Field of Science

Students doing good - Real Assessment

Administrators and politicians always want to know how we know if we've taught our students anything. And of course they want it reduced to a simple little standardized exam. The Phactor has ranted about this issue in the past (here, here, and here), but it's too nice of a day to really rant. But you see, a former student who graduated a bit over a decade sent me an email to tell me that even though she miss IDed a columbine on a final plant ID exam, she hasn't missed IDed one since. One important thing to notice is that even though an exam indicated a failure of learning, learning took place, so something important was taught. This is something the dim bulbs that run many universities just don't get. Real learning is a complicated thing, and that's why you must rely on faculty to tell you when it has occurred. Students get to assess our teaching and courses even before they've finished a course, and the Phactor has gotten his share of brickbats and kudos, but the point here is simple. Most students don't know how much they learned, and sometimes a course just starts them on a trajectory of continued learning, and isn't that the point of higher education, developing interests and learning to learn. And when we do that, well, that's a real assessment of educational effectiveness. We've taught somebody something really important, and our students may not know or fully realize this until years after they graduate. The same SOB (He'd laugh out loud if he reads this.) taught me the first and last biology course the Phactor ever took as an undergraduate, and it took me years to realize that even though he wasn't a kind, likable, warm and fuzzy type of faculty member, he was an exceedingly influential and effective instructor who was years ahead of the curve on science education, and important lessons were learned that had an impact on my successful career as an educator. So real assessment of real learning, and therefore effective teaching, takes years. My role was simple, not just to teach some botany, but to instill an interest in plants and learning, and as a result in some small part, my student has done real well for herself and the Phactor is very proud of her active role in Seattle Tilth, spreading a legacy that plants are fun, important, and interesting. But many of our fearless leaders aren't very interested in such data points probably because if they admitted these were important, they'd also have to admit that we faculty know what we're doing. So it will be interesting to see how the new mandate for more assessment of our teaching effectiveness will deal with this. Prediction: it won't.

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