10 Assessment and Rhizomatic Learning – Course start Tuesday

Well… it’s that time of the year again folks. Time for me to teach my Educational Technology and the Adult learner course. I think of myself as being very privileged to teach this course every year. The course is, in many important ways, unfettered by its institutionality. It not connected to any other courses in any registrarial way… no pre-requisite, no follow up courses. I have no other instructor also teaching the course and was not given any material or specific guidance on what or how to teach to begin with. The program itself is full of many experimental, dedicated teaching professionals, so many of my students have already had their horizons challenged in other courses in the program.

And the students are fascinating.

Some have never stepped foot in the classroom as teachers. Some have spent 30 years there. Some spent 25 years working on a job that they are now going to teach to others. Some have never been in the formal workforce before. I had one student last year with PhD in chemistry working with a career pipe-fitter. I mean… how awesome is that? All students are different, and, I think, do better in the end when they are free to choose their own paths… but these folks are different in ways that are easier to negotiate. This makes the ‘we are all different and need to have different objectives’ part easy, but it does present some challenges on the assessment front. As I don’t believe, fundamentally, that learning is something that can be effectively (if at all) measured in the classroom, I’m trying to measure effort. Effort defined quite broadly. Let me know how you think I’m doing 🙂

I need to give them all a number grade. Out of 100. so…

Learning Contract
When i taught this course three years ago, a finishing student of mine said “you know, I think i understand your whole rhizome thing… but you know what it needs? It needs a learner contract. You should let us pick what grade we want when we start the course and let us work to that”. It was like being hit with a teaching stick. My first thought was “can i really get away with that?” Then I asked him where he got the idea and he told me that it was from the 70’s. I did some research before teaching the class last year and built my first contract

What I learned year one
Many of my students were actually quite familiar with the idea of a grading contract… which I hadn’t expected. Overall most students were prepared for the idea of trying out the contract and choosing how much effort to put in. There were some, I think, who took everything because they expected that deep down they were supposed to. 🙂


  1. It lacked depth of choice. I did that partially because I didn’t want to confuse anyone… but also because I hadn’t really had any experience to draw from. So… more choice.
  2. Real language. I had all kinds of crazy unnecessary language in there last year(eg. OER). Sure, it’d be cool if everyone knew the lingo, but it made contract choices difficult. Students make contract choices BEFORE the course. This time… Plain language.

What I’m doing this year
Two whole days before we get started and I’m still tweaking the sections. I’m going to lay them out here with the reasoning behind each of them and see if it makes sense all pulled together. Important to realize that this class is formally hybrid, and has only 21 hours of in-class time for a full term course. If it seems like there’s alot here… there is. Also… this is still a ‘suggested breakdown’. I’ll have to talk it over with the students in class two.

I can’t help myself. I have to throw attendance in there. I simply don’t believe that it makes sense to have 25 people come together in a classroom if that classroom time isn’t somehow critical to the experience. Attendance for me is not a ‘physical presence’ it is a way of being. To this day I have never not given someone an attendance mark when they did show up. My job to engage them.
grading: pass/fail

Blog posts
Reflective blog posts on the topic of the week… or something else that came to your mind. I try not to put a number of words on these because people with different literacy sets react to these very differently. However it works out, reflection upon yourself and your classmates as learners is the MOST IMPORTANT part of this course.
grading: 0 – Didn’t do it. 1 – did it but lacked effort 2 – did it and made an effort.

Mini Presentations
I have always had students do giant 15 minute presentations “as if they were teaching in their own class” in an attempt to give people a practical headstart using technologies in their own classrooms. It has always been a fight getting this message clear and, frankly, I’m giving it up. These presentations will be timed 5 minute “hey I just learned this” demos in the front of class. There was just too much of a discrepancy between those with classroom teaching experience and those without… it wasn’t fair the way i had it before.
grading: pass/fail

This used to be called a network learning plan and is really what I like to think of as learning curation. It’s a way to keep track of the links you’ve found and the ideas that you’ve had so that you remember them later. When learning in a state of abundance (or, say, drinking from a firehose) we lose most of the things we come across. This is a nod to trying to build that curation space. I could use a bookmarking system, I suppose, but google docs are more flexible and easier to understand.
grading: rubric to be negotiated

Group Take away
This is the class’ notepaper. We throw all the stuff we learn in here as a group. It’s a replication, in a sense, of the learning network plan, but it has a different purpose. Rather than everyone throwing 50 mini-presentations into their own plan, it gives us a central sharing space to include all that stuff. Not sure what i’m going to use for this… maybe a wiki, maybe a googledoc. Hoping to decide as a class.
grading: scaled based on number of updates


Article Discussion
I’m going to seed the course with Terry Anderson’s (edited) book on online learning. Students are, of course, free to use whatever article they want. I would like them to engage in a discussion (using a discussion forum) on a given article. We might decide to do this as formal group work, or as individual assignments with a ‘reply’ guideline. Not sure… we’ll see what the students say.
Grading: rubric to be negotiated

Simple/Complex Maker
This remains the same as last year, although the name has changed. Make one web based object that explains a simple, step by step process and another that addresses a complex problem.
Grading: negotiated (but i’m thinking pass/fail)

Thursday? Online sessions
Collaborate sessions devoted to student chosen topics. We’ll meet one night a week and chat… about something. I’m going to have to be on top of this one, because i think that the students might have a difficult time picking topics. But you never know… totally depends on the class.
Grading: pass/fail

Twitter Chat
Yay! twitter chat! Somehow I’ve never done one in a class before. Might do this leading up to the online class or do it another night.
Grading: pass/fail

How does all this support rhizomatic learning?
Well… rhizomatic learning (as I’ve been talking about it) suggests that there is not start point and ending. That people come with a variety of thoughts and feelings and connections and need an ecosystem in which they can help grow those on a given topic. If we are going to presume that the map everyone is going to make is going to be different, then the need the freedom to choose. At the same time, if there is no structure at all, it’s difficult to get better at a specific thing.

Taking a course like this is a commitment to trying to get better (or something you were force to take, but lets overlook that 🙂 ) but it’s not like there is some kind of consensus about the best way to use technologies with any learners. There are many approaches, and many tools, and I believe that people need to become situated in the discussion so that they can become effective decision makers around technologies and education. Fundamentally this course is about practicing making decision, thinking about the effectiveness of those decisions and trying to make better decisions next time. It’s about becoming someone who can make decisions with edtech and adult learners.

Looking forward to it 🙂