4.12.12

WORDNOISE.

A director of assessment attempts to convince people the extra work is worth it.
Traditionally, I think we’ve envisioned this relationship in reverse order – that skills and dispositions are merely the means for demonstrating content acquisition – with content acquisition becoming the primary focus of grading.  In this context, skills and dispositions become a sort of vaguely mysterious redheaded stepchild (with apologies to stepchildren, redheads, and the vaguely mysterious).  More importantly, if we are now focusing on skills and dispositions, this traditional context necessitates an additional process of assessing student learning.

However, if we reconceptualize our approach so that content becomes the raw material with which we develop skills and dispositions, we could directly apply our grading practices in the same way.  One would assign a proportion of the overall grade to the necessary content acquisition, and the rest of the overall grade (apportioned as the course might require) to the development of the various skills and dispositions intended for that course. In addition to articulating which skills and dispositions each course would develop and the progress thresholds expected of students in each course, this means that we would have to be much more explicit about the degree to which a given course is intended to foster improvement in students (such as a freshman-level writing course) as opposed to a course designed for students to demonstrate competence (such as a senior-level capstone in accounting procedures).  At an even more granular level, instructors might define individual assignments within a given course to be graded for improvement earlier in the term with other assignments graded for competence later in the term.
I think that's an endorsement of prerequisites and course sequences. Take away the theorrhea, though, and the assessment office becomes a cash suck.

It gets better.
When courses were about attaining a specific slice of content, every course was an island. Seventeenth-century British literature? Check. The sociology of crime? Check. Cell biology? Check.

In this environment, it’s entirely plausible that faculty grading practices would be as different as the topography of each island.  But if courses are expected to function collectively to develop a set of skills and/or dispositions (e.g., complex reasoning, oral and written communication, intercultural competence), then what happens in each course is irrevocably tied to what happens in previous and subsequent courses.  And it follows that the “what” and “how” of grading would be a critical element in creating a smooth transition for students between courses.

Now it would be na├»ve of me to suggest that making such a fundamental shift in the way that a faculty thinks about the relationship between courses, curriculums, learning and grading is somehow easy.  Agreeing to a single set of institutionwide student learning outcomes can be exceedingly difficult, and for many institutions, embedding the building blocks of a set of institutional outcomes into the design and deliver of individual courses may well seem a bridge too far.
Once upon a time there was a Canon, and a Curriculum, and the smooth transition happens as a matter of course.

Let me add an observation from tonight's meeting of the Investment Association.  A graduating senior, recounting a conversation about The Hunger Games with a younger student, griped that his description of the novel as incorporating elements of "The Lottery" and "The Most Dangerous Game" might as well have been in Attic Greek for its familiarity to the younger person.  Perhaps Shirley Jackson is getting the obscurity she deserves.  But apparently there's a "Simpsons" version of "Dangerous Game" for the twenty-somethings, to go along with the "Gilligan's Island" version for older folks.

A more multicultural community probably benefits more by common cultural referents, on occasion more elevated than "Kirk Herbstreit really stepped in it."  And higher education is likely to benefit more by the marginalization of the culture-studies zealots, and the educational "theorists" whose obsession with objectives and assessment and learning types and the like has yet to make anyone smarter.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Shirley Jackson was the focus of a Library of America volume as recently as 2010. I've not read enough of her work to know if she's worthy of rediscovery, but it would be nice if "Hunger Games" fans were familiar with "The Lottery" and "The Most Dangerous Game" (both of which I encountered in the lit curriculum as a kid in the late '70s and early '80s). They might be less impressed by pop culture's latest offering and start to grasp that there really is nothing new under the sun.