Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rock and a hard place

You cairn not be serious At this month's PedR meeting we planned to discuss "The future of the VLE" as far as this institution is concerned. Of course, we didn't get very far, and if I'd read Dave White's post Does the Technology Matter? before rather than after the meeting, I'd have suggested we talk about something useful, such as cake recipes.

The only ray of light from this meeting (apart from the cake) was revisiting some of our unresolved issues around curriculum design and assessment. The Biological Sciences staff present universally agreed that we over-assess our students compared with other disciplines and other institutions, and we indulged in the routine ritual scourging.

I've written about over-assessment here before (New balance, More with less). I want to assess less and teach more, but it's not that simple (read the links). What do students want? The great thing about the Friendfeed network we have developed is instant informal feedback, so I asked them, including a PollDaddy poll in the discussion. Outcome?

The idea of rolling back assessment load is not universally popular with this group of engaged and vocal students. And that means that attempts to reduce assessment will be pressurized from above and below by:
  • Senior managers who want a constant stream of measurable deliverables (impact factors, student marks, yada yada yada) so that they can "manage" their staff.
  • Students who want constant reassurance of their "progress" and return on investment in tuition fees.
I'm not in a professional position where I can go cold turkey on assessment overload. Slowly, slowly we need to roll back the years of damage, weaning the feedback junkies off the hard stuff and onto the formative assessment methadone.

And if we really want to spend more time teaching, we need to reclaim the lost summer term we have abandoned in recent years.