Efficient teaching: frequent assessments


If your teaching is at least modestly informed by the scholarship of teaching and learning (and, I dare suggest, it should be), then you are probably aware that frequent assessments are a good thing. Students learn better when they have more opportunities to find out if they’re learning what is being taught.

But — as Meg Duffy pointed out last week — some teaching practices are effective but may not be sustainable because they might just require so much work from professors. This resonated with a lot of people. A lot of us apparently feel a genuine tradeoff between our capacity to teach effectively and the amount of time that we are expected to invest into teaching each of our courses. Continue reading

A little story about how minds change


A funny little thing happened in our last departmental meeting of the semester.

We meet for 2-3 hours at a time, about once per month. Conversation usually meanders. (Hey, I just work there.)

So this time we were talking about the assessment paperwork that we have to do. After discussing how the documentation required by the university is mostly useless to us, we were wondering what we could do that would actually be useful.

I threw an idea out, that we should know how our majors perform using other universities as a benchmark. And there’s a test that many universities use called the Major Field Test. And we could easily have our graduating students complete it during our capstone course.

The funny part is that everybody thought it was a good idea. It sounds like we’re doing it next semester.

What’s so amazing? Well, about five or so years ago, I said pretty much the same thing in the same context. At that time, everybody in the room just crapped all over the idea. It would cost money, ETS is evil, it wouldn’t be helpful information, and we couldn’t find a way to motivate the students to do well.

What’s changed from five years ago to now? Well, some people have retired, and we have some new people. But the same people who hated the idea five years ago thought it was a good one now.

I can’t really explain it. People change, circumstances change, and slight changes in the environment and how an idea is presented can have chaotic influences on the outcome. I don’t think I’m a better salesman than I was five years ago. It’s just a different moment and a different outcome. Huh.

I just thought I’d just share this little slice-of-professor-life that could have a moral-of-the-story if you wanted to look for one.

By the way, now that Small Pond Science has taken a few trips round the sun, I’ve noticed that traffic really drops in January — so posting will slow down accordingly for the next month. I imagine folks are in the same boat I am: holiday work hangover, a new semester, and using weeks off to both vacation and then get stuff done.  (I’m spending a whole week just with family, and then am working on grants, and traveling to the field with students for a couple weeks.) Be sure to find some time to take a restful break!