they can figure out more potential uses as well.

    Well, that is a couple of things to think about in relation to this dilemma.

  • Paul Allison   March 7, 2012, 8:27 a.m.

    You can find one of my responses to this question on this video.

  • Chris Sloan   March 6, 2012, 11:41 a.m.

    Okay, I'll start...

    I know that one answer to managing all of my students' digital work would be to just have them work in learning management systems like Blackboard or Angel or Turnitin; that would certainly make things more convenient. But as a student having composed in these spaces myself, I have to say that I don't like systems where content is password protected. An LMS might work for a lot of people, but these places don't work well for the way I teach because I'm trying to help students navigate and leverage the affordances of new media landscapes.

    For instance, I think all photographers benefit from participating in sites like Flickr, where people who are passionate about photography congregate. And I want my students to have meaningful discussions with other students on Youth Voices; that means connecting with people who aren't necessarily in our geographical area and who don't always share a similar world view.

    So back to how to manage all this. One thing I do to just get a handle on it all is to set up a Google Spreadsheet with links to my students' Flickr photostreams, Youth Voices discussions, shared Google Docs, and email addresses. Initially it takes some time to set this up, but the result is a one-stop portal to the various aspects of their digital learning portfolio.

    Another FAQ is how to assess student digital work. This is a difficult question because the assessment depends on the situation and the purpose, but in general here are some thoughts. As far as their image composition goes, their photostream should show these traits; their video compositions should have those same qualities but also have clear audio and tell a compelling story. Here's a link to a self-assessment tool for my students discussion posts on Youth Voices. I treat comments as a separate genre, and so I think good comments should do these things.

    I know I could make things easier on myself, but I've come to believe that the learning my students do is most powerful when it's out in the open.