Who assesses the assessors?
To rephrase, is there any formal processes that checks if colleges, professors, and higher education are “good”. Simply, are professors who assess students also assessed? The simple answer is, yes, and professor assessment happens in a number of ways.
Promotion, Appointment, and Tenure
As an individual professor the main assessment is one or a combo of promotion, appointment, and/or tenure.
- Tenure = typically, a decision based on a period of 3 or more years where the institution decides if you will be a member of the institution for the foreseeable future. The criteria for tenure varies but factors in research productivity, teaching ability, and service to the university.
- Promotion = this is an institutional decision to promote someone to a higher position. This is similar to climbing the ladder in large corporations. Criteria for promotion varies and are similar to tenure, but expectations tend to increase as the ladder is climbed.
- Appointments = some institutions don’t have tenure and instead use X year appointments. After X years are complete reappointment is determined based on meeting criteria similar to above.
In each of these individual assessments, a professor or educator is judged on criteria of productivity. What this means to a student is that a “full professor” or “university professor” means that the person has been promoted to some of the highest levels of the institution, but it might be due to their research productivity more than their teaching ability (and typically this is more often the truth). Higher ed is not just about learning at the undergraduate level, and a major push is learning at the frontier of human understanding.
Beyond the individual, there is also institutional assessments at every level. For example, engineering departments have the option of being assessed and accredited by ABET.
For these types of accreditation (an award of meeting some standard set by the accreditation agency), programs have to show measurable results on various factors. For example, what percentage of students are gainfully employed after graduation? How many students are failing? These measurements are an attempt to evaluate the institution and the quality of its respective programs.
A world of measuring and setting bars
The reality of assessment – student, professor, institution – is we like to measure things and set bars. Look at all the school ratings that are generated each year. With measurements we can compare us to you and you to us. Is that a good thing? My feel is that we overly rely on measurement, and the world is too complex to simply measure.
One of our next big philosophical leaps will come from a shift from our love of the simplicity of quantity.
Credits: photo titled: Measuring tape ; by Sean MacEntee
Who is your graduation commencement speaker?
The big news at Miami for this 2015 graduation commencement (I’m not a big fan of the name commencement) is that Ken Robinson is this years keynote speaker. If you haven’t heard Robinson’s talks, take a quick listen/watch for one of my favorites: RSA Animation: Changing Education Paradigms. So, I’m excited to have a prolific thinking speaker.
The season of big name speakers
Graduation season (as I’ll call it) seems to have followed other aspects of higher education where bigger and more is now better. In present day, the next few months is all about who will be coming to your school’s graduation ceremony. Is it a big name actor, thinker, or celebrity?
I’ll be missing it
Even though I’m excited that Robinson is doing ours, I probably won’t go to the talk. I find these types of speeches mostly a waste of time; as in you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Also, if a talk is good, expect to see it on Youtube post event. So, I’ll save my time and spend it working on other things knowing that if there is good information it will be re-playable – a the convenience of asynchronous audio visuals.
So, who else might you want to hear?
Well, of all the speeches I’ve listened to, the only one that I would recommend is David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005. Of course, the prolific writer creates what I consider the best commencement speech. Also, NPR has a nice tool that lets you find all sorts of details from commencement speeches if you are interested.
Otherwise, don’t get too hyped about who’s coming to your school’s graduation. If you’re attending graduation enjoy the speeches, but more importantly, remember your friends mentors, and family that helped you achieve this moment and are celebrating the event.
Who are the best teachers in college?
This question needs some definitions to help us talk about it.
- Learning – we’ve talked about this before. Learning is the stabilization of our neural networks in our brain for a desired response.
- Teaching – guiding and motivating opportunities for students to work with ideas and information so they can learn it through experience.
- Education – a combination of teaching and learning.
Therefore, the best teachers will be those who can get you to do the learning. This doesn’t mean that you will like that teacher, you will like how they teach, or you will like what you are learning. From a rating perspective, you should keep this in mind.
Is it that simple?
From my experience with teachers and teaching, I have had good and bad teachers just like everyone else, but my definition of good and bad (at this reflection point) is not about liking them. It’s about learning and growing.
Some of my most disliked teachers turned out to be great learning opportunities. Lecture became useless for learning the material, and for that reason, I learned to turn to other sources like the textbook, friends, and the library. Now, should those teachers be classified as good teachers? Probably not, but the point is it is not simple to define best when you approach class from a perspective of learning.
The best teachers are…
Your best teachers will motivate you to learn more than what is required by the course. They will push you to become the lifelong learner, critically think, and self-author what you think the world should be. And you will probably like them since the learning process is also social.
There are techniques that we professors learn to help you through the process, but learning (and teaching) is hard. We are doing research to try and improve this process, but in reality, commitment from both teacher and learning to the education process is all about hard work and slow incremental improvement. Just like dieting, there is no magic pill…yet.
Credits: Photo titled: Buddhist teacher; by: Artis Rams