Jesters: Introduction

More than anything, our experience on MOOs points us to the need to revise old models of assessment, whether that assessment is for for hiring, tenure and promotion, curriculum development, or measuring student performance and outcome. This requires re-thinking the framework of our institutional practices. The old model of faculty assessment looks like this:

[Split pie chart] where research, teaching, and service are compartmentalized, departmentalized, yet pretend to be universalized. The boundaries of the three areas of practice remain thick and opaque, distinct areas of endeavor which, in actual practice, should inform each to each, but often do not. Indeed, although teaching and research share the high ground, depending on the institution, service, that lowly drudgery required of all, is all too often shunned and avoided as much as possible. The service component has been revitalized by the need for system and lab maintenance, faculty, staff and student training, all of which require active research and teaching. It has been possible in the past to slight one or the other in our work, but no longer. The more we move into the area of technology and education, the more we find that these three categories truly do overlap, and all become necessary to the processes of evaluation and assessment.

The pie chart above gets revitalized, morphing into:

[Mingled pie chart] another conceptualization which is the same, but different.

where we can more fully practice what we theorize. The trinity remains, but oscillates in differing ratios where it is hard to tell where one subset begins, and the others end, or not. The service component involves both research and teaching. We have the ability to put theory into practice, teaching in ways we could not before, and doing so involves research AND service.

In a dynamic changing matrix such as education and technology, assessment loops back on itself calling for constant re-evaluation as new technologies, emergent practices, and reflection on pedagogies come to light at ever increasing speeds of dissemination. Traditional boundaries cannot remain as thick and opaque as heretofore, nor can administrators remain uniformed, nor can they escape the responsibility for acquiring the needed skills for assessment themselves. Hiring, tenure, and promotion then become a challenge to committees who do wish to re-think traditional practices.

How is this different from the old model, one might query. One may even assert that such boundaries were always fuzzy, and it was a given that they overlapped. They may have overlapped and been fuzzy, but the categories themselves, the way they were used, more often fossilized into a never ending series of much guarded gates though which students and faculty alike had to pass. Achieving certain goals asserted from the top down maintains the status quo, but also serves to stultify innovation and change which , ironically, is called for in most institutional mission statements. The "oscillation" between philosophy and rhetoric that Richard Lanham addresses in his discussion of the "Q" question speaks to the human motive for gate keeping functions.

What I have called the "Q" question emerges every time technology changes in some basic way. In each case, we have to ask ourselves, "What are we trying to protect? The old technology itself or what it carries for us, does to us?" (EW 154)
Any re-visioning process must, as a process, include an examination of the above questions as they are played out in practice. Lanham maintains that a "top down" hierarchy is no longer serviceable for the mission of higher education.

In The Electronic Word Lanham argues:

the retorical view of life has always been an evolutionary view, not an Edenic one. It does not look back to a vanished utopia or forward to one built by whittling human beings down to size.The rhetorical version of utopia, in fact, looks very like a richly emergent evolutionary system (252).
The folks at California State University, Northridge have come up with a successful model which exemplifies how Lanham's views of "bottom up" evolution might look as a model of assessment: Teaching and Technology TNT. Their mission -- "To establish California State University, Northridge as a national leader in the use of technology in the teaching and learning process and in the creation of a new learning vision." The full report takes into consideration not just evaluation of student and teacher performance, but how such performances can be initiated and supported by the university -- administrators, faculty, staff, and students -- in order to respond to a need for the future. We locate this vision in President Blenda Wilson's response to the destruction of CSUN in the 1994 earthquake as an opportunity, noting that change in large institutions comes slowly, that generally we:
make changes at the margin, plan major improvements over time and adapt our physical environment as much as possible to accommodate the rigorous technological and intellectual demands of an academic setting (memo).
Faced with the destruction of large parts of the university, CSUN also had the challenge to show that large systems can and should develop the ability to change radically with the times and the needs of the times. President's Wilson's slogan for re-building the university: "Not just back, but better," was grounded in a principle of change for the better, an opportunity to re-build not just the physical spaces on campus, but also the fundamental processes and "vision" of the university itself. Such change never comes easy, but Wilson did show that university administration could respond quickly to changes; departments could indeed work together; rigorous and scholarly instruction could take place amidst the chaos of change. But lest such "rigor" be a reification of a status quo, part of such a conceptual framework for successful change must also include a "bottom up" re-visioning process.

California State University, Northridge
[Bottom-up Graph]

While the vision may come from on high, that vision is a starting place which gets re-worked and played out through the collaboration of teachers, technologists, and students across departments, across disciplines, linking university and community. Now that we have have the means to expand our working definition of university and community from local to regional, national and global, we need no longer remain in our respective parochial ponds. Using this model as a heuristic framework for a continuing process of assessment and re-evaluation ensures that "rigor" will not fall into "rigor mortis."

The new language of One Department's Guidelines for Evaluating Computer-Related Work provides yet another example of re-working existing departmental guidelines. Seth Katz, "a pre-tenure assistant professor," served on the his department's committee, noting

It was reasonable for me to be on the committee because of the kinds of work I do; however, it was strange to be in the position of writing the guidelines by which I will be evaluated for tenure and promotion. In serving on the committee, I found it hard to negotiate between my own interest and investment in working with computers and the requirements and standards of fair evaluation of academic work.
The movement that Seth's department made toward valuing online work, as Seth has noted, is a beginning of the process, acknowledging the need to re-assess at a future date, serving as a model for other institutions as local becomes global. However, while these guidelines support faculty efforts for online education, they do not make clear provisions either for technological support or financial support. For this we would turn to the web site of Rebecca Rickly and Traci Gardner, Promotion, Tenure and Academic Recognition Guidelines. In addition, the traditional criteria while broad and open ended, may not be broad enough to include the type of scholarly online work that Cindy Nahrwold and Janice Walker call for.

Working/playing on MOO scrambles and muddles traditional hierarchies into a new mess that is hard to compartmentalize. Each component cannot remain discrete. This makes assessment problematical from a universal or compartmental point of view. Indeed, assessment must come from across the disciplines and fully engage all -- administrators, teachers, and students -- in the process. In other words, assessment, and the concomitant evaluation practices, can no longer come from on high and must radically involve all who participate: those being assessed as well as those assessing. This then means that all involved are responsible for acquiring the necessary means to to take part in the assessment process. An additional corollary is that the technological support must also be in place.

Table of Contents

Janet Cross

Kristian Fuglevik