Tuesday, March 15, 2011
This is the last blog of Winter 2011, and I want to thank everyone who has participated either by posting a blog, posting a comment to a blog, or reading and thinking about the issues.
For this last blog, I want to direct your attention to the assessment program at Lane Community College. I heard through the grapevine (by which I mean I got this as unsubstantiated gossip) that Lane CC was the only Oregon community college not "dinged" for assessment by the accrediting agency, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, in this recent round of letters. While I am not sure if that is true, I do know that they have some wonderful resources posted for their faculty to use as they work on assessment projects. Since all institutions of higher education are feeling the pressure to move to a "culture of accountability," it makes sense to look over the work of some of our "sister" institutions to see what we like, what we want to emulate.... and what pitfalls we want to avoid!
I also want to thank the many faculty members, librarians, and counselors who have participated in our assessment class. We will be showcasing some of their discoveries and projects in the third Annual Spring Assessment Circus, coming in May. Look for news in later blogs. For now, I am wishing everyone happy grading and a joyful spring break!
Monday, March 7, 2011
Amy Clubb teaches CAS at Rock Creek, presented a break out session on "Myths of Assessment" at the Anderson Conference, and participated in the assessment class put on by the Learning Assessment Council Fall 2010.
I recently attended a presentation on the topic of motivation. I was reminded how everything we do in life is driven by some sort of motivation – whether we recognize what the motivation is or not. I took some time and looked at many activities in my life and wondered “What is my motivation for doing this?” I was surprised at many of my responses and how they were often centered on selfish desires or extrinsic (outward) rewards. But the practice of simply asking myself the question was good! It made me think about why I do what I do and reassess what’s important.
So, what does this have to do with assessment? Well, I could dive into a monologue on how motivation and assessment are closely tied (they are!) and how assessment, when used effectively, can be a method of motivating our students towards success and more engaged learning. But I’ll leave that topic for another day. Instead, I want to challenge my colleagues to engage in a similar, daily reflective practice. But since we’re talking about assessment, our daily question should be:
“What do I want my students to learn today, and how am I going to know that they learned it?”
As adult educators, we need to focus on our students and their learning. It’s easy to get into a routine of teaching, especially if we are teaching the same course from term to term. We approach each class session with the question, “What am I going to teach today?” This question focuses on us rather than the student. It focuses on our expertise and our knowledge in our field, instead of the learning experience of the student. If we are to effectively work towards a climate of student-focused learning, we must change the question and ask instead, “What do I want my students to learn today?” This should be our central focus. This should drive our class activities, assignments, demonstrations, and lectures. If you have a clear list of outcomes for your course, this should be a question that you can answer for every class session. Simply asking the question before every class can serve as a reminder that the learning should be focused on the learner – not the teacher!
This is a good start – we have shifted from focusing on ourselves as the teacher, to our students as learners. But it’s not enough! After asking, “What do I want my students to learn today?” we must follow it up with the question, “and how am I going to know that they learned it?” This is where effective, outcomes-based, formative assessment comes in. We can’t wait until the mid-term or the final to find out if our students are learning what we want them to learn. We must engage in some form of assessment activity in every class session. This is what formative assessment is all about. It’s the process of finding out if our students are learning what we want them to be learning – and then adjusting our future learning activities accordingly. The assessment activity doesn’t need to be hard or complex. Many of our classes already have assignments that can be used as formative assessment. It’s possible that this is already happening in our classrooms – we just haven’t taken the time to ask the question and put the focus back on the learner.
Effective, learner-focused assessment must begin with clear outcomes. Otherwise, what’s the point?
My challenge to you is to take a moment before each class that you teach this week and ask yourself, “What do I want my students to learn today, and how am I going to know that they learned it?”
And, if you are a self-reflective person like me, you might want to take a moment at the start of each day and ask yourself, “What are the motives that are driving my choice of activities throughout my day today?”
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
I just read Michele’s blog, and I so appreciate her comments. She seems to have a way of noticing things around her and being able to express what they are. Sometimes I see those same things, but I see and think of them as a forest; I have trouble picking out the trees.
Last week, I participated in two workshops on Learning Assessment for the LAC. I had created a resource page as a handout for attendees, so I was at the workshop at Cascade, where almost everyone was a part-timer, and all were interested in assessment. At Sylvania, we had more full-timers, and there was downright hostility in that room. Although the workshop was over at 5:30, I stayed until 7 to "debrief" with people. What was the source of the hostility? The resentment? The frustration? The fear? Again, because I am a generalist, I had a hard time putting my finger on what had happened during that second workshop. (Sometimes I have the same problem in the classroom....which student is causing the (fill in the blank) atmosphere in class?) Finally, I went home to regroup. I asked myself some questions, and they went something like this:
1. Is working on assessment making more work for me than I had before?
Answer: Maybe. But I would never do a new assignment with my students without thinking about the results. Every single term I adjust assignments and tests so that students will do better. This is time consuming, but I see it as part of the job. I've always done that, and I've been teaching a long time.
Another answer: If I could really implement "this assessment thing" the way I hope to someday, I may actually end up with less record keeping and therefore spend less time putting numbers into my Excel programs. i would do this by having more formative and fewer summative assessments. Formative assessments provide the practice my students need to truly learn the skills I am trying to teach. But I can't do this overnight. First, I have to seriously look at each assignment and quiz I give (and I give a lot) to see what that would really mean. More practice time means possibly sacrificing time I spend on something else. I have put a lot of thought, hard work, and time into each and every assignment. I'm not going to "throw away" anything without careful thought, and that will take time. My decisions are not made lightly.
2. What role does assessment play in what I am already doing, without thinking about extra work?
Answer: In my field, every assignment has an assessment to go with it. Usually that means some kind of point value. Sometimes points are given for having done the assignment; other times, a percentage is given on say, a vocabulary quiz. Writing assignments are done differently.
But assessment on the program level requires communicating with my colleagues, comparing notes, being in agreement on some things and being willing to disagree on others. Isn't that what collaboration is? And that is just the kind of thing that is not automatically built into our system. I go into my classroom and shut the door. I am isolated. My office mates don't share my hours, and they're in different disciplines. I don't get paid to spend time chatting with my colleagues. We're too busy trying to make a living. To fully implement program assessment, that talk time has to be supported, and it must be supported at every level. And even if it were, not everyone would want to be a part of the discussion.
So, back to my original train of thought. Why were the full-time people so resistant to a one hour workshop about the assessment "movement" as seen from our little neck of the woods? Assuming they weren't plants from a competing college, who views PCC as the enemy, I can only assume that they are so busy trying very hard to get their own little shoots to grow, in nice neat rows, not realizing that the shadows getting close are actually not from storm clouds, but a chaotic, English garden, complete with trees, vines, vegetables, and flowers encroaching on their space; an ecosystem that is forming around them.