Assessment of Student Work: It’s Not about You

This post is worth sharing again. I spent the weekend and part of last week reviewing and marking first year mid-terms. This post is worth sharing again and again. This morning I read some of this blog aloud to my first years. I even had the blog up on the screen for them to see. I do think it is important to remind students that the mark is not about you, but the work that was reviewed. We (me and the TAs) are not judging you as a person. I know that it might feel like it, but that is not the case.

If I could look into the eye of every student (undergrad and graduate) and say:

Your course grades do not reflect who you are as a person. The grade is only an assessment of your performance in this moment with these assignments–no more. You should not take the grades personally and wonder if this means that the person who assessed your work doesn’t like you. We are assessing so much work and it’s ultimately about the writing, analysis, presentation, ideas, grammar, spelling punctuation, directions, but not about you as a person. The assessment is about the performance of the assignment or the project and it is not personal. And, I also ask that you think about the assignment that you submitted. Was it your best work and did you follow the directions? Are you owning the grade and the comments? It is so to say that the Teaching Assistant or Professor has it in for you or does not understand you, but is there more there? A moment of introspection is needed so that you can think about the assignment and the expectations for your work.

I remember when I started teaching and I was more casual with the students. I would occasionally hear the following, “But I thought you liked me.” I conferred with my mentors and was told–you have to be more formal. Use your title and remind them that you are assessing their work and not them. Who they are has nothing to do with the grade. It’s about the writing and thinking. I re-worked my syllabi and did become more formal the following term and didn’t hear those personal statements again. March Madness on campus is really not just about basketball. It’s also about research, thinking, and writing. Mange your time well so that you do justice to your ideas. My purple pen is here to comment and tease out ideas. I pick up each paper and think~ what is here and how can I help? The assessment is really about the ideas. Please remember this.

A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology

Love this!

Bryan Alexander

devil_gags9999In the dark and satirical spirit of Ambrose Bierce, I offer the first draft of a Devil’s Dictionary for educational technology terms.  May it entertain, and all be forgiven.

App, n.  An elegant way to avoid the World Wide Web.

Blended learning, n.  The practice of combining digital and analog teaching.  Also referred to as “teaching”, “learning”, and “the real world”.

Blogging, v.  The practice of writing to and interacting with an audience through an easy to use, automatically archiving tool.  A curiosity, which might be significant if every anyone used it.  Can be neatly buried by the LMS.

Competency-based education (CBE), n.  A tentative recognition that learning might occur outside of academia.  Obviously dangerous, and preferably reserved for the lower classes.

Digital native, n.  Student worker.

Engagement, n. That which everyone talks about but really does not know what it means. (thanks…

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Welcome to the New Term!

looking at a book

Today was one of those days. I saw two families driving on the wrong side of the road. I also saw lots of parents with their kids walking around the bookstore and other parts of campus. The families looked happy. And, if anything, the incoming student looked excited. I want to welcome all of us to a new term.

The new term means a fresh start for all of us. I am looking forward to meeting my new students and colleagues. I was lucky enough to meet lots of new faculty at a few events in August. The new term is the perfect time to move forward with good intentions. The new term is the start of something precious. Yes, it’s precious. The clean slate is a good time to start new habits and try to keep to them. I am thinking about what I want this term. What do you want for the new term?

Glass Shards and Mental Hygiene

Great post!

sasha gronsdahl

Last night, I wrapped up my first week in Toronto alone and in tears in my kitchen, plucking tiny slivers of glass from my fingers.

It had been a long day. I had made the trek out to IKEA in Etobicoke to pick up the essentials for my new place; since I took a bus to get there, I arranged to have my purchases delivered to my house later that day. After spending the rest of the day scrubbing and organizing the kitchen, I answered the door to two deliverymen, who dropped off my things and sped away to complete the rest of their route.

Once they had left, I picked up the package containing a side-table with a glass top, and it sounded like it was full of gravel. Not a good sign. Sure enough, as I opened the box, millions of glass shards spilled out–several lodging themselves into my fingers and palms…

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Lessons Learned

microsoft women.JPG

I have had two outlier terms in my teaching career. And, one was in the last year. When things work well, you feel like every damn thing is in order, and you want to pinch yourself. In a similar way, when things begin to go wrong you want to stop and fix them, but they continue to slip out of your reach, it feels like a train wreck. Well, I had a term like this and I’m looking back, so that I can look forward.

I used some new materials, had some strong personalities, and did my best. Well, things did not go as planned, and I need to do a few things. I need to own it. I need to move on. But, right now I am reviewing things. What could I have done to make things better? I know it was not just the books, the students, and me. There are always more factors at play when a class is mediocre. I pride myself on how much I enjoy teaching, as I view it as a form of mentoring and I find teaching fulfilling. And, when things go offside, I feel responsible.

I chose a few new books in order to push my class to read about debates in the field. If I could go back, I would have chosen one new book. The material was provocative enough to cause uncomfortable feelings, debate, and a good measure of animosity between the students, and some directed at me. It is far easier to teach the usual suspects. So, there is a part of me that stubbornly thinks that I would not change the books. I did explain that the material would push the students and that they should feel uncomfortable, but it was not enough. From the papers, I could read that a handful of the students did not like the book or both books. Now, whether or not I had a deep reflection about the content is a different story, but I did hear about the materials vocally. “I want a different book suggestion, since I cannot relate to this one.” I did not give the student another book option.

Course materials are important and I reviewed several books and was really happy with the overall syllabus and assignment. I can reluctantly admit that I would not teach both new books again. One did not work. I won’t name it, as it will do a few things. It will make the students realize that I am talking about their class, and it’s likely better that they not know which of the courses I am referring to in this post! Well, on their own, both books are intellectually engaging or problematic. I do not want to teach perfect books, as that is too darn easy. What else would I have done differently? I think I would have noted that this course had fewer readings and pages of work due to me, than previous terms. From reviewing the evaluations, it is clear that some of the students thought that I was asking them to do too much work. I was not.

The good news here is that I take each class as a learning experience. While teaching feels like it comes easy to me, it is good to know that I will still have an off term. It is good for me to reflect on the course. And, I am not a rock star every term. I have been fortunate to have so many awesome courses and experiences–this year reminded me to be humble! And, the few unhelpful evaluations say more about the student, than they do about me. Thanks for reading the post. I’d appreciate any feedback you have about awesome or crappy terms. We all have them.


Conferences and Conferencing

This Spring is extremely busy or perhaps more busy. I have been to four conferences in less than two weeks. I have had ample opportunity to re-connect or meet new people at each of the conferences and I have some advice for networking. This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. It’s great to introduce yourself, but make sure that you pause and listen to the people that you’re meeting.
  2. You’ll need to re-charge after the networking, and it’s important that you self-care and have some down time.
  3. Try to follow up with the new connections that you’ve made. This might be via an email or liking/sharing something that they’ve said on a social media platform.
  4. See if you can meet new people! At some conferences, work colleagues will congregate and the conference is the perfect opportunity to build your networks. You can meet new people and introduce them to others, who you know at the conference.
  5. Learn. Go to sessions that you’re interested in and be open to learning about new topics.

Regroup after the conference and think about how you can share what you have learned with your colleagues.

Why it’s important to share our rejection stories

Great post!!


Rejection sucks. It can affect us like physical pain. But like we would the genesis of an old scar on the forehead, let’s keep sharing our tales of rejection. 


Each year, around this time, some of my students greet me with sad faces. They’ve tried their best to get a training contract or a paralegal position, but they haven’t been successful. In our weekly clinic meetings we often discuss what happened at vacation placements, interviews or assessment days and my students and I share tips for application forms and interview questions. But this doesn’t necessarily provide comfort. My students tell me that they still feel hurt from the rejection. And so, each year, around this time,  I tell my students a story. It goes something like this:

When I was a law student I applied to a significant number of law firms for a job. Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Chester, London…

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