Monday, December 8, 2008

Palloff and Pratt Book Review

As you may remember, Michelle and I attended the Sloan Distance Learning Conference last month. Like all conferences, there was a large room with exhibitors introducing new products, etc. and, as always, Jossey-Bass had a booth with lots of new and enticing books on distance education and online learning…..

When I started working in OL, the first book my colleagues recommended was Palloff and Pratt’s Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. I have purchased several of their books and always find them informative and practical, with timely topics. To this point, I think my favorite was The Virtual Student: A Profile and Guide to Working with Online Learners. So it’s probably no surprise that I came away from the conference with yet another of their books – their latest, Assessing the Online Learner: Resources and Strategies for Faculty. I decided it would be a good purchase as that’s the area I believe to be my ‘weakest’. In fact, Palloff and Pratt suggest that assessments in online courses sometimes require many instructors to ‘rethink’ the methodologies they utilize to asses student learning, causing a paradigm shift from traditional tests and quizzes to those that utilize papers, projects and portfolios – both group and individual.

As with previous books, Palloff and Pratt provide theory and practical guidelines with an abundance of examples for enhancing teaching and learning online. Part One addresses issues such as tying standards of assessment to course competencies and outcomes, using Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives in the OL environment, learner-focused OL teaching and assessment, plagiarism and cheating OL, and designing rubrics for online courses. Also included is a valuable chapter focused on course and program assessment, again tying standards and competencies of the course to the overall program.

Part Two includes an Assessment and Evaluation Toolkit with an array of techniques and suggestions for use in the online environment. As in other books, Palloff and Pratt utilize a pragmatic approach that insures the practitioner comes away with the theory as well as a variety of assessment and evaluation skills that will assist in developing and delivering a quality learning experience for their online students.

I like the Palloff and Pratt series and find their style and practical approach to be extremely useful, one that always enables me to consistently improve my online teaching strategies and insure success for my students. I think this particular topic and book are especially relevant for NLU. I began working with faculty transitioning their courses for OL delivery at NLU in December 2000. At that time, it was very clear that the majority of faculty preferred more learner-center assessment with many using papers, projects and portfolios for assessment in their traditional classes. I believe this book can provide new ideas and strategies that may prove useful for faculty seeking to include more variety and rigor in their online courses. For further information or to order on Amazon, click Assessing the Online Learner .

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