It’s the beginning of a new semester. Across the country, untold tens of thousands of faculty members are drafting lectures, polishing syllabi, thinking of new ways to convey ideas and to keep their students engaged.
And after all that labor and all that passion, here’s the thanks they get: They can listen to a couple of reporters jabbering about widespread complaints that college instructors don’t take student learning seriously enough.
In this week’s Chronicle, Robin Wilson looks broadly at the structural incentives that sometimes lead faculty members to neglect teaching in favor of research. She also sketches various efforts to push faculty members and their departments to assess learning in more sophisticated ways.
This week in this space, we’ll explore the arguments of some of the most serious proponents of ambitious new student-learning assessments. But today let’s pay our debts to the case against such assessments.
We’ve all heard grim tales of faculty members’ being forced to use jargon-ridden “student-learning outcome” instruments that have little to do with what they actually want to accomplish in their classrooms.
And many instructors feel, reasonably enough, that their courses are already entirely devoted to improving their students’ learning. Why do they need some new bureaucratic assessment apparatus to be laid on top of their traditional work? As a pseudonymous plant scientist put it in an eloquent post two years ago:
What does Andrea [Loughry, an administrator at the University of Tennessee] mean when she says there are so few measures of student learning? What does this lady think I do with my time? What does she think I’m doing in my classes when I make students do all that work, read all those assigned materials, write all those papers, engage in all those diverse laboratory activities and discussions, research the many assignments, and take all the exams? Students don’t think the learning measures are few. And does Andrea think students who can do all these things successfully have still not demonstrated any learning? Or is it that I have failed to demonstrate to my trustees that they have learned anything? Do they want to see all the papers, assignments, exams, essays, and notebooks? I can have them boxed up and delivered. If such activities are not measuring and assessing student learning, then why the heck am I bothering?
What’s the worst assessment project you’ve encountered, and what are your fears for the future of assessment?