We’re halfway through the Spring 2011 term, three weeks (a w a r p, really) from wrapping up the two classes I am teaching, an online ENGL328 and a F2F ENGL121. I’m trying something different in the 121. The units of composition are what I’m calling research memos and tracings. The research memos (inventories, anticipatory speculations, plans) prepare us for the tracings, which are, as I think of it, mini-enactments of various methods, ways of inquiring. Memos and tracings alternate, one each week, until they amount to about 30+ pages of writing from which students will assemble a 10+-page “researched argument.” And the five tracings, five ways of inquiring, are 1. memory work (experiential anecdotes), 2. word work (definitional drill-down), 3. site work (scenic noticing), 4. interview, and 5. source work (consulting published articles). I realize the last one is usually the star in much academic prose, but I am adapting these to fit a pre-existing curricular framework enough that this version of the class will be simpatico with some of what’s already in place at EMU. Had I to add one more way, it would be 6. survey work, a class-authored survey whose questions we would compose and then answer and whose results we would draw upon as a form of evidence to hitch some assertions to in the researched argument piece. This will have to wait for the 15-week version of the course, although I cannot right now foresee when I will be teaching this course at the more generous, more contemplative pace.
Midterm. Already said this, but yesterday was roughly half-way and so I circulated a mid-term teaching evaluation using Surveymonkey (nine questions). In class we did our usual blind peer review (another entry for another day), looked at and discussed various memos, and then hovered for a minute on our program’s learning outcomes. I usually dis-identify with outcomes. Assessment isn’t my bag. I recognize the function of outcomes to be best and most when tacit and least. That is, I want them to be a faint shadow, necessary because they lightly guide us on our way, but not the sort of thing we need to dwell on explicitly, focally. I asked students to articulate with a drawn line a relationship they could see between any Composing Process Outcome or any Learning Process Outcome. There are eleven total. Now, to do this: Draw lines from two CPOs and two LPOs to four artifacts. Assign a unique letter to each of the four lines. In a paragraph, articulate the linkage. Sixteen students, sixty-four lines, sixty-four paragraphs. This provides all of us with a glimpse of what we understand to be happening so far. I compiled the results into this.
What can I learn from it? Well, some linkages are more densely set than others. That is, eleven lines were shared by three or more students. The accompanying paragraphs add subtlety to the more general impression, but this begins to suggest consensus, or maybe an outcome bias of some kind. Three lines were shared by two students. Twelve lines were singularly identified. Out of 64 links drawn among 66 possibilities, then, just seventeen fell to the low levels of one or two, whereas 11 possibilities (out of 66) drew 73 percent response. Why? And what does this mean for what we do next? Are some artifacts too neatly mapped against individual outcomes? Are other outcomes too hazily defined?
In sharing this stuff and in publicly fumbling around with these questions, I’m not interested in rushing to conclusions, nor do I want to fixate excessively on the outcomes. I am merely trying to take an interest in them, in part because they figure prominently into institutional and programmatic assessment discourse and in part because, as one who mentors graduate students from time to time, I am thinking about how to keep outcomes lightly enough fitted to the FYC classes without them getting too much in the way.