Friday, February 07, 2014

Time Time Ticking...

I'm about to head off to a meeting which, based on the agenda distributed, looks like it will be a bit of talking, more talking, and no decisions needing to be made.  I hate these sorts of meetings generally, but I will go to this one because it's in the job description.

We've been working on assessment stuffs, mostly on doing stuff that says we'll assess our courses in this given way for these given assessment points, which all include at least three subpoints.

I've spent probably a couple hours on this for the class I was supposed to do (and did).  If everyone in my department spent just about two hours on theirs (we pretty much all had a class to do), then we've wasted two weeks of work.

Wasted?  I'm sure the latest assessment guru would tell us that this is vital work, and that it's all important for making sure that we teach what we've decided is worth teaching, and that our students learn what we've decided is worth learning.  And by the way, there's that ever present threat that if we don't do it to ourselves, "they" will do it to us.

And in three years more, having done these and many more, having filled out assessment bubble things, and written reports, all of which will show that our students aren't learning as much as we think they should, but some of them are, and some not at all, the assessment guru will tell us that no, we've been doing it wrong, and now there's some cool new way to do assessment, so we should start over again.  And it will be treated as practically an emergency situation, so we all need to do that new thing lickety split.

And then we'll need a new assistant to the recently hired assessment guru, because there will be ever more work to do in assessment.

One of my colleagues and I were chatting today, and she expressed her frustration at the constant near-emergency attitude from the administration, and at the ways that this assessment work takes time away from other work we need/want to do, work such as, you know, teaching, prepping classes, designing courses, and so forth.


  1. I'd guess that there are two main explanations for service becoming an ever-increasing time-suck for tenure track faculty: the need to hire, evaluate, coordinate, and otherwise supervise non-TT faculty (who look cheaper on spreadsheets than they/we actually are, because the costs are silently transferred to TT faculty), and the growth in assessment. I do believe in the basic principles behind assessment (we should think about what we're trying to do, and check that/how much it's actually happening), but, for a variety of reasons, it's take on a life of its own, and is quickly getting to the tail-wagging-the-dog stage. While we (especially the humanists) clearly need a few people who specialize in assessment, this is one of many areas in which I wonder if we'd be better off if, instead of hiring more adjuncts, we had more administrators who were at least 1/4 to 1/2 time faculty, teaching mostly the big intro, core, and perhaps capstone classes (which are the ones that usually play a role in assessment), and taking full part in the life of a department they're qualified to join (so, Ph.D.s or at least M.A.s in traditional disciplines, no "higher ed" or similar degrees). The current system gives administrators incentives to make work for the faculty, without thinking about the cost to other university activities; part-time administrators (indistinguishable, perhaps, from faculty with higher service loads and course releases to deal with them) would, I think, be more likely to understand, and factor in, the costs of assessment activities.

  2. I like Cassandra's concept - one of my favourite administrators insisted on being able to teach a course in his discipline once every year to keep himself grounded in the student and faculty experience.

    The emergency-evoking rhetoric of assessment gurus is tiresome and, ultimately, counter-productive to the cause of faculty adoption. We'll do what we have to in order to pass the exercise but we won't buy in because we know they're manufacturing a new crisis with new complex criteria and aims right behind this one so what's the point in getting attached?

  3. We decided this year that we'd do a quick and dirty assessment using a rubric on our capstone essays - this will be done by the instructor while grading. The rubric is cued to our learning outcomes. Our big assessment project will be at the end of the spring, when we have the instructors of the intro, methods, and capstone present samples of student work to explore one or another question we are interested in answering about student learning. This model allows us to serve the bean counters while thinking more wholistic ally about what we're doing. Fortunately, our assessment person loved it.

    I think the panic from the admin side reflects the outside pressures they deal with - political, fiscal, etc. our accreditor is upping expectations on assessment, and we're trying to figure out the best way to meet them. It's very easy when you're in it to think everything is a fire to put out, even when it's not an emergency. We're lucky that we don't often have to deal with the rhetoric of emergency.