faculty

Why assessment of teaching is vital (opinion)

Assessing Assessment

“Negative piece on assessment in today’s Inside Higher Ed,” the text from my wife read. I sighed and clicked the link. The piece was all too familiar as it rehashed many of the same talking points and straw men that had been articulated in prior opinion pieces.

Afterward, I dutifully checked the responses to the piece on an assessment Listserv and was surprised the tenor was so different from the reaction to previous opinion pieces. Instead of frustration and resilience, the reaction was closer to reconciliation and exhaustion. One of the posts struggled with not having the time or inclination to respond to every negative opinion about assessment. I didn’t disagree.

But then I thought back on my teaching career. I spent 10 years teaching political science before transitioning into assessment, and during that time, I prided myself on challenging students who made definitive statements without consideration for whether those statements were generalizable or case specific. And so I diligently started the process of trying to answer a few of the various questions that the author of the recent opinion piece had posed.

Before that, I will offer one brief disclaimer: I can only speak of my own experiences in assessment across three different institutions. I will do my best not to paint all faculty members or administrators with a broad brush, which is something that seems to be lacking in a great number of opinion pieces these days.

Do I care about the “action verbs” you used in the assessment report you wrote at 2 a.m.? Sometimes. More often than not, I’m concerned about the substance that follows those Bloom’s taxonomy verbs. When I initially meet with a department about assessment, I ask two basic questions: What do you want your students to learn and how do you know they are learning it?

From there, we engage in wide-ranging conversation about the balance faculty members try to strike between emphasizing disciplinary-specific knowledge and enhancing translatable skills like critical thinking and effective written communication. Interestingly, department faculty can often disagree over the proper balance. The result of that dialogue is a list of learning outcomes that provides the department direction about what they seek to impart to students by the time they graduate. Yes, the development of those outcomes is appealing to me, but it is also appealing to prospective students and parents who want to know what they will receive for their increasingly expensive higher education.

Am I truly interested in assessing students’ learning of your subject? Yes. I love facilitating student learning. That love is what ultimately drove me to assessment. As a faculty member, I could impact the learning taking place in my classroom; however, as I started working in assessment, I realized that I could provide faculty members from across the institution with the support and resources needed to improve learning in their classrooms, as well. It’s rewarding to read departmental reports that talk about continuous improvement strategies that truly have improved student learning, retention and graduation.

Can you implement new teaching innovations you learned at a workshop or from a colleague without going through rounds of approvals? Of course. Part of being a good faculty member is actively seeking out ways to improve your craft and adapting effective teaching strategies from each other. Sometimes those improvements take place at the spur of the moment, and other times, they are planned several semesters in advance. In either case, assessment should not be the enemy of innovation. The focus of assessment is documenting those innovations and determining their relative effectiveness. Hopefully, after documentation and analysis, the department can present its findings to Professor Droning On to demonstrate how much better their innovation is in comparison to lecturing for three hours per week and giving multiple-choice tests.

Do I want you to bury evidence of deficiencies in learning among graduating seniors? No, in fact, I would like for you to do the exact opposite. I want those reports to be highlighted, so that as a department and institution, we can work toward improving the mastery of learning outcomes by graduating seniors.

Should students fail the course and be deprived graduation based upon that knowledge? I can’t say. That depends entirely on how your outcomes are structured within your course grading scheme. I have had students who struggled to write effectively but excelled in other areas of the course, such as classroom discussion or group projects, that allowed them to earn a passing grade. I would never deprive a student the ability to matriculate through their education as long as they met the standards put forth in my syllabus. But that does not mean we should idly sit by and not try to improve the situation.

Do we assess assessment? Constantly. It is an ever-present topic of conversation at every assessment conference, and it is frequently written about in assessment journals and reviewed in-house at every institution where I have worked. We question ourselves on a daily basis. Is the assessment process faculty friendly? How can we make the reports more meaningful? Can we get feedback to faculty members more quickly? Has student learning been positively impacted by the continuous improvement strategies implemented the previous year?

In closing, “assessment” has become a dirty word in higher education. That’s understandable. Faculty members have little formal training relating to assessment. We are subject-matter experts who, in many cases, had our minds filled with knowledge in graduate school and then were pushed in front of a classroom and told to teach. Along the way, we picked up pedagogical strategies, but I admit to being perplexed the first time someone came to me with an assessment plan.

However, rather than lamenting my 6-6 teaching load, I took the opportunity to learn and found that assessment was a way I could improve as an educator. At its core, assessment is about determining what your students are learning and figuring out how to take a more active role in facilitating that learning. Assessment is so much more than rubrics, forms and statistics. It is a way of knowing, which is why it belongs in higher education.

Matthew DeSantis is assistant director for institutional assessment at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Tex.

Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 
Istockphoto.com/erhui1979
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Third Dartmouth Professor Resigns Following Investigation

The last of three professors of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College on leave over harassment allegations has resigned, effective immediately, President Philip J. Hanlon announced Tuesday. William M. Kelley’s resignation “concludes a months-long investigative and disciplinary process concerning allegations of sexual misconduct” involving the three department faculty members, Hanlon said. “All three are no longer associated with Dartmouth. Their departures follow recommendations made in accordance with college policy by the dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, Elizabeth F. Smith, to revoke their tenured appointments and terminate their employment based on the findings of separate investigations by an experienced external investigator.” All three recommendations were endorsed by a faculty-elected review committee.

As with the other two professors -- Paul J. Whalen, who resigned last month, and Todd Heatherton, who retired earlier in June -- Dartmouth did not enter into separation or nondisclosure agreements with Kelley and has made no severance payments to him. All three former faculty members will continue to be prohibited from entering campus property or attending any Dartmouth-sponsored events, on campus or off, Hanlon said. Dartmouth’s Presidential Steering Committee on Sexual Misconduct, which was charged in January with reviewing sexual misconduct policies, has submitted its report to the college and Dartmouth will seek community feedback on next steps, he said. Kelley could not immediately be reached for comment. Heatherton previously apologized for acting "unprofessionally in public at conferences while intoxicated."

Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Advice for dealing with criticism as a person of privilege in academe (opinion)

We must learn how to respond constructively when less privileged and powerful people on the campus say we've hurt them, writes Pamela Oliver.

Job Tags: 
Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Show on Jobs site: 
Image Source: 
Istockphoto.com/Erhui1979
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 

Philosophers object to Claremont Graduate decision to close its philosophy department and terminate two tenured professors

Philosophers object to Claremont Graduate's decision to close its department and terminate tenured professors. Some see loss of an essential program.

The data already tell us how effective co-requisite education is (opinion)

In co-requisite remediation, students who have been assessed as not yet ready for college work receive extra help while they take a college-level course instead of receiving a traditional, prerequisite remedial (developmental) course in mathematics, reading or writing. Evidence of the greater effectiveness of co-requisite remediation, as compared to traditional remediation, has been steadily accumulating.

Yet some people say that evidence does not exist. Here I give some of the statements that I have heard about the inadequacy of evidence supporting co-requisite remediation, describe some of the extensive evidence that we do have and provide some of the reasons that the evidence isn’t better known.

First, some background on co-requisite and traditional remediation. The theory behind traditional remediation is that some students do not have college-level skills, and that taking and passing a remedial course will put such students on an equal footing with other students when they all take college-level courses together. But traditional remediation usually does not have positive results.

Currently, around 68 percent of new college freshmen in public community colleges and 40 percent in public four-year colleges take at least one remedial course in reading, writing or mathematics (somewhat more often in math), but most students assigned to remediation either never take a course or don’t complete it. In fact, traditional mathematics remediation has been called the largest single academic block to college student success. And if students cannot pass remedial courses, people have asked, how could they pass college-level courses, even with extra help? In other words, how could they pass co-requisite remedial courses?

Study after study, however, has shown higher course pass rates in co-requisite remedial courses than in traditional remedial courses, including with college-level courses in chemistry, multiple examples of mathematics, reading, sociology, and also writing.

But, people have said, those results don’t prove that co-requisite remediation is better. They were not controlled experiments. The students in the co-requisite courses and/or the faculty teaching them may not have been the same as in the traditional remedial courses. Students who are somehow better might have been selected, or might have selected themselves, into the co-requisite courses, and better faculty members might have taught the co-requisite courses.

What Our Research Found

So we conducted a randomized controlled trial of co-requisite math remediation. We randomly assigned 907 community college students at the City University of New York, all of whom had been assessed as needing remedial elementary algebra and who did not need college algebra for their intended majors, to one of three course types: traditional remedial elementary algebra; the same course plus a weekly workshop; or introductory college-level statistics with a weekly workshop (co-requisite remediation). The workshops, two hours per week and taught by advanced undergraduates, covered topics that the students found difficult in the college-level course, including, for the statistics students, any algebra that the students needed in order to understand the statistics. Each instructor taught one section of each course type, so that any course pass-rate differences could not be due to differences in the faculty members teaching the different course types.

Let’s focus on comparing the first (traditional remediation) and third (co-requisite remediation) course types. Of students who actually took the courses to which they were assigned, 39 percent passed traditional remediation, a typical result, but 56 percent passed statistics with co-requisite remediation, less than the typical pass rate for statistics but significantly more than the pass rate for traditional remediation. Further, students with relatively low as well as relatively high placement test scores got about the same bump up in probability of passing from being assigned to co-requisite statistics rather than traditional remediation. There was also evidence that the statistics students were motivated to work harder than the other students. For example, the statistics students were more likely to report forming their own study groups.

But, people said, the statistics students only passed at a higher rate than the elementary algebra students because, although the same faculty members taught both course types, they graded the statistics students more easily. Given that, and given the statistics students never had all of the elementary algebra that they were supposed to have, the statistics students won’t be able to pass other courses.

As described in the published paper about this research, much evidence indicates that the faculty members graded those statistics students the same way that they always graded statistics students. Further, in the year following the end of the experiment, not including statistics courses, the elementary algebra students accumulated, on average, 16 credits, but the statistics students accumulated 19.

In addition to presenting this research at numerous academic conferences, we first published it online in a refereed journal (Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis) in July 2016. And in March 2018, it met the rigorous standards necessary to be accepted into the federal What Works Clearinghouse “with no reservations.”

Nevertheless, people said the students who were randomly assigned to statistics with co-requisite support would not continue to do well because they didn’t have the elementary algebra knowledge that is needed to succeed in their natural and social science general education courses.

So, as Daniel Douglas, Mari Watanabe-Rose and I presented at the 2018 CADE conference, we followed the academic progress of all of the students in the experiment for three years after the experiment. During that time, the co-requisite statistics students passed at least as many of their general education courses as did the traditional remediation students. For example, 35 percent of the traditional remediation students satisfied CUNY’s Life and Physical Science general education category, compared to 41 percent of the statistics students. In addition, on average, it took the traditional remediation students a total of 5.2 remedial and college-level quantitative course enrollments to pass their general education Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning requirement, but it took the statistics students only 2.6 -- a large educational cost savings.

People said, however, that the students who were randomly assigned to statistics would not take and pass the traditional calculus-track math courses that need elementary algebra and college algebra as prerequisites. By assigning students to statistics, they said, we were forever preventing them from deciding to take the algebra-calculus route to STEM and other math-intensive majors. Not so with the traditional remediation students.

But 14 students passed their assigned statistics course during the experiment and later passed college algebra without ever having taken elementary algebra. In addition, an examination of all the math courses taken by all the students during the three years since the experiment revealed that the statistics students had taken and passed a greater number of advanced math courses than had the traditional remediation students: 39 total such courses for the statistics group, and 27 total such courses for the traditional remediation group. Finally, the same small number of students (two) from each group took the course to which they were assigned for the experiment and graduated within three years with a math-intensive major.

Nevertheless, people said, changing one course requirement won’t increase graduation rates. Many interventions can increase student success, but the positive effects dissipate over time.

However, in the three years since the experiment, while 17 percent of the traditional remediation students received an associate’s degree from CUNY or another college, 25 percent of the statistics students did so. That is, during the three-year period, close to 50 percent more statistics students graduated in comparison to the traditional remediation students. Even when we compared just statistics students who received a D to traditional remediation students who received any passing grade, the graduation rate for the former was 41 percent compared to 28 percent for the latter.

We also showed that the course success and graduation rate results do not differ according to students’ race/ethnicity. Given that students from underrepresented groups are more likely to be assigned to remediation, our results mean that our co-requisite model can help close gaps in graduation rates between underrepresented and other students, thus addressing the characterization of traditional remediation as a civil rights issue.

But, as one math department chair said to me, how do the statistics students do after they graduate? Not having taken and passed elementary algebra must be harmful to their successful postgraduation employment.

I confess that we do not yet have postgraduation employment data for the students who were in our experiment. Recent research indicates, however, that algebra is not needed for the great majority of jobs. In contrast, taking statistics in college helps increase women’s salaries.

In sum, a great deal of evidence now shows the advantages of college students taking statistics, rather than remedial algebra, and greater student success with co-requisite, as opposed to traditional, remediation. As a result, many states -- for example the California community college and state university systems -- have been mandating the implementation of co-requisite remediation.

Faculty Resistance

As with many new initiatives, we’ve seen faculty resistance to co-requisite remediation, and at least some of that resistance has been based on faculty claiming that little or no evidence supports co-requisite remediation. How can that be?

First, math and English faculty members are unlikely to read education research journals or look at the federal What Works Clearinghouse. In addition, other sorts of publications, including some that math and English faculty members would read, have not always been clear that evidence supporting remediation does, in fact, exist. Let us consider just three publications that all appeared in February of this year -- all published by reputable nonprofit research organizations or in reputable higher education media, including two publications by organizations that have their own randomized controlled trials of co-requisite remediation in process.

The first of the three stated, “Rigorous research evidence on the effectiveness of co-requisites is limited to the studies of the [co-requisite freshman writing course] model … [research has] focused on the impact of co-requisites for students who were close to being college-ready, yet states and institutions have rolled out policies that target co-requisites to students with lower levels of incoming college-readiness. It is unclear whether these new groups of students will benefit … there is little information on other student characteristics associated with success in co-requisites.”

The second publication, writing about the first, said, “Policy makers should not push colleges to put thousands of struggling students through a new ill-defined co-requisite model before we know if it works and, if it does, for which students.”

And the third said, “The field would benefit from more rigorous evidence about the effectiveness of alternative instructional strategies.” Someone could read this ambiguous sentence as stating that no truly rigorous evidence yet supports co-requisite remediation. Rather than speculate about the possible reasons that these particular statements were written, of which there are many, the important point is that faculty members, as well as administrators and policy makers, do see such publications and are influenced by them.

The evidence clearly converges on co-requisite remediation being more effective than traditional remediation. There are many possible explanations for this, including the incorrect assignment of some students to remediation, the demotivating effect of being assigned to traditional remediation, the extra time and cost to students if they must take traditional remedial courses, the greater number of potential exit points from traditional remediation course sequences, and so on. We can certainly use more information about what specific aspects of co-requisite remediation make it most effective, and for which students. But that is a reason for more research -- not cause to favor something worse instead.

The higher education community has a responsibility to spread this message far and wide: co-requisite remediation increases student success.

Alexandra W. Logue is a research professor at the Center for Advanced Study in Education at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Editorial Tags: 
Image Source: 
Istockphoto.com/Fat Camera
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Turtle Research Group Takes Back Award After Complaints Against Researcher

The Herpetologists’ League rescinded its Distinguished Herpetologist award to Dick Vogt, a professor at the Brazilian Institute for Amazon Research, last week after he showed photos that some attendees at the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Rochester, N.Y., found offensive. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that Vogt showed photos of "scantily clad female students" doing field research during his award acceptance talk on turtles. The women in the photos were wearing bathing suits, but conference organizers were concerned enough to add blue boxes to cover parts of the women's bodies. A day after his talk, on Friday, the league rescinded Vogt’s award and apologized for the "offensive content" in his slides.

Emily Taylor, a herpetologist from California Polytechnic State University, said she and 14 of her students were at Vogt's lecture. Showing inappropriate slides "is something he's been doing for 20 years … There's a big difference between what he does and just (pictures of) students in normal field garb," Taylor told The Democrat and Chronicle.

Henry Mushinsky, conference committee chairman, reportedly said that "some of the photos people thought were a little too revealing, so we decided to sort of block them out a bit. The whole idea was to try to minimize anyone feeling uncomfortable." Wearing bathing suits is common for scientists working in water, he said, but the photos Vogt showed were not typical documentary images. "In my humble opinion it’s unfortunate he got selected to give this plenary," he said, noting that his organization and others involved in the conference are currently writing codes of conduct for participants.

Vogt reportedly declined comment but gave another public address at the conference, on the vocalizations of sea turtles. Some on Twitter complained that Vogt made sexual references to animal reproduction during the talk, which had little to do with the topic. Others alleged past inappropriate behavior on his part, such as talking about sex to a female scientist and auctioning off a thong swimsuit.

Ad keywords: 
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

How to be both tough and supportive in the classroom (opinion)

Teaching Today

Strong professors believe it is worth holding their students to high standards, argues Deborah J. Cohan, and that they can, in fact, be tough as well as supportive in the classroom.

Job Tags: 
Editorial Tags: 
Show on Jobs site: 
Image Source: 
Istockphoto.com/Drazen_
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 

How to determine how long to continue a faculty job search (opinion)

Category: 

How long should you spend on the faculty job market? Derek Attig offers some concrete advice.

Job Tags: 
Ad keywords: 
Editorial Tags: 
Show on Jobs site: 
Image Source: 
iStock
Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Newsletter Order: 
3
Advice Newsletter publication date: 
Thursday, August 2, 2018
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Email Teaser: 
Building an Endpoint to Your Faculty Job Search

Talk show host says Sacha Baron Cohen posed as Reed professor for new show on American politics

Conservative talk show host says Sacha Baron Cohen posed as Reed professor for comedy show on politics. Reed says ploy demonstrates a misunderstanding of what it's about, but that it's honored -- sort of. Maybe.

Johns Hopkins Professor Attacked in Germany

German police allegedly beat an Israeli-born professor of philosophy at Johns Hopkins University last week after he was attacked by another man for wearing a yarmulke in the city of Bonn. The Jerusalem Post reported that the professor, Yitzhak Melamed, was assaulted by a German-Palestinian man who knocked the yarmulke from his head and yelled insults at him, including, “No Jew in Germany!” In the midst of the fight, German police reportedly confused Melamed with the attacker and punched him multiple times in the face.

Ursula Brohl-Sowa, the head of the Bonn police, reportedly called it “a horrible and regrettable misunderstanding.” Melamed posted an account on the incident on Facebook, saying that he was in Germany on Wednesday to give a lecture at Bonn University. He was touring the city with a colleague when a man approached him and asked him if he was Jewish. “I started saying that I have sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and deeply regret the current depressing state of Islamic-Jewish relations,” when the man starting cursing and following him, Melamed wrote.

The man allegedly grabbed Melamed’s yarmulke and tried to throw it away it away as the professor repeatedly put it back on his head. The man lunged at Melamed again and again, he said, until the police arrived some 20 minutes after his colleague called them. The attacker allegedly ran away as the police approached, so Melamed followed him. But the police ignored the attacker and ran toward Melamed instead, he said.

“I didn’t have much time to wonder, as almost immediately four or five policemen with heavy guard jumped over me (two from the front, and two or three from the back),” he wrote. “They pushed my head into the ground, and then while I was totally incapacitated and barely able to breathe (not to mention move a finger), they started punching my face. After a few dozen punches, I started shouting in English that I was the wrong person. They put handcuffs on my hands, behind my back, and after a few dozen additional punches to my face while I am shouting that I’m the wrong person, they finally moved from my back. I was now able to breathe."

Melamed said the police eventually caught the other man, but that he was warned by the first responders, “Don’t get in trouble with the German police!” Melamed said he told the officers, “I am no longer afraid of the German police. The German police murdered my grandfather. They murdered my grandmother. They murdered my uncle, and they murdered my aunt. All in one day in September 1942.” Melamed was asked to give testimony at the police station, where he eventually received an apology and filed a complaint, he said. One of the police officers allegedly tried arguing that Melamed had "touched his hand" during the altercation, forcing him to respond, but the professor called that a “flat lie.”

Is this diversity newsletter?: 
Disable left side advertisement?: 
Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - faculty
Back to Top