Tuesday, November 1, 2011

God I hate the assessment people

One of my friends recently started dating somebody in assessment. My knee jerk reaction, changed from over a year ago, was a chortle and a "Well, that's like sleeping with the enemy." Personally, I can't imagine being able to do such a thing without skin crawly feelings. Yech.

And here's why: I've been being trained to teach online. I'm interested on a few levels--new online teaching techniques dovetail nicely with my research, and--oh yeah--it's extra money. Once I get all the extra money I need, though, I will never be doing this again.

My school's entire online system has been developed to be easy to assess. They swear up and down it's to improve student learning but I'm calling bullshit on that one.

You have to develop a ton of course objectives, and from each of these has to have a number of assignment objectives. You cannot assign ANYTHING that is not directly measurable. You are NOT allowed to use verbs in your objectives that don't come from a predetermined list. MOST of those words are completely unspecific to disciplines, and NONE of them are specific to mine.

You have to remind students at every step which objective they are meeting, which supposedly improves their learning. You also have to provide explicit directions EVERY time you use a feature of our CMS, and are NOT allowed to ask students to go back an assignment or three to look if they've forgotten in the week (accelerated pace) since you used it last.

You are NOT allowed to use the discussion board feature for anything I've ever used it before. I've been told the things I wanted to do are "too advanced" and "Cannot be done" even though I've done them. This frustrates me to no end.

If I include a video demonstrating something with captions, I still have to include a paper version for the hearing impaired. But... captions?

Lastly, several of the assignments that I do on ground EVERY TERM that I developed at a less advanced institution have been vetoed by the assessment and training folks. Why? Well, they are too advanced for the level of my course! I'm not supposed to use that TYPE of assignment till 400 level courses. They simply can't be done in the online class.

I'm... I.... ugh. I can't stop sputtering. Seriously. If these people come for my onground courses I'll be out the door and on the market before you can say "objective." The best part of all this is that the majority of the assessment of my online course takes place BEFORE the term. BEFORE any student has set foot in it. EVERYTHING has to be set up so that they can do that.

I was trained on old school, time consuming assessment. It was (and is) a giant pain in the ass but I believe in it fully. I believe in having the folks who are in the discipline do the dirty work of figuring out if students are meeting the goals we have in mind for them, and getting knee deep in divergent syllabi and instructor quirks to do so.

This crap makes my skin crawl. My online course is NOT equivalent to my on ground one. It could be, completely, but it is not. That makes my head and my heart ache. I just cannot understand, for the life of me, the reasoning behind this. "But we have to be able to assess it!" Well bite me. Assess THIS (imagine, for a moment, me pulling my ovaries from my pants and waving them around, got it? Good.)


  1. In a recent meeting, a coworker asked "So who put the ASS in assessment?"

    We feel your pain.

    Assessment, especially on-line, is a way to keep all those administrators with PhDs in Educational Leadership (and absolutely no valid teaching experience) employed. God help us all as they continue to "innovate."

  2. I get the idea behind listing goals and objectives--put us in the mindframe of actively thinking about what we're supposed to be teaching rather than going off on fun little tangents that don't actually help students learn the class material, yeah sure whatever--but MLP is absolutely right. Setting up goals and objectives and linking them to everything becomes an exercise in box-checking.

    MLP missed something else that the pointy-headed educrats require, though: the insistence that we use rubrics for grading absolutely everything.

    At my current institution, all online classes need to go before an assessment board, which requires that we use a list of "verifiable verbs" to list goals and objectives for every module; explicitly link those goals and objectives to lecture materials, exercises, and assignments; set up an individual rubric for every assignment; and have every. single. word. finished. before submitting the package.

    All these exercises in edu-babble wankery suck hamster nards, but I can deal with them...except the thing about rubrics. Goddamn, I hate the fucking things.

    I like using a general A-F rubric for the entire course that explains "A means you done good 'cuz you did general principles X, Y, and Z," "B means you done OK 'cuz you mostly did general principles X, Y, and Z," and so on, but I simply don't understand why I should develop a unique and special rubric for every exercise and assignment, and discussion board post. That's what detailed commentary is for, and I've been EXTENSIVELY trained in giving feedback about the quality of students' hamster fur products. "Your wall hanging has multiple strong points, but it also has some notable flaws. The nap of the transverse weave is particularly nice... Etc."

    Plus, using rubrics becomes an exercise in headbanging futility because I'm using a lot of discussion board posts in online classes, and Blackboard won't let me look at a student's discussion board post while filling out a rubric. How the living fuck am I supposed to grade a post if I can't see the damn rubric or post a grade to the rubric if I can't see the post it's about?

    But no. The grand poo-bahs want a specific rubric for every assignment, reality be damned.

    Oh yeah...and if I change more than 15% of the course, it needs to go back for a new round of approval.


  3. this is why I roll my eyes when I hear someone had a doctorate in education. (my apologies to any of the regulars here who fall into that category)

  4. Oh yes, I almost forgot... no learning for learning's sake allowed, and the word "knowledge" is forbidden. *sigh*

  5. Yep. At one school I teach for, they do a lot of this bullshit. It doesn't sound like it as quite as bad as you have it, but that is the trend. We're doing much of this now and will soon have the rest. It is demoralizing and counterproductive and my courses are the worse for it. Some of it has improved my teaching, but most of it has made things worse. It sucks, but it is all quantifiable so bean counters with the qualifications of a Wall Mart greeter can be paid $2.50/hour to check and see if I'm doing my job "right." I am pretty sure I know the list of verbs for assignment goals you are talking about.

    My graduate level courses now look like some high school handbook, "Here's how to understand medieval poetry, kids!".

    At the other school, someone from my field - a fellow content expert! - actually visits my classroom and sees what happens. That visitor then writes up a short evaluation based on what he or she observes. It makes ALL the difference in the world - to my real performance, to what gets done in class, and to morale.

    Fuck the assessment people and fuck the administration people who listen to them. You both are a big part of the problem in higher education. I hope some of you are reading this. We know you are faced with mighty pressures and constraints. There are harsh realities that are forcing some of what you do. But know that all of us with degrees in _content_ think you are fucktards unless and until we see you using the wiggle room you still have to do things right and not simply come up with more and better ways to feed the rapacious machine.

    Yes, I'm pissed. Part of it is how annoying it is in an of itself. But part of it is pure materialist competition. Part of the reason the universities can't make things better on the content end (the actual teachers) is because of so much money going into admin and assessment. So we're not much on the same team, are we? Unless we see you demonstrating otherwise, you appear to us to be the fucktards, diverting resources from the pursuit of knowledge and fanning the fires of commodification, vocationalism (which has a place, but is not the single universal goal of the university), the customer-service model, enrollment and retention fetishism and anti-intellectualism.

    That felt good.

  6. word. especially the part about "exercises in edu-babble wankery suck hamster nards".

  7. This is coming down the pipe for me here at Tuk U as well. I particularly hate the fact that I'm not allowed to teach them to even 'understand'. It's another verboten verb. Never mind that the university speachifying and marketing bumfodder (I guess we can't call it bumfodder any more now that it's digital - but I digress) promises to expand the students minds, teach them problem solving skills and encourage them to 'think outside the box.' When it comes to classroom objectives, if they can't measure it, we can't teach it.

    Oh, and I particularly liked the 'hamster nard sucking wankery' line too. I might put that expressions into my regular rotation.

  8. Am I being too harsh suggesting Clyde Beatty and Gunther Gebel-Williams should be in charge of curriculum?


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