Friday, December 05, 2014

Damned if You Do...

The Underwater Basketweaving Department was having such a lively discussion of assessment today that I could hear it from my 9th story office.

All the UB majors choose a submajor, so what may have at one time been considered just "Underwater Basketweaving major" is now the "Comprehensive Underwater Basketweaving" major.  And there's also "Creative Underwater Basketweaving," "Technical Studies in Underwater Basketweaving," and so forth.  About half the courses that all the majors take are basically comprehensive courses.

The "comprehensive" faculty tends to teach pretty much all the students, while only a small subset takes "technical studies" courses, since the technical studies submajor has maybe 15 majors at any given time, and comprehensive has 150.   So, pretty much everyone takes one or another senior course in "Understanding Contexts of Underwater Basketweaving" in whatever context area the faculty member does.  So, when a deepwater UB historian is teaching it, then deepwater is the context.  And so on.

The argument seems to have been about this:  the comprehensive folks have to assess how the comprehensive submajor program is doing, and the logical place to do this is in the senior context courses, since all their submajors take these.  But lots of other submajors take them, too. 

Thus, if the course is assessing outcome X, where X is supposed to be learned in a bunch of comprehensive courses, and there are 15 comprehensive submajors and 5 other submajors, the assessment is going to be potentially problematic, no?  What if in the assessment, the 15 comprensive submajors all do "good job" on outcome X, but the other 5 do "not a good job"? 

Either they just run the data as is, and find out that they're only doing 75%, and that's not good enough, right?  Damned.

Or they tease out the data, but then they're told that since the other course is supposed to teach students outcome X (something like, say, piano playing, that's likely to be much better if you've practiced again and again as opposed to having a lesson and thinking you're ready for Carnegie Hall), then they're damned because they aren't teaching the other submajors well enough.  Damned.

Or they tease out the data and find out that the other submajors do just as well as the comprehensive submajors.  Then obviously, those other comprehensive courses aren't necessary at all, and they can just cut those out of the curriculum, and students will "achieve the outcome" with the one course no matter their submajor.  Damned.

In times of budget cuts, which are plentiful around here, the comprehensive folks are going to be damned either way.  And, of course, they're doubly damned because since they're the only courses where all the submajors take courses too, they're also responsible for the whole program assessment. 

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