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Fragile Bird

Covid-19 #14 - Are We Done Yet?

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I'm always wary of the pushback against online learning in that yes the experience of in person teaching is better, but online learning can make it accessible to people who would never be able to do it otherwise and that's still a hell of a lot better than nothing. It can be much more accessible for single parents, for people with certain disabilities etc. Its just another tool to use, and of course it needs to be tailored appropriately, including not expecting to be able to duplicate testing methods.

In general though I think more tests need to move away from being closed book - yes you may need to be able to perform some tasks without internet access, but for the vast majority of people in the vast majority of situations the internet will be available. The ability to quickly find what you need on the internet, understand it and know how to use it is more important than what is known for immediate recall. In the above example of students quite blatantly cheating - that gives you a clear avenue for approaching the same "assessment" accepting that people are going to use google and still structure it in a way that punishes poor google usage.

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Posted (edited)

My background has mostly involved studying humanities (school); humanities plus dead language (university); and as an adult learning modern languages plus a social sciences postgrad. 

I don't want to deny that for some people online learning really works. At the same time, when my boss starts on her favourite spiel about how online learning is so marvellous, so convenient, so much better than attending all those silly lectures, I mostly want to curl into a ball and cry. Lectures made me want to get out of bed as an undergrad when I was feeling very down; dialogic tutorials at postgrad and hours spent with fellow language pilgrims in classrooms in the UK and Europe have been wonderful, meaningful shared experiences. They've been about education as a pleasure and a collaborative process, not just education as another tick-boxy exercise. 

At the same time, I've done various online modules of compulsory training at work, and found it largely involved clicking through slides and doing a multiple choice test at the end. Having a decent short-term memory, I'd zoom through the slides, ace the test, then forget everything in a couple of hours. 

Edited by dog-days

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1 hour ago, karaddin said:

In general though I think more tests need to move away from being closed book - yes you may need to be able to perform some tasks without internet access, but for the vast majority of people in the vast majority of situations the internet will be available. The ability to quickly find what you need on the internet, understand it and know how to use it is more important than what is known for immediate recall. In the above example of students quite blatantly cheating - that gives you a clear avenue for approaching the same "assessment" accepting that people are going to use google and still structure it in a way that punishes poor google usage.

Is that not how it is already done even with paper tests? You start with basic questions that can be answered with regurgitating textbook definitions and minimal application of concepts at introductory levels and end with only application at the higher levels.

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1 hour ago, karaddin said:

I'm always wary of the pushback against online learning in that yes the experience of in person teaching is better, but online learning can make it accessible to people who would never be able to do it otherwise and that's still a hell of a lot better than nothing. It can be much more accessible for single parents, for people with certain disabilities etc. Its just another tool to use, and of course it needs to be tailored appropriately, including not expecting to be able to duplicate testing methods.

This is a very interesting topic for me, albeit a weird thread to discuss it in.  One of my alma maters is UCF, which has one of the highest enrollment numbers in the country since I was there, both as an undergrad and TA'ing online courses.  While their campus is pretty big, the reason enrollment is so high is indeed because of their emphasis on online courses.  Literally one of the last things I did there before moving on was working for my department's chair constructing a dataset to tell her and her bosses what most R2 (that's American vernacular, so let's say "mid-level") schools demand of MA and PhD programs in terms of testing/qualifications/what have you.  In other words, they were actively trying their best to improve the quality of education while still offering online access to as many students as possible.

And, really, with undergrad classes I do think it can be shifted to an online format.  I don't know for other disciplines - and this obviously has some restrictions when it comes to the hard sciences or even some liberal arts subjects - but in my experience the difference between face-to-face and online is minimal.  Engaged students are going to be engaged no matter the format.  Same goes for unengaged students.  More importantly, you're right that online courses DO give increased opportunities to those that otherwise wouldn't have access - that's exactly why UCF consistently is near the top of enrollment lists.  

As for cheating, yes, that is a concern with online courses.  It's pretty easy to circumvent though, in fact I just had to do it.  I wrote my final as entirely essay questions instead of a combination with MCs.  That really isn't that hard, and while I'm not 100% sure no one cheated, if they did it'd take an extensive effort.  More effort than, ya know, just studying the material.  So, good for them I suppose.  Also, with papers there's things like turnitin to deal with that.  Honestly the only drawback here is professors have to write new tests coming up with essay prompts rather than MC questions.  Although, again, I suppose that would be different in other disciplines.

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1 hour ago, karaddin said:

I'm always wary of the pushback against online learning in that yes the experience of in person teaching is better, but online learning can make it accessible to people who would never be able to do it otherwise and that's still a hell of a lot better than nothing. It can be much more accessible for single parents, for people with certain disabilities etc. Its just another tool to use, and of course it needs to be tailored appropriately, including not expecting to be able to duplicate testing methods.

This is a good point.

My take however is that it is very difficult (and expensive) to produce quality content. The only content I've seen worth to look at involves a lot of pre- and post-production which is outside of the capabilities of the average teacher/professor/school/university/etc, so there will be a few big institutions producing content with the rest of teaching personal only playing a minor role, thus reducing diversity.

People have mentioned cheating during the evaluations. I think we need to move away from the typical tests. They were barely justifiable before this crisis, they are even less so. Other forms of evaluation unfortunately require much more effort.

 

 

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1 hour ago, rotting sea cow said:

My take however is that it is very difficult (and expensive) to produce quality content.

100% on this. Any institution that sees it as an opportunity to cut staff/costs is going to be in for a disappointing shock for either them, their students, or unfortunately most likely the remaining staff that are now expected to do more with less help. Online delivery is its own thing and needs curriculum design which takes that into account, and adequately resource the teaching staff to have enough people available to support students. I've done some humanities subjects via distance which had completely separate assessments in some cases for online students which were designed around students not being able to meet up in a group.

It was great, and those subjects were the most I've ever enjoyed studying and the most enthusiastic I've been. The ideal that I'd like to see, and cynically don't expect to, is that institutions which really commit to online learning after this will bring on additional staff with the expertise to make it work, and won't reduce their investment in the existing in-class teaching at all. They aren't mutually exclusive, they're just the potential for them to compete for resources. 

My workplace was a straggler on this front before covid-19, but the academic staff pulled a gargantuan effort at the start of the crisis to move everything online. There are still some things, particular more towards the hard sciences, which are going to be much harder or currently even impossible to deliver online, labs for example have been postponed until students are able to do them in person again. I think there is the potential to improve online delivery in this space though. Some or even most of the chemistry labs I've done (which is admittedly first year, but first year is also where the student count is highest) could have at least taught/reinforced the actions that you need through virtual labs, along with the emphasis on good lab note keeping practices. What it could not do even with actual virtual reality is teach the actual physical actions associated with various tasks - just the set up of the space, titration etc.

Only by attempting to do as much as we can online will we really establish the bounds of what we can actually do. One of the biggest hurdles to convincing people to even try it is to get them to accept its possible though, and the crisis has given a lot of people a crash course in how much we can achieve.

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6 hours ago, Triskele said:

I ordered a pulse ox on Amazon weeks ago and am told I might get it by early June.  

I gave in to this panic and ordered one on German amazon. It only took a few days to arrive.

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5 hours ago, DMC said:

As for cheating, yes, that is a concern with online courses.  It's pretty easy to circumvent though, in fact I just had to do it.  I wrote my final as entirely essay questions instead of a combination with MCs.  That really isn't that hard, and while I'm not 100% sure no one cheated, if they did it'd take an extensive effort.  More effort than, ya know, just studying the material.  So, good for them I suppose.  Also, with papers there's things like turnitin to deal with that.  Honestly the only drawback here is professors have to write new tests coming up with essay prompts rather than MC questions.  Although, again, I suppose that would be different in other disciplines.

I teach in a secondary school (not university) and Turnitin or Unicheck will help us pick up students who share their essays or cut and paste stuff off the Internet. However, the humanities departments still like in-class tests because there is one type of cheating (especially prevalent in wealthy non-government schools) that Turnitin can't help with, and that's paying a tutor or someone else to write an original essay for you and then submitting that as your own work. I'm sure it happens and we don't pick it up.

And some other subjects will have major problems with online learning because they don't have hand-in assignments at all. It's hard to do for mathematics, and some of the physical sciences, which consist mainly of a series of short questions, and where having exactly the same working and answer as someone else is completely plausible and not necessarily something to arouse suspicion. During COVID-19 my school considered online invigilation (e.g. watching students through cameras, in a non-creepy way) but we very quickly discarded it as unworkable. Unreliable connections, sneaky ways around it (having someone else in the room) were just too hard to confidently exclude.

 

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I completed the vast majority of my undergraduate degree as an online/external student at a time when it would have been absolutely impossible for me to study any other way. 

While the risk of cheating can never be eliminated entirely I think most of my assessment was designed in a way that would make it far less profitable. This was especially the case in the more advanced units where assessments were usually multi-stage projects rather than traditional essays or exams.

The unit I’m tutoring now is a pretty good example of that. The students are asked to design and conduct an interview. Do some basic thematic analysis and submit a report and finish with a presentation/reflection.

We workshop their interview questions in the tutorials and they have to include their interview schedule and a partial transcript with the report. I certainly don’t think cheating is impossible but it isn’t as easy as just buying an essay. 

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The one upper level psychology class I teach where I use multiple choice exams instead of just essays and papers (in both face to face and online versions) is Abnormal Psychology, because there is a lot of factual information in that course that one needs to make sure students understand before they go on to graduate school to be a counselor or therapist, as many of them want to do.

My university uses a service called Examity to give multiple choice classes online. This provides online proctoring for students who are taking multiple choice exams. It makes cheating much more difficult than it would otherwise be. 

https://examity.com/

In general I think most college instructors find essay exams easy to write but hard to grade, while good multiple choice questions are hard to write but easy to grade. 

 

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On 5/24/2020 at 12:49 AM, Kalbear said:

24 states are on the upswing and are looking at an uncontrolled epidemic:

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/study-estimates-24-states-still-have-uncontrolled-coronavirus-spread/

Good times, good times.

It was only a matter of time until it finally hit us. Minnesota Nice vs. We Love Our Lakes and Beaches was always going to be an issue as the virus worked its way to the upper Midwest.

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3 hours ago, Daniel Newhouse said:

Please tell when we finally can get beard trims at the beauty salon.

Beard trims? I thought the new trend was to look like a Civil War General.

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Well, though not intended to be Zoom classes, mine worked out really well for both students and me.  In fact, considering everything, the undergrads seem far more deeply involved and attentive this way than in the stuffy classrooms with their phones and food and so on.

But there is so much Zoom etc. won't work for -- and that includes these subjects. Was just fortunate this semester's content was conducive for such treatment (did have to change a whole lot to make it more optimal).

The responses from the students afterwards, privately and in their evaluations, showed how much they appreciated the courses.

But something else wouldn't have worked anywhere near that way.  The best thing is that they were all locked down too -- and some of them were sick with it, even -- and the class provided a happy distraction from being back home or cooped up with roommates.  One student, in Korean, had to get up and be ready at midnight to attend, but she did.  She was thrilled to be able to have this while in the two week quarantine after finally being able to get home to Korea.

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On 5/23/2020 at 1:44 PM, Rippounet said:

Yeah, don't get me started on cheating.

On the last mock test I did, about one third of students just googled the answer to a question. It's very obvious because they talked of the 2014 IndieRef... which was mentioned neither in the course nor in the document they had to analyse.
And that's a mock test.
Why would anybody learn anything in such conditions?
The problem is, of course that you want a degree to be about more than googling. No one wants our future engineers or lawyers to be incapable of doing anything when the wifi is down.

Home brewing was becoming popular here before the pandemic.

You ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?  There's a whole digression about learning for the sake of knowledge and learning for the sake of the credential.  Different terms used in the book, I think, but made me think of that.  (I'm sure somehow that book is horribly problematic these days.  But what isn't?)  I suggest read the first 40 or pages and tell me what you think.  Pirsig was definitely thought provoking.

On 5/24/2020 at 1:49 AM, Kalbear said:

24 states are on the upswing and are looking at an uncontrolled epidemic:

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/study-estimates-24-states-still-have-uncontrolled-coronavirus-spread/

Good times, good times.

OK, well that's still using the Imperial model, which appears to be off by more than a factor of 10, closer to 20.  But at least 26 states have controlled spread, whatever that means.

On 5/25/2020 at 4:06 PM, maarsen said:

Beard trims? I thought the new trend was to look like a Civil War General.

I had a very insightful response in mind when I clicked on this comment, but since I discovered that my intestinal pain was from a combination of aspirin and alcohol, I've been back to drinking my regularly scheduled program.  It may have had to do with how I'm starting to go all Barry Melrose in the back, but I couldn't say for sure.

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On 5/24/2020 at 7:49 AM, Kalbear said:

24 states are on the upswing and are looking at an uncontrolled epidemic:

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/study-estimates-24-states-still-have-uncontrolled-coronavirus-spread/

Good times, good times.

I'm starting to think that countries in the Northern Hemisphere should open  (of course with precautions). There is no way to truly contain the disease now and the hopes of a quick and safe vaccine fades with the days (see above). There is no way to keep the people quarantined for months or years until something of that sorts appears.

People should spend as much time outdoors as possible and get air and sun. Maybe the Vitamin D conjecture proves true and we get less serious cases. The people who get infected now will act as a epidemiological barrier next fall/winter. If there are not enough people with immunity, next winter will nightmarish.

 

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"Reopening the City Too Soon Is, Effectively, Age Discrimination" -- and other kinds of descrimination too. NYC centric, but it applies across the board for at least the US, UK and Sweden. Some are throwing in the towel in despair at even trying to contain, test, track and trace.  Others, like the so-called leaders in these countries never wanted to in the first place -- and again, that's partly because those deathcult 'leaders' are such teeny tiny ignorant souls they simply aren't up to the job, so they'd rather millions just died over the decades rather than do anything to contain.  Recall this isn't the case in every country, just those with autocratic cruel, pathological 'leadership' like the US, Brasil, Russia, the UK, etc. In order to successfully contain, test, track and trace one must have national leadership mandating unified policy and action.  These countries don't even want to.  They actively prefer all these undesirables die.  This probably means YOU too.

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/05/reopening-without-universal-testing-is-age-discrimination.html

Quote

 

Soon, New York will start pulling up shutters and setting out chairs. Work-from-homers will venture beyond their neighborhoods from time to time. Employees will trickle back into offices. Housekeepers, electricians, dentists, and security guards will repopulate the subway, because they will have no choice. The city is gambling that we have learned enough in these past months to keep the risks under control — that masks, distance, hygiene, and anxiety will keep us, if not exactly safe, then safe-ish. With no cure, no vaccine, and limited treatment, we have to rely on our own behavior and that of everyone around us. We have to trust our fellow New Yorkers to stay home at the first sign of the sniffles, to share our habits of caution, to wait for the next train if necessary, to step politely aside. We have to trust the MTA to keep crowds thin, employers to think through workplace logistics, the transportation department to dissolve the knots where pedestrians might jam the sidewalks, the school system to have a plan for a million kids that will protect their families too. Lockdown was easy compared to this.

And because that whole latticework of new habits and mutual consideration is so fragile, those who are at greater risk of getting sick will have to avoid it altogether. We’re opening a new chapter in the tale of two cities: the young and the healthy will (sometimes enthusiastically) take their chances; the old and the vulnerable will effectively remain under house arrest. To reopen now is to accept a new form of segregation, the exclusion of entire at-risk populations from public life, including everyone over, say 65. This is a civil-rights issue, and the reason we face it is that we have bumbled the better option: testing everyone.

If New Yorkers could get tested en masse and quickly isolate those who are infected, separating them from their families for two weeks, then the healthy could all pitch in to heal our wounded city. It’s not inconceivable. Wuhan, a city larger than New York, has reportedly tested 6.5 million residents (or maybe 9 million) in ten days. The Army tests all new recruits before they can join the ranks. In the short term, we would need to tolerate intrusions into our privacy that cannot be made permanent. Before you could enter a public building or sit at a restaurant table, you’d have to scan a QR code on a phone or wristband certifying you as COVID-free. No test, no service.

In the absence of widespread, repeatable, and accurate testing, we’re left with a radically unfair choice. Instead of isolating the infected, we will isolate the old and infirm, as well as plenty of vigorous people with an assortment of risk factors. Reopening schools means cutting grandparents off from their grandchildren and teachers from their parents. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure (or live with someone who has diabetes or high blood pressure), you’d be wise to avoid serving on a jury or entering a mall. Public transit will serve only for the young and healthy or the foolish. The threshold of every public building becomes a site of discrimination. [....]

 

 

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Georgia, Florida and texas are all doing WAY better than people thought they would do with their outbreaks. Suck on that libs!

Also, for some reason georgia, Florida and texas are having a really horrible case of pneumonia deaths. 

 

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