Friday, June 12, 2015

The Assessment Dance

This summer, I again said I'd help with an assessment task.  It's basically the same task I blogged about here and here last summer.

Remind me not to say I'll help again next summer, please.  Except the extra money certainly helps with summer.

Some things are better.  The design for entering data is slightly better, maybe two fewer clicks. 

And the way they've organized the work.  Last year, everyone had to have their first 40 pieces done before the organizers reshuffled and we did the next (and last) 40 pieces.  This year, they're pre-shuffled and it's set up so that once the person I'm paired with has clicked that she's done with her part, I can do that same one and then enter the data and be done.

And they've also cut the days they're giving us to do the project so that we have a week to do each set of 40 pieces.  Last year, it took well over a month start to finish, so I was rushed because they hadn't told us about the second half when we signed up.  And, of course, some people will put off the work until near the deadline anyway.

So, today marks a week since we started, and I've completed my first set of 40 and half of the next set, and I'm going to work on the next quarter of the next set (which my partner has already finished) later today.  The first set is due today, so if I get with things, I should be done totally by tomorrow morning.

Since I'm an English professor who teaches comp (about half my load), you can probably guess that I'm reading a lot of essay type stuff to do these assessments.  It's a LOT faster than grading, in part because you don't have to give any feedback or explain stuff to the writer, and in part because you pretty much have no emotional investment in the writing.

But, holy cow, there are certain topics that students seem to love and I just don't get it, and a couple of these topics they just can't seem to wrap their heads around in useful ways.  (If you're someone who teaches writing to first year students, you may want to turn away at this point.  Or maybe you'll want to commiserate.)

Social Media.  Students always want to write about how bad social media is.  But if you ask them, they love using social media.  And they can't seem to get that they need to think about why they love it, because they're getting something from it that's satisfying or whatever, and that means that it's meeting some perceived need, so it's not all bad.  (I think of it like, say, cookie dough.  I know cookie dough is bad for my health, just in sugar alone.  But I also know I like it, and that if I've had a horrible day, eating cookie dough makes it feel less horrible.  So if I were writing about cookie dough, I'd want to write about the benefits of eating cookie dough for my morale.  Cookie dough eating would make more interesting writing projects.  Just saying.)

Bodybuilding.  The students who choose to write about this seem to be already into body building, so they always use their favorite body building websites.  And then they moralize about how bad steroids or other naughty stuff is.

Food.  These seem to be driven by one or two faculty who focus on the evils of eating animals, so the projects are predictably about the evils of meat production, without recognizing the complications of meat production, food pricing, and so on. 

Princess-type Topics.  Whether it's Disney or kiddie pageants, these tend to be really shallow and blah.  One I read sounded like it was an excuse to rewatch every Disney movie the student had loved as a kid.

Favorite Fandom.  Enough said.

Disease of the Week.  These are pretty variable, to be honest.  They tend to use WebMD type sources, and most really aren't scientifically informed enough to read actual science papers, so they never get very deep.  I think they could do okay with flu, but they don't pick flu.

Surprisingly, I've read a couple topics where students seem able to dig in and do well.  I've seen a couple projects on issues about paying college athletes that were well done.

So far, none of the projects are on abortion or legalizing marijuana, and the one on gun control was actually pretty okay.  I haven't had any on tattoos or piercings this time around, thank dog.


  1. I just want to say that I want to read rhose essays on cookie dough.

  2. I'd have too much fun with the fandom papers which probably wouldn't be helpful for getting things done!

  3. Too often the fandom papers are about the local sports team...