Alumni Professor of English and Belles Lettres
I’ve come to this fellowship as an assessment skeptic, and I’ve tried to be candid about that skepticism from the start with anyone who cared to ask. For one thing, it seems to me that at F&M we already do plenty to measure and test and evaluate one another, sometimes to the point of a debilitating self-consciousness. For another--and no doubt because I wasn’t paying attention--it was never clear to me what this assessment project was all about. And for a third, the whole thing had a top-down feel to it that made a lot of us uncomfortable.
While climbing the assessment-fellow learning curve hasn’t made me a crusader, I’ve come to appreciate that the focus of this project is on student learning--on what works or doesn’t in our classrooms and labs--as we pay deliberate attention to pedagogies that will establish the college’s idiosyncratic rendition of the Liberal Arts going forward. To do that, this assessment initiative encourages departments and programs to investigate particular questions of their own devising about teaching strategies, to follow their own curiosities in doing so, and, perhaps with our help, to develop responses that will allow them to take advantage of what they learn.
I’ve been reassured at every turn that individual faculty members, departments and programs will “own” whatever results they arrive at by pursuing the questions they contrive. They will determine whether, to what extent, and to whom these results will be made available. It remains our prerogative, individually and collectively, to share what we learn about ourselves only as we see fit. In no case are these results to be used for purposes of faculty evaluation.
Under these circumstances, an assessment effort that earlier struck me as a burden or, worse, an imposition, begins to feel more like an opportunity, a chance to ask practical questions about how our students learn and to determine for ourselves how best to make use of what we discover in the process.