Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bragging on my students is a full-time job

Before I scooted off to the 2010 Carolinas Writing Program Administrators conference (also known as "the best damned conference on the planet") at Wildacres the past few days I entrusted my Linear students with a task to perform in my absence on Monday, and all signs show that they pulled it off wonderfully.

Their job was to meet as a class, brainstorm topics from linear algebra which would be placed under broader "general headings" (also brainstormed), and assign themselves, in whatever way they felt effective and appropriate, to teams each of which would be tasked with writing a "section" of a review manual on one of the general headings decided upon earlier.

Apparently Ino, never one to let chaos cramp her style, enlisted Iris's help in leading the class through the brainstorming exercise, and they had it all done in short order. She later e-mailed me the list of headings, each with three or four students assigned to it.

I'm delighted that I was able to trust my students to meet without me and get the job done, and I'd like to think that the effort they showed in finishing this job was payback to me for showing them that trust in the first place. I think there's something to be said for the benefits that mutual trust can bestow both on teacher and on students. I trust this particular batch of students fully. They're great.

As I hinted above, I got back in town early this morning (in plenty of time for my 8:00 a.m. Calc I class) from CWPA. As ever, it was a fantastically productive experience. This year's get-together wisely eschewed rigid structure, offering instead ample opportunities for participants to meet in whatever groups and subgroups they felt they needed to.

I spent Tuesday morning talking assessment with folks from Elon, Mars Hill, and Charleston Southern. Our conversation helped me to tease out the issue at the root of what was puzzling me most about our current writing-intensive assessment plan. Namely, what do we do with the assessment data once we've got them? There must be more in store for them than a place in a forgotten file cabinet or a SACS reviewer's dossier. Yet for assessment data to mean much more, they must be highly esteemed by the faculty to whom they're given.

I realized about halfway through the day that faculty need to be helped to see the intrinsic value of both the assessment data and the assessment process itself. If faculty can learn to see assessment as a formative, reflective, and dialogic process involving many inter-interested parties, rather than as a summative, unidirectional, and punitive process instituted from above, they may come to understand its usefulness. As I said to a few of my colleagues at CWPA, it would be great if we could get them to the point where they'd say, "hot damn, data!"

I can dream, can't I?

Although I'd like to think that faculty development workshops can solve all problems, it would be great to come up with a more exciting means of changing faculty perceptions regarding assessment...any thoughts?

Speaking of workshops, I've got a great idea for what I think could be a fun faculty writing workshop, but I'll save that for another post. Now, it's bedtime: tomorrow's another long one.

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