If Assessment Goals Were In Any Way Honest...

So I was just writing an e-mail talking about a class and an assignment I'd given off the cuff, and why that course is a challenge for me. And on the side of the path of that particular conversation, it occurred to me that the assessment goals I've been forced to develop and refer to aren't really honest.

The course is an intro class. I'm loving teaching it, honestly, though it has all the major drawbacks that go with teaching an intro class (only skimming the surface, students who aren't interested in the topic, etc). But the course isn't entirely mine. It's got all sorts of mandates on it from the department and the University at large. And it has high-fallutin' assessment goals with phrases like:
  • "demonstrate key distinctions in the historical emergence..."
  • "enable students to become critical consumers..."
And these are lovely, even if I have been forced to use the word "consumers" as part of my vision for students.

But they're big, fat, honking lies.

The course is my department's intro course, but it is also meets a general education sort of requirement. And while, in theory, those sorts of things are the goals for this bunch of freshmen, if I was allowed to say what the goals my department really has for me teaching this course they would look like this:
  • to provide a dog and pony show of the discipline
  • to entertain so that prospective students will join the major
  • to (while doing an entertaining dog and pony show) establish the department's minimum standards
  • and, oh yeah, if there's time, to help you learn to think critically and such


7 Responses to “If Assessment Goals Were In Any Way Honest...”
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ash said...

BINGO! when i was teaching the intro course(s), i was deemed "successful" by the administration because there was an increase in undecideds who converted to majors. was the course good? did they learn anything? who cares? the dog and pony show "worked" (according to their very narrow definition of success) and that's all that matters.

November 2, 2007 at 1:55 PM
Chaser said...

Perfectly put. I teach our departmental introduction course and it's all dogs, ponies, and sugar water in pretty bottles.

I feel like a prostitute, most days.

This is, naturally, the course that none of the Abe Simpsons in the deparment will teach...can't tear themselves away from Lawrence Welk.

November 2, 2007 at 11:40 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

What frustrates me isn't so much the dog and pony show of it, though that's frustrating. The real problem is the pretense that all the guidelines and such that have been forced into my syllabus and onto me are justified as being for the students.

As for the course, I've set modest goals for it - the students will have some sense of how to cite is really the big one.

November 2, 2007 at 11:51 PM
Chaser said...

Good luck, my comrade. For some reason, students act like citing is some sort of arcane, elusive knowledge they themselves could never employ. When you think about it, though, citing properly is actually a combination of attention to detail, reading comprehension, and making choices in their writing. All that said, citation should be easy for an undergrad, and every time I decide I am going to teach citation, I wind up tearing at my hair in abject frustration.

November 4, 2007 at 10:26 AM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

They seem to be doing okay with it thus far, though for me the question will be what happens when course X is over. Will the knowledge move on with them?

Realistically, it'll probably only stick with a scant few, but right now, I'll take that slim difference.

November 5, 2007 at 11:30 AM
Belle said...

Well, those are my goals when I do the hated survey. But then, I have a colleague who thinks he's succeeded if the students know the concept of challenge and response, the phrase 'the gunpowder revolution' and the name of Gen Soandso's horse.

Personally, I'm all about dogs and ponies. But the show I put on is more... dancing damsels and dudes.

November 5, 2007 at 8:49 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

That sounds like an interesting class, Belle. All my dancing girl jokes seem to be happening in another thread though, so I'll just say thanks for the reassurance.

November 5, 2007 at 9:06 PM