Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Back to school . . .

Thanks, FailBlog

It's back to back-to-school meetings this week. The chief activity has been to coin yet another phrase for what we need to be doing that means "assessment" and yet sound different enough that our various constituencies will believe that we're doing something different. Anyway: I have syllabi to write, so I hope to have something of substance next week.

6 comments:

R. Sherman said...

Comment which results from a conversation with the EMBLOS about this whole "assessment" business:

It seems to me that this new emphasis on assessment in pedagogy is fueled by the desire to constantly cater to the students' immature need to be coddled. That is, they must at all times know what their grade is, such that learning the material takes the back seat.

Putting on my "Old Fart Hat" for moment, what the hell happened to the "two papers, a midterm and a final" method? I didn't need the professor constantly patting me on the head. I could figure out how well I was doing and whether I needed to work harder.

The new "customer driven" emphasis in education troubles me, because in education, the customer is not always right. Sometimes, the customer should be doing something else. The constant emphasis on continual assessment and continual student feedback smacks of a complete surrender to the "Facebook Generation," which requires immediate, worldwide notification every time somebody drops a deuce in his/her dorm bathroom.

Of course, I could be full of crap myself.

Cheers.

John B. said...

Well, this year's way of saying "assessment" is "Unit Performance Management." Yes, we all have MAs, at least, but we still snickered like we were in middle school. But more to your point, the assessment is aimed at measuring our success in helping students to "succeed," whatever that means. And, you know, fine: I think schools can and should be held accountable for what they do in the classroom. But on this same day, we were also told that the educational paradigm is shifting from "schools as sites for the presentation of content" to "schools as sites for the production of learning." That sounds good, too. But those two things don't necessarily mesh conceptually, at least as faculty understand the "production of learning" thing: That sounds to us like it places primary responsibility for learning on the student. Meanwhile, my division's dean said that others (read: legislators) are beginning to equate the production of learning with completion of degrees/certificates--something that runs, shall we say, counter to traditional understandings of college, and completely distorts what community colleges do. That's a very long-winded way of saying that, unless colleges and universities can effectively make the argument that students ultimately are more accountable for their success/failure in college, the effect of these new emphases will be to let the student off the hook regarding his/her responsibility. College degrees, already becoming a little less valuable due to their having become a prerequisite for all sorts of jobs that (let's be honest) don't really require them, will become even less valuable if the students holding them go through a system where, as in K-12, promotion--the "piece of paper"--becomes more important than knowledge obtained.

Fortunately, I happen to work at a place that's well respected in the state and among community colleges throughout the country, and we have a president who makes our case for us as effectively as any faculty member can. We have some clout. But this pressure on colleges is misplaced, we believe; the right kind of pressure needs to be applied in K-12 education, instead of hoping colleges can clean up the mess and punishing us when we can't fix in 2-4 years what has been neglected for 12.

So, you're mistaken about where this assessment is directed, but you're implicitly right about its potential results: more (indirect) student coddling.

Sorry for all that. But thanks for giving me a chance to vent a bit.

R. Sherman said...

That's a very long-winded way of saying that, unless colleges and universities can effectively make the argument that students ultimately are more accountable for their success/failure in college, the effect of these new emphases will be to let the student off the hook regarding his/her responsibility.

Bingo.

[T]right kind of pressure needs to be applied in K-12 education, instead of hoping colleges can clean up the mess and punishing us when we can't fix in 2-4 years what has been neglected for 12.

BTW, I should have noted that yes, the current assessment fad puts pressure on the teachers to evaluate his/her success, the idea being if students aren't progressing it's the teacher's fault. The bottom line is some students can't do the work. Some won't. Some appear with a sense of entitlement which says, "I paid for this. Where's my 'A?'"

The EMBLOS doesn't see too much of that in German, but it exists in the Math and English departments in spades. The emphasis now is keeping the bodies and the tuition dollars and retention, retention, retention at the expense of true learning.

I could go on, and I've got at least five or six rants sitting on Blogger at the moment, but I don't want my comments to haunt the EMBLOS.

Cheers.

John B. said...

I hear you, Randall. It seems to me that if we want colleges to turn out not just more graduates (which I'm okay with) but better ones, one way we can better ensure that is to improve K-12 education. "Unit Performance Management," though, doesn't seem to acknowledge that education is a continuum; indeed, as presented to us, it seems to assume a model that doesn't acknowledge one student taking classes in various departments but, rather, each department having its own discrete sets of students. At our place, for example, it's not at all uncommon for a student in a developmental English class to also be enrolled in a class like Psychology, which has a demanding reading load. This new assessment model, then, might show that the developmental class is "succeeding" where this student is concerned, but Psychology would be "failing." The student, meanwhile, doesn't get assessed under this model.

Sorry to go on like this. It's just frustrating to keep being asked to use business-assessment models in an educational setting. They simply don't work at a very basic, fundamental level.

R. Sherman said...

Your example raises an interesting question: Why do colleges have "developmental" classes to begin with? If student appears with a high school diploma, but cannot read or write at a college level, is it not immoral to take the student's money with the implicit promise that s/he will graduate? More college graduates is great in theory, but unless they're prepared to do the work, all that happens is that colleges degrees get devalued.

Cheers.

John B. said...

Randall, we've had those discussions, too. In fact, the moral argument was the very one that I made that led me and others to request that our students be tested for reading level in the first place and, if need be, be placed in developmental reading classes. Most of those students legitimately improve pretty quickly, and they go on to be successful students.

But that still begs the question that you ask, and the answer to my mind is the one that I mentioned earlier: that colleges wouldn't have to provide as much remedial help if students were leaving high school with high-school reading levels. The experience of our reading teachers here--that students can raise their reading skills by a couple or three reading levels within a few weeks--tells me that high schools could easily do the same thing with relatively little trouble. So, why don't they? I honestly don't know.

I'm actually more cynical about the taking-student-money aspect of online classes: those classes have notoriously low completion rates, yet the various deadlines for dropping classes are set up so that, by the time a student realizes s/he can't complete it, it's too late to get a refund. This may be a crude analogy, but the first to come to mind is that it's the academic equivalent of casino gambling: The student gets lured in with the promise of a convenient way to earn credit, but the "house" usually wins--or, it wins more than it should.