Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Despair in Another Form

I was talking to one of the powers that be here, someone I like and respect a lot, about how our department might do the evaluative work that we're under pressure to do, with the constant threat of "if we don't do it, they'll do it to us."

We were talking, and I asked if we didn't already have a sense of how well our students did X task by grading a given kind of paper.

Well, yes, my colleague said. So, why don't we use that?

My colleague said we might be able to do a special form so that it all looked alike so we could analyze it together, and that what we really should do is take random samples, say 5 papers from each of the courses in question, and all get together and read them all so that we make sure we are all on the same page about the quality thing.

Seriously? We have, say, ten of these classes, and you want me (and any number of other colleagues) to read and evaluate 50 extra papers about this one aspect?

I said I might be talked into spending an hour together with some colleagues to norm ourselves on the form, but there was no way I was reading an extra stack of papers.

Not even for money, my colleague questioned?

This school can't pay me enough, I said.

We're doing a separate program and there's going to be serious faculty development, and it's built into the program that faculty involved with spend about a week on faculty development and be paid $500.

I'm one of the lower paid folks in my department, but my paycheck grosses (for 9 months a year) at about 5K. So paying me $500 is asking me to work for a week (during summer) for less than half of my regular pay. So I have an idea of how much this place is willing to pay me for extra work. (Or not pay me, as last summer's fiasco of administrative incompetence demonstrated.)

I expect that faculty development to be useful to me, so I'm willing to do it despite the low pay.

BUT, given that that's the sort of pay this place is willing to give us, and given how torturous reading a stack of papers is, and given how utterly useless I have found all such processes in the past, I'm really not willing to spend my time reading an extra stack of papers.

We were talking about this stuff because that evaluative work might get tacked onto my little cheese administrative thing I'm doing this year. And if this evaluative work gets tacked onto the work I'm doing as interim next year, I sure as heck won't be putting my name into nomination to do the job again. That's an easy decision.

I have to say, I'm so sick of the threat that "if we don't do it, they'll do it to us" that I could spit. The they of that threat isn't doing diddly that's of use. There's no serious evaluative stuff happening here, despite blathering and spending money up the wazoo to talk about it. And what is being done is being done to us already, in ways that make me lose a class day in intro writing every fall.

I've never yet seen anything useful come out of all the money they've spent and all the crap they've made us do. I have seen viscious nastiness happen, however. And I've seen threats of more to come.

But right now, there's a bigger threat, and it sort of makes me want to say no to the evaluative stuff that doesn't seem useful. (If and when it seems useful, I will be happy to help and to get help.)


  1. The label you've chosen "teaching hell" says it all.


  2. oy is right. 50 papers? how 'bout s/he reads 50, and whittles them down to 2 discussion samples for the larger group, strict time limit on the discussion?

  3. Anonymous2:51 PM

    This may actually be helpful to you: Basically, the way we're attempting assessment involves collecting random samples from each section (2 samples, not five) and then the samples are redistributed randomly (each faculty member evaluates the redistributed samples, only two of them, with the provided rubric). The collecting of samples/collating of data is then handled by administrators (though, let's note: they needed to find money to provide a person to work with the admin in charge because the admin in charge of this piece was so burdened by the first go-around that she might die - and as a half-time faculty member who is still working toward tenure, that was Not Cool.) Having a group of faculty members look at 50 papers in addition to their regular teaching load is NOT REASONABLE.

    There are still kinks in the system we're attempting, but what your colleague proposed is, from my perspective, totally doomed to fail. As you said, no amount of money will entice people to sign on for this.

  4. Anonymous2:53 PM

    Oh, and the rubrics are generated by the faculty and normed in that way, so that's where the norming happens. Again, not reasonable to expect a group of faculty members to read every single sample.

  5. Here at my working class university, the administration has been pushing the assessment model for the past ten years. And our faculty has been nodding eagerly and going along. (We have no tenure here. Arkansas is a Right To Work state. In general, like abused children, the faculty here nod eagerly to everything they get told to do.)

    So here's what happens with assessments: every time we comply, and I mean EVERY TIME, administration just decides that's not enough, not a "true" assessment, not "sufficient" assessment, and adds some other assessment on. Now we have peer reviews every year (these are lengthy assessments, encompassing teams of three or four that have to observe one another's classes, meet several times, review one another's syllabi, tests, handouts, etc, and "give feedback," and then prepare reports on our peers to submit to the dean); we have a session each summer very like what Bardiac is reporting, on our Freshman writing class; we have a similar session on our senior English classes (well, you can't assess your first-year courses unless you assess your senior level courses, can you? How do you know if they have learned anything?), we have a spring of the year assessment of our "academic plans," wtf that means, I still don't know, and neither does admin, either, they keep changing the rules for how we "assess" that one.

    Here's my question. Isn't our regional accreditation -- isn't *that* an assessment of whether we are getting it right? And why isn't that enough?

  6. That's a sadly typical model of assessment as put forward by well-meaning people who want to maximize the reliability of the exercise without recognizing that they're getting little uptick in return for all that additional work.

    Gah! And why do I expect that they'd pay you in food, instead of cash, anyway. "We're catering a lunch for your assessment activity! Just one day, though, because you can work at home on the others!"

  7. i'm in a different line of work, but i have a strong conviction that "management consultants" are of the devil. they LOVE agendas and assessments and make-work, stuff that makes the brass look engaged, and have not a clue about [a] how much make-work that is for the ones in the trenches, on top of their real work, or [b] how little that helps advance the actual work of the organization.

  8. i don't mean to suggest nobody should pay attention to how teachers/workers are going about their stuff. but a top-down management model is not nearly as useful as committed, thoughtful people in the same boat talking about how to do better.

  9. Well, our assessment stuff is clearly driven by accreditation. (As in, we're not yet. We must be. If they say jump, we say, how high?)

    Anyway, I was going to suggest something like what Dr. Crazy already does. You agree that in class X, everyone does Y kind of assignment. A sample size is chosen (usually 10-20%), pulled from each section. Each paper is read by 2 people, not the one who taught the section. So everyone would read 4-6 additional papers.

    Collating the responses would be a bear, but it is not necessarily a faculty job.

    I think this *could* be useful, in the sense of making more explicit where gaps are that need to be addressed. But it is so bureaucratic.