Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bad Evals = No Job?

The New York Times education section had a long article about teaching evaluations last Sunday.  It starts with the story of an adjunct who did not have her contract renewed because she did not have over 85% good or exellent marked on her student evaluations.

It uses this to launch into an extended discussion about the worthiness of student evaluations.  

The article dwells on the vast differences between student perceptions, especially in classes that challenge students assumptions about their world.  It also includes an upper-class white male student bashing segment, accusing them as a group of ruining a professor's class on "whiteness."

In the end, there are no definitive studies that show that they tell us much of anything.   We have had our own debates over evaluations over the years here, so this made for an interesting read. 

I have never been much of a fan of  student evaluations, because they don't really seem to tell us much.  I occassionally look through the written comments, as those are the only things that hold potential interest for me.  Student evaluations have something to tell us about the shape of a class, but perhaps more about the students than the professors.    

Friday, September 19, 2008

Do Professors Need Technology?

The Advance-Titan ran this mocking editorial today about a professor that could not get youtube working in his classroom.  For Dan Shafer, the fact that there was some sort of technological glitch demonstrates that Professors need to be more tech-savvy in order to properly teach students.

Interestingly enough, the chronicle had an article on a similar topic this week.  In it, Mark Bauerlein argues that internet reading is shallow and less than reading on paper.  Studies suggest that reading on the computer involves much skimming and skipping.   He argues that we need to get technology out of the classroom and insist on the more careful reading that can be done with paper.

Is it obvious that I am sympathetic to the second view?  Technology is something that can help, but in measured doses.  It doesn't improve learning automatically and can very easily hamper what we are trying to do.   Youtube may provide a nice demonstration of something, but hardly seems essential to the educational mission of our university.  

The contemplative nature of learning and education is too often lost in the instant gratification of a google search.  How can we truly reflect on what is important and come to our own understandings if we don't take time to think and understand for our selves?

If anything, a liberal education is about instilling that need for critical thinking and contemplation in our students.  Technology can be a tool, but that is all it is.  It is not the utopian solution to all the problems we face.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Right Wing Internet Site attacks LERT Learning Outcomes

I was googling around this evening and came across this site, called The Torch.  They have an article criticizing the new learning outcomes because it has sustainability listed there.

Apparently, sustainability is part of a secret attempt to repress freedom of speech at UWO.  Who would have thunk it??  Those environmental studies types are taking over and we never even noticed.  Wait until the Torch get wind of the fact the we are now a fair trade university. . . 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Standardized Testing is Here!

Get ready, campus community, because soon we will be teaching to the test--one more cog in the giant testing industry.

Chancellor Wells announced today that we are beginning to "pilot" the CLA exams for graduating students.  As many feared from the beginning, the VSA looks more and more like a backdoor entrance to standardized exit exams for UWO students.  

I think it is almost a foregone conclusion that within 5 years, we will be hearing incessent reminders from the administration that we need to change our classes to improve the schools CLA scores.   

For information, you can look at the CLA propaganda here.  It seems that the CLA was developed by the RAND institute and will be computer graded.  Lucky us!

Here is a critic of the whole VSA and CLA approach. 

Finally, here is the Memo:

From: Chancellor Wells and Provost Hartman  
To: Faculty and Instructional Academic Staff
As you may recall, UW Oshkosh joined the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) last fall, and we have since posted a link on our homepage to the College Portrait, which provides information on UW Oshkosh to prospective students and their families, public policy-makers, legislators, campus faculty and staff, and other key higher education stakeholders. Evidence of student learning outcomes, which is not scheduled to be posted on the VSA College Portrait for three years, is one of the data elements included in the College Portrait. The VSA has approved three instruments (CLA, MAPP and CAAP) to measure student gains in critical thinking, including analytic reasoning, and written communication.
Colleges and universities across the US are piloting various assessments in order to make a decision on which instrument best aligns with their learning outcomes. UW Oshkosh has already administered the MAPP and the CAAP assessments on a limited basis. We have been given an opportunity to join other UW system schools to pilot the CLA in 2008-09 to evaluate the test and to analyze any changes in the results. We will pilot the CLA by administering the test to one hundred freshmen students this fall and to one hundred senior students in the spring semester.  
An important criterion for the selection of an assessment instrument is the alignment of that instrument with learning outcomes. The current version of the CLA aligns with major components of the LERT outcomes. The administration of the CLA at this time will provide us with additional data regarding student learning at this university. These data can be used to inform the process used to determine performance indicators for our learning outcomes. Such a process promotes continuous improvement practices on our campus.
The selection of the CLA as a pilot also allows us to participate in a large scale research project sponsored by a FIPSIE grant. This research focuses on the development of an assessment of learning outcomes such as ours that is both valid and reliable.
E. Alan Hartman 
Interim Provost & Vice Chancellor
Richard H. Wells

Monday, September 08, 2008

Are students getting dumber?

Thomas Benton, a columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education, suggests they are.  I have students who exhibit all of these characteristics.  What does it mean and who is responsible?  He reviews a series of books that discuss this topic.  His emphasis is on the customer service mentality that seems to dominate universities these days.

If you watched the Republican National Convention, you could also see the anti-intellectualism run rampant there.

Here is his core list of troubling attributes he finds in his college students:

  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism.
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Opening Day Observations

Welcome back everyone! We are officially back in session, with classes beginning tomorrow.

I thought I would share a few of my observations of today's opening festivities. I was unfortunate enough to attend the 1 hour and 40 minute administrative song and dance show.

Some negative highlights:

I decided to count and noticed that out of the new hires this year, 69 were lecturers and only 22 were assistant professors. UWO seems to be continuing its slide toward over-reliance on non tenure-track teachers.

Art Rathjen, head of the foundation, decided to end his address by undermining all the talk of selling the liberal arts at UWO with an old joke about arts majors working in fast food restaurants.

Petra Roter went on forever, first with her joke shtick (Abba songs this year, rather than internet abreviations), followed by a laundry list of activities that didn't seem to have any connection to the rest of the reports.

Chancellor Wells introduced new and even more ridiculous terminology to the LERT initiative, by talking about our opportunity to review the draft "meta-rubriks" from some national organization before we develop our own rubriks for assessing learning outcomes through the VAPA program to be placed on the upcoming VSA.

Finally, and one that shocked the audience, Wells succeeded in offending everyone who thinks that we need to get beyond casual mysogyny. A group of 5 female staff members presented several gifts to him for his support of the classified staff. His first, off-the-cuff, response, "There must be men who are classified staff--they must be out doing real work. . . "

On the plus side:

The growth agenda is helping UWO replace faculty members and stabilize our finances.

The COLS meeting was efficient and got us out of there in a hurry while still allowing us to briefly meet new hires. (Though John never told us what the 3rd perfect number was)

The incoming class has higher grades, test scores, and is more diverse.