Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wagging the Dog

Over in the underwater basketweaving department, they're working on assessment projects like mad because the new campus assessment person has said jump in a very loud voice, and the headmaster's assistant has cracked the whip.

They have this program, a certificate in underwater basketweaving, which is a bit less than a minor, but gives students practical skills for managing and working with basketweaving projects later.  The certificate has six classes, Basketweaving basics (UBW 10), Underwater safety (UBW 20),  Introductory reed work (UBW 101), Basketweaving theory (UBW 103), and Integrative basketweaving (UBW 190, a sort of capstone experience), with one elective (at the 100 level or above) to be chosen from a group of basketweaving classes.

They were told that they had to write out specific goals and outcomes for the certificate program, and that for every goal, there had to be at least one outcome, and for every outcome, at least one way to demonstrate that every student did it.  The pressure from the campus assessment person is that we all have to do assessment stuff "in a meaningful way," and so he hints that we should all limit the numbers of outcomes.

The goal for this certificate is that students should be able to weave basic underwater baskets, and that they should do so safely, and they should understand how basketweaving works.  That gets broken down into a couple of outcomes, which I'll number:

1)  Weave underwater baskets.

2)  Use safe and appropriate techniques.

3)  Understand basic basketweaving issues.  (Which in assessment outcome talk is going to come out as something like "demonstrate an understanding of basic basketweaving")

Then they were told to make a grid, showing where each of the outcomes was taught, and where each would be assessed.  Let's use "T" for courses where things will be taught, and "Ass" for where they'll be assessed

Basketweaving basics (UBW 10):  1T; 3T

Underwater safety (UBW 20):  2T

Introductory reed work (UBW 101): 1T; 3T

Basketweaving theory (UBW 103): 3T

Integrative basketweaving (UBW 190, a sort of capstone experience):  1A, 2A, 3A

Since they don't know which of the electives students will take (Advanced Underwater Safety, Intermediate Basketweaving, whatever), they don't put the electives on the list.

Then they're asked to fill out another form, telling how UBW 190 is going to assess each of the outcomes.  So they've chosen as their assessment the final project, the production of an underwater basket without drowning or losing body parts.  Oh, and they also have to use something written to demonstrate understanding, but some people don't give an exam, and some people require an extensive reflection piece about the woven underwater basket, while others do give an exam, but do it as an oral.  It's a mess, but they're working on it.

And now, they're a bit worried, because budget cuts are coming down the pike along with an emphasis on getting students through programs as fast as possible, and they're going to be driven by assessment.

UBW 103, the theory class, doesn't seem to teach any of the outcomes that aren't also taught in the other classes, so are the beancounters going to come back and say, "Well, it doesn't contribute to the outcomes you've assigned, so why is it required?  If it were important, you would have put it on your grid."

"And the elective?" the beancounters will ask, "Do students even learn anything in the elective?  It's not on your grid, so they must not learn anything."

Coming soon to a campus near you, because it's for the students!


  1. We have already done this! And put it on our syllabi! And there's threats that we'll have to drill down and show which individual exam problems and other assessment activities fit which outcomes. The online classes already do this, they say.

  2. How long do you think this will trend? We've hit this stage at my uni too, and while some assessment is important, we're clearly in an assessment fad. So how long do academic fads typically last?

  3. I've been doing assessment for my promotion portfolio (and fighting, politely) with our assessment person for months now. You've struck at the heart of what gets down my neck about assessment in general -- because there's an inability to "assess" for the more important issues that happen in a classroom, we end up assessing (often) for the trivial parts of what happens in a classroom.

    Then -- because we're assessing for those -- those become the ONLY important things happening in the classroom. (Because that's all you can measure! So that's all that's really there!)

    It's pernicious pedagogy.

  4. *head desk*
    You assess theory in 103, I think. But yes, it's crazy, and yes we do it. There may be another fix with outcomes, but....

  5. Coming to this way late, but ah, curriculum mapping. I actually don't think it has to be so terribly terrible - I seem to have found a way (for I am in charge of our department assessment) that interferes in a very small number of courses and that might actually prove helpful to US as opposed to just providing data for the bean-counters. Shoot me a Fb message or email if you want to talk about assessment (I know, who WANTS to talk assessment? But still.).