REBEL GIRL was going to hold off until the holiday was over but dang — she's not the kind of teacher who doesn't give at least some reading over a long weekend. Nope.
So here's your homework. It will be followed up with responses from the likes of Clio Bluestocking who chimes in on Learning Outcomes:
Outcomes assessment — that is, ensuring that students are learning what they need to learn in order to advance to the next level or in order to have mastered basics of a subject — is generally a good idea. Some oversight on the process is good, too, especially if it is meant to improve performance not punish the performer. All fine and good, except that we, the instructors and the departments, tend to already do this. It's called "a test" or "a quiz," and "peer evaluation" and "department evaluation" through classroom observation. What seems to be demanded, however, seems to be not what the instructors and department have determined is a good means of evaluation, but what someone somewhere else had determined is a good means — even if their means has proven to be a patented failure in actually assessing mastery of a subject. The result becomes a huge waste of time in which the whole official "outcomes assessment" becomes a cynical exercise to produce numbers, while the actual assessing of learning and instruction becomes this renegade shadow activity addressing the actual problems we see in our classrooms — the ones that take time and money to actually fix.
...and Historiann, Dr. Crazy, Notorius Ph.D., tenured radical, Clio's Disciple, The Clutter Museum and other Ivory Tower rabble rousers.
But here's the text that stoked the fire: from the New York Review of Books, Anthony Grafton's wide ranging "Why are They Failing?" considers the eroding engagement of students, the rise in student debt and the decrease in education funding, the shifting priorities of administrators and much more.
...Is the higher education bubble about to pop? I don’t know. The more thoughtful writers warn against monocausal explanations. Bowen and his colleagues, for example, test the effects of student loans on attrition rates. They conclude that it is not clear that debt is a primary cause of student failure. Still, these developments are interwoven, in the experience of many students if not in the intentions of legislators. Imagine what it’s like to be a normal student nowadays. You did well—even very well—in high school. But you arrive at university with little experience in research and writing and little sense of what your classes have to do with your life plans. You start your first year deep in debt, with more in prospect. You work at Target or a fast-food outlet to pay for your living expenses. You live in a vast, shabby dorm or a huge, flimsy off-campus apartment complex, where your single with bath provides both privacy and isolation. And you see professors from a great distance, in space as well as culture: from the back of a vast dark auditorium, full of your peers checking Facebook on their laptops....To read the rest — and you should as it will be on the test — click here.
...The system runs, in part, on its failures. Administrators count on the tuition paid, from borrowed money, by undergraduates who they know will drop out before they use up many services. To provide teaching they exploit instructors still in graduate school, many of whom they know will also drop out and not demand tenure-track jobs. Faculty, once they have found a berth, often become blind to the problems and deaf to the cries of their own indentured students. And even where the will to do better is present, the means are often used for very different ends.
In many universities, finally, the sideshows have taken over the big tent. Competitive sports consume vast amounts of energy and money, some of which could be used to improve conditions for students. It’s hard not to be miserable when watching what pursuit of football glory has done to Rutgers, which has many excellent departments and should be—given the wealth of New Jersey—an East Coast Berkeley or Michigan. The university spends $26.9 million a year subsidizing its athletic programs. Meanwhile faculty salaries have been capped and raises canceled across the board. Desk telephones were recently removed from the offices of the historians. Repairs have been postponed, and classroom buildings, in constant use from early morning until late at night, have become shabbier and shabbier....