Monday, November 28, 2011

Rant On: "futile, if not cynical wastes of time"


Monday is here and, as promised, Rebel Girl has some reading for you.

Clio Bluestocking, Reb's most recent infatuation, weighs in on her community college experience in "The Nebulous Creature."

Blue writes:
In my years at the community college, I found three insidious concepts that pointed toward the endemic problem of the college. All three were the sort of things that, on the face of it, seem like they could maybe be good ideas; but, when you looked a little beyond the surface, you could see that the ideas were concocted outside of the reality of the institution, of the needs of the institution, and of the needs of everyone associated with the institution, including the students. These three things were outcomes assessment, online instruction, and "completion."
Reb likes it when teachers write about teaching. She finds it refreshing.

As you may remember, late last week, Rebel cited Bluestocking's assessment of SLOs.

In the same post, Blue makes the familiar arguments about online education: "The problem is that the dictum seems to not seriously care if it is done well. The dictum is to serve more students and this is an easy and cheap solution. Doing it well will require more staff and therefore more money."

Regarding "completion," Blue points out that institutions, even though they advise instructors "to have compassion and understand the problems facing students with full-time work, full-time family, and full-time course loads; yet, they do not look at that very fact of the students' lives as an obstacle to advancement. You want completion? Address the real reasons that students don't complete."


But here's where she won Reb's heart:
Who is "they" in my rantings here? Who comes up with these ideas, thinks they are grand, and demands their implementation in the face of overall opposition from the people who have to do the implementing? Well, I wish I knew. Anyone can be part of "they" at any point on any issue, I suppose, but the main "they" is the real, endemic problem of the college where I worked. The endemic problem went above and beyond the college itself to the people who the decision makers at the college seemed to want to serve...

This nebulous creature and its handlers, however, had very very little knowledge of how education works or the purpose of education. Very few people connected to this nebulous creature had any experience in education beyond their last college course; and this nebulous creature had obviously failed itself in its own education because it could not conceive of anything as being useful unless there was a point-to-point correlation between something in a classroom and a specific skill that might be demanded by an employer. Anything going on in the classroom must directly translate into a student's ability to profit and the line had to be direct. Any questioning of the nebulous creature's demands was met with "if we don't do what it wants ourselves, then it will come in and do it for us."

Now, I don't think it is a bad idea to explain how the Humanities are useful to society or even to individuals who are just in college to get a better job. That's most of the students in a c.c. anyway. It is the reason that college is connected to upward mobility. Humanities exposes people to a variety of ideas, expands their way of thinking, hones their analytical skills (or exposes them to the concept of analysis), and requires verbal expression and communication most often in written form. Sometimes this may not seem so obvious as one tries to wade through the causes of the American Civil War or the intricacies of Hamlet.

Sadly, the nebulous creature seemed not particularly interested in those explanations. It understands "business writing" or Elizabeth I, CEO. It understands, "student will be able to demonstrate the ability to use a comma" or "student will be able to identify George Washington." It understands "history" as "dates and facts and wars and politicians who have no connection to anything happening now." It understands "literature" as "that boring shit in which everything meant something when really the white whale was just a whale and who gives a damn anyway?" This nebulous creature is simplistic and does not take into consideration that education is a complex endeavor that is bigger than the numbers that they want to production -- sometimes even more subjective and not apparent for years. It can sometimes be as traumatic as it is enlightening, if done right, which is why it should not be a series of hoops to jump through or numbers to generate in order to do it right.

The biggest problem in the face of this nebulous creature was the way that it was able -- despite its nebulous nature -- to force complete capitulation and compliance, to draw so many into its thrall. I kept asking, as everyone complained about the "outcomes assessment," and online "learning," and "completion" -- at every level in some cases -- "at what point do we just say 'NO'?" Seriously, at what point do we, those of us actually IN the college, say "WE are the professionals here, we actually ARE competent, and we actually DO know what we are doing." When do we -- and I mean faculty, staff, librarians, counselors, administrators, everyone at the college who increasingly sees these measures as futile, if not cynical wastes of time -- when does that we seize control of our own business as professionals?

Indeed, what would happen if we did? What if we said, "we will decide our own 'outcomes' and how best to determine if they are being met," rather than going through the farce of the current system in place at the college? What if we said, "these are the terms on which we will offer and implement online courses in our departments according to our department's needs"? What if we said, "your definition of 'completion' has no meaning at our institution, so here is our varied means of determining 'completion' at our college"? Seriously, what would happen? ...
Rebel Girl has not successfully resisted the urge to quote often and long here. Sigh. Forgive her. She hopes that you will visit Blues' original post here and read it in its entirety. She hopes that you will chime in in the comments section and tell us what you really think.

More later~~~~

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The biggest problem in the face of this nebulous creature was the way that it was able -- despite its nebulous nature -- to force complete capitulation and compliance, to draw so many into its thrall. I kept asking, as everyone complained about the "outcomes assessment," and online "learning," and "completion" -- at every level in some cases -- "at what point do we just say 'NO'?" Seriously, at what point do we, those of us actually IN the college, say "WE are the professionals here, we actually ARE competent, and we actually DO know what we are doing." When do we -- and I mean faculty, staff, librarians, counselors, administrators, everyone at the college who increasingly sees these measures as futile, if not cynical wastes of time -- when does that we seize control of our own business as professionals?"

I share your admiration Rebel Girl.

Anonymous said...

What WOULD happen?

Well, if a coherent response rejecting such wasteful practices could be organized across the colleges, not much. In some ways, this is a prime opportunity to do just that.

But organizing at the college level is hard - we seem more inclined to roll over than anything else. Even if it means more work and fewer resources.

Anonymous said...

The Nebulous Creature is us, the faculty. We are constantly forcing compliance upon ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like it could've been a good opener to the faculty association's negotiations with the district. Oops! I guess no one thought of it this time around... Maybe next time?

I agree; what if everyone just said NO? What could they do, fire everyone? Take our accredidation away? Take money away? Isn't the whole SLO thing tied to funds?

Anonymous said...

The sign said, "SLO Children Playing"

Anonymous said...

We're trapped as someone noted last week. Most go through the motions and wink - but I find that unacceptable. Still - what to do?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see how much money is being spent one first one system and then another to track SLOs - eLumen and the Next Best Thing (whatever it is).

I'd also like to see who is behind these systems - who sells them and profits.

Certainly the Office of Instruction could provide some figures about how much this is costing our little district, yes?

This is of course exclusive of the people hours staff and faculty pour into this.

Anonymous said...

Many people are working hard on SLOs.

Anonymous said...

No one is saying that people are not 'working hard" on SLOs but they wondering whether or not this is a good direction to go.

Yes, we have been told to march in that direction but where does it ultimately lead and for why?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you can find an investigative education reporter who is interested in pursuing this - if one still exists....

I do think we're trapped. I do think good people are trapped.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the dilemma of govt. run education, where you have politicians & bureaucrats making all the decisions.

Now, imagine what govt. run health care will be like...

B. von Traven said...

Some (at least one) of our readers needs to be reminded of our comment proviso: "We welcome criticism and differing views. But this is a COLLEGE blog, so don't just offer opinions. Give reasons, good ones. Mere assertions, accusations, or name-calling will be deleted."

Anonymous said...

We,, 1:10, actually government run public education has worked well for a very long time. I'll take the UC and Cal State system anytime over Argosy or Phoenix, or other profit oriented places. Of course, with the Republican motive to deny the citizenry a good education, that's all that may be available one day, and there goes any sense of excellence in this country.

On government healthcare, you probably don't know that the VA is a purely governmentally run program, and is successful.

Now, if you have any facts to offer to support your talking points, then please cough them up.

Anonymous said...

Beware! SLO is really a truncated SLORC, the State Law and Order Restoration Council. You know, that pesky restructuring and new bureaucracy that supported and legitimized Myanmar’s military junta and narco-dictatorship...

Anonymous said...

This is a GREAT discussion. I wish we had talks like this more often on campus and in open forums. Instead, forums are often opportunities where we are told what to do - and the assumptions underlying it all are never up for critique. It's just, do this, do that.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the discussion and share your views but the train has already left the station. So we must dance the SLO hula.

Anonymous said...

As I said to BvT recently, the thing is that if we didn't cough up SLO's and all of the other stuff that accompanies them (and no one, I swear, hates this more than I do--my department is embarrassingly behind on it), WASC would issue us warnings and, eventually, would not accredit us--and I assume that the same thing is true at your institution. So "trapped" seems exactly right.

To protest this in a serious way, or to refuse in some way to comply, would take a huge amount of time away from our other many activities--teaching, research, service, life. And I don't know if it could succeed.

Maybe I'm awful for taking this line; I wouldn't, if lives or torment were in question (of either humans or other animals). But in this case, it seems that once this awful flurry of activity of creating these stupid SLOs and assessment plans and rubrics (definitely a word that I've come to despise) is over, perhaps we can still do our jobs well, without too much damage beyond quite a lot of wasted time.

Am I wrong?

MAH

Anonymous said...

MAH is right and yet I can imagine the very tools we are using (SLOs, etc) will be used against us in the future - and apparently with our consent. I think we are building our own gallows.

I don't know about your, but the "flurry" here seems never-ending.

Trapped we are. If I only cared about the last few years of my teaching career it would be one thing but I care about the whole enterprise of higher education (not to sound too grand) but it's true. What is the end game here?

Give in, give in, give in and then?

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