Assessment to Create Innovators or even Innovative Professors?

Again, I am responding to my student responses on Creating Innovators: (its kind of stream of consciousness but reading these books always gets me trying to make connections)

The first thing that strikes me about this book is that some of the politics that are going on with schools and even in the country are a question of innovation.   Is our education system about tests? or is our education system about creating opportunities for students to be innovative and finding new ways to assess them?   Should our assessments be about growth or benchmarks?  Should one assessment lead into the next project?

In the end, I found a lot of my individual comments to student responses being about assessment – because in the end that is the issue. If we allow students to define their own problems, what is the assessment? How can we show that they learned?  How do we avoid falling into that trap where everyone gets the “college of ed” clap because they met the minimum requirements. How do we drive students to go beyond where they are comfortable?
I would say that we need to look at assessment in new ways.  Is there such a thing as a participatory assessment? Yes, there are books written on them, but in practice there are not good guidelines.   They are very prevalent in business.  We ask people all the time to assess themselves, often in business before a raise or an annual evaluation, we ask people to do a self -assessment.   However, this activity has to be really scaffolded.

Looking at Assessment through my own Assessment as a Professor

Let me share an illustrative from my life as a professor.   We are currently doing faculty reviews, and I can talk about my own self assessment – instead of it being a truthful reflective goal setting experience, I will admit that mine is a whiny, justification, excuse riddled piece of work.. (My evals were not as a high as I would like because I was teaching too many classes.. etc.. )  However, in our own faculty reviews, we are not rewarded for honest reflection, and our responses are not reviewed from year to year.   And they should be. The assessment is structured to be an one time measure, and they don’t lead to any feedback on future projects and are not part of a holistic review.  Part of the reason, is  the prompt is backward facing and it is not guiding me to set new goals, celebrate successes and failures and talk about how I will become better in the coming year(s).  It is also focused on the professor as an individual not a community member and does not require 21st century staples to be highlighted such as collaboration, mentorship, empathy, celebrating failure.

So our current prompt is:

In light of the information provided in this annual report, please assess your contributions in the three areas of professorial responsibility. Include any factors or information Committee A should consider as it reviews your work in research, service, and teaching.

It is just screaming out for me to make a whiny justification – the prompt is incorrectly scaffolded.. 

What is we had a prompt like this instead: (3 parts for the 3 parts of my job – scholarship, teaching and service)

Given your last year as reported in this document,  where do you see your career going in the next year or 5 years?  Where are finishing projects and where are you laying groundwork for future work… (ie.. what are excited to be learning about and want to spend more on next year).  Where do you plan to spend your scholarly time in the next year? 

As a teacher,  how are you committed to students in formal and informal ways and where would you like to see to our students be in 1 year or 5 years. What are you doing or plan to do to help make that dream a reality? 

As a citizen, how are you contributing to our community?  How are you supporting others, their interests, and working to create a working and learning environment that will continue to grow, flourish and support its learners and fellow faculty and staff? 

Then I will be revolutionary – besides those awful evals with the bubble sheets – when do we ask students to evaluate us?  What if we triangulated (Yeah, I know using my own professional tools to assess myself) and shared my personal statement about my commitment to students with some…  … wait for it…   STUDENTS ..  Check to see if what I think I am doing, is perceived that way, and find out if students feel supported and mentored.. (Yep Participatory assessment)..

Now those of you that have ever touched a faculty review, then thinks.. are you kidding?  Do you know long those things take? Maybe the question is not do crappy reviews yearly, but meaningful, deep reviews every 3 years.  Faculty could be on a cycle (like post tenure reviews) where they do it every few years and prompts like this scaffold goal setting, reflection on their goals and the mission of the institution, and job satisfaction.

So hopefully from this example, you can see how scaffolding makes all the difference – so in the end good assessment comes back to the prompts and how we get students (or faculty) to think about the work they did.

Why scaffolded reflective assessment matters

I realize I got a little off my topic talking about faculty reviews, but honestly, don’t we want our faculty to grow as much as we want our students to. People engaged in meaningful work, are great colleagues, and raise the organization to new levels.

Now think about this – how could we frame questions for students to get them to be forward looking, self reflective, and use the assessment on one project to set their goals for the next one – what would that look like?  And how could we get community feedback on projects and make it participatory assessment?

My post show that good assessment is as important for the teachers/faculty as it is for the students – and in the end innovators are not inventors – instead they are people who are using creativity and critical thinking to engage in their environment every day.   This kind of thinking drives them forward and makes them better.

 

 

 

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