Editor's Introduction

By Long, Ada | Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Fall-Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Editor's Introduction


Long, Ada, Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council


Faculty new to higher education have entered a world already circumscribed by assessment practices that may seem normal and transparent, but the increasing impacts of these practices have redefined the content as well as contours of teaching and learning in the three or more decades since they started to take hold Administrations, boards of trustees, accrediting agencies, and legislatures have insisted on accountability without necessarily having experience in what is being accounted for and have fostered a distrust of faculty members as the authorities on their own practices As a result, higher education has been undergoing the kind of cultural upheaval that took place in elementary and secondary education more than fifty years ago.

Honors programs may have been slower than most academic units to feel the impacts of the accountability movement since they have traditionally carved out their own space for innovation, personal attention, original research, sense of community, and liberal-arts culture within the larger institution, but assessment has come to honors in a big way during the past decade and is now virtually universal in honors programs and colleges. Honors administrators have often tried to take control of the process by developing their own assessment systems-sometimes successfully, sometimes not. In either case, discussions of assessment in honors now tend to focus on the best ways to do it, not on whether it should be done or how it is changing the climate of honors, so it is important to ask these basic questions, and Joan Digby, who has seen it all, both asks and answers.

Digby leads off the JNCHC Forum on "Rubrics, Templates, and Measurable Outcomes in Honors" with her essay "My Objections to Outcome [Note the Singular] Assessment." A Call for Papers went out on the NCHC website and listserv and in the NCHC E-Newsletter, inviting members to contribute to the Forum. The Call included a list of questions that Forum contributors might consider:

 Have rubrics and templates made teaching in honors easier or
 harder? What is the purpose of rubrics (or templates or both)? Whom
 do they benefit and how? What does a teacher's use of rubrics imply
 about his or her image of students? What does it imply about a
 teacher's philosophy of learning? Are rubrics and templates
 inherently inconsistent with creativity? Under what circumstances
 are rubrics (or templates) appropriate and effective in honors
 education? Do rubrics help students understand what a teacher
 expects of them, and is this understanding an asset or detriment to
 good education? What cultural, social, and/or educational trend(s)
 gave rise to the use of rubrics, templates, and/or quantitative
 outcomes assessment? Have rubrics and templates improved the
 quality of honors education, and how? Given the requirements that
 legislatures, administrations, and the public have made for
 accountability of academic programs, what are the alternatives to
 quantifiable data? Is there a generation gap (or a gender gap)
 among teachers in attitudes about rubrics and templates and
 measurable outcomes?

The Forum includes four responses to the Call for Papers in addition to Digby's lead essay. To one degree or other, all the responses take issue with Digby and defend measurable outcomes and rubrics

In both style and content, Digby's essay represents the passion, creativity, and intelligence that we associate with honors, spiced up with humor and a dash of vitriol. With the "tools" of etymology, history, literature, and common sense, she does battle against the tools of rubrics, templates, and measurable outcomes, decrying the reductive, fill-in-the-boxes nature of assessment whereby students become quantifiable data rather than original thinkers. Digby argues that "if we don't defend the virtues of imagination and spontaneity in our classes, we will all be teaching from rigid syllabi according to rubrics and templates spelled out week by week as teachers of fifth-grade classes are forced to do" Her essay is a call to action against the "absurdly regimented, generally fictitious, and misnamed goals and objectives" that kill inspiration and turn education into busywork

Annmarie Guzy begins and ends her response to Digby's essay with her confession that she measures outcomes and that she might be like Digby's young colleagues at LIU Post: "rather than shouting from the parapet against measurable outcomes, I acknowledge with a grumble, a sigh, and a rolling of my eyes that number-crunching is a permanent part of today's academia. …

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