Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lisa Rosenthal reflects on Faculty Responses to Assessment

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.

---Lisa Rosenthal

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