A Problem of Faculty AccountabilityOn October 29, 2019 by firstname.lastname@example.org
In the non-externally accredited fields, we have a crisis.
This crisis has been lurking for many years. It is persistent, often unspoken. It derails quality initiatives and ensures we will continue with middling levels of student achievement, retention, graduation rates, and successful job placements.
I’m talking about faculty accountability.
As faculty and instructors, we are held accountable for many aspects of our job, but in the humanities and social sciences, a firm call has made it clear: We refuse to be accountable for student success.
Why Faculty Accountability Matters
College is expensive. Costs have grown exponentially for decades, making only the most affluent families able to afford a college education outright. The rest, borrow to pay for a degree.
Calls of impending doom related to college admissions, student retention, and the cost/benefit of a college degree are ramping up. Indeed, hardly a week goes by when someone on my campus doesn’t mention the 2025 “cliff”.
Simultaneously, fewer and fewer jobs are available to those without a college degree. When the bar for success is set at a bachelor’s degree, a serious disconnect between costs, actual student achievement and job placements is serious.
If we’re going to offer a product to the marketplace, hadn’t we better ensure it’s a quality one?
Without direct evidence, how do we know students are able to do what we say they are? How do we know our efforts to infuse them with critical thinking skills, transferrable knowledge, and discipline-specific ways of thinking and acting are useful?
It is imperative that higher education – from the class to the university level – be able to demonstrate, definitively, what we are teaching students to do, why it matters, and how we know they’ve mastered it.
Why the Refusal?
However, many faculty flat out refuse to be held accountable. The great push back on student assessment is the argument that assessment data will be wielded as a great weapon.
This hacking sword will be picked up by callous and faceless administrators and used as a tool to cut down faculty, weed them out. Fire them.
There is legitimacy to this claim – faculty and instructors who don’t help students learn, who have consistent problems managing their classrooms might be threatened by a world of greater accountability.
The Outside World
Unfortunately, this world of accountability, not only for one’s actions (inputs) but also the results (outputs) exists in every other industry and facet of life. In no other field are employees able to come in, do a job, fail to demonstrate their skills at said job, and continue merrily along their way.
If your job is to teach, you should be asked to demonstrate how your students learn.
Faculty working in applied fields, like nursing, medicine, education and engineering live in this world everyday. If an education student can’t be an effective elementary school student teacher, that reflects poorly on the education school.
If students are unable to master the necessarily skills in chemical engineering, the school can’t be accredited.
If a sales person doesn’t sell satisfactorily, they don’t work there anymore.
If faculty’s students don’t learn, what happens then?
A Resolution on Faculty Accountability
This tension is wrought with friction. There are endless arguments on either side as to why faculty should or shouldn’t be evaluated by the learning their students do.
I’m afraid however, these arguments are often supported by an underlying fear that student’s don’t actually learn what we want them to. Despite all the new technologies, the massive application of funds to support teaching initiatives, the development of a formalized field studying pedagogy and teaching techniques, at the core, we’re afraid.
We are afraid to put our career in the hands of people we don’t necessarily trust very much. We feel we can’t control the learning process, only the teaching process.
We need a better way.
Rethinking how we evaluate students
I recently posted on how I threw out my gradebook. And in many ways, I think much of the learning/teaching issue is embedded in the evaluation issue.
To successfully help students take in, apply, and internalize new information, we need to better integrate those course outcomes listed at the beginning of the syllabus.
Rather than rewarding students with points for work completed, we should evaluate their journey towards completing or accomplishing the goals we set up for the course.
You like reading quizzes? Great! Demonstrate that by successfully completing these quizzes students move closer to achieving the course outcomes.
You want to require service learning projects? Great! Demonstrate that by completing the project, with a certain set of deliverables, students master the course outcomes.
And then, evaluate their success or failure not with aribrary numbers of points. But instead, with a simple pass/fail or pass/fail/excellent set of standards.
Let student’s who don’t succeed continue working. Meet with them to figure out solutions they might need to be successful. Rethink your “guide on the side” role in terms of how you can help all students reach the finish line (outcome mastery).
If a faculty member can demonstrate these qualities in their students – ownership and mastery of course outcomes, through whatever evidence available, learning has occured. Teaching has been successful.
And that isn’t scary at all. It’s wonderful.