I’ve just returned from the annual assessment conference, held by Texas A&M University. One of the themes that was repeated by many speakers was strategies to deal with faculty resistant to assessing general education competencies. Another was the difficult task of assessing critical thinking skills. A third was the challenge of acquiring and interpreting useful information.
I have encountered faculty resistance to assessment on my own campus, and I still have difficulty understanding its basis. Our peers in the health sciences and other professional programs routinely carry out assessments as an intrinsic part of their program review. Is it simply resentment of an additional burden on our time? At the assessment conference, I heard several speakers state that including faculty in the development of assessment processes helped reduce resentment, as did clarifying the meaning of “academic freedom.” I have heard some of my peers express doubt that the assessment results have any purpose to the “powers that be,” but the value of assessment to me is that it helps me determine what changes I can make to improve student outcomes. I truly believe that we can use assessment for our own purposes, and at the same time satisfy the requirements of any regulatory bodies.
One of the most challenging assessment tasks is to determine if our teaching of critical thinking is effective. The state of Texas has charged institutions of higher education to teach critical thinking, but left it up to us to determine what that means and how to accomplish it. In A&P, we have a holistic understanding of critical thinking and can instantly tell if our students have it, or not – but how do we break that down into teachable skills, and how do we assess it? This is something we are still working on, and the efforts of educational researchers at the conference are still in progress, too. I think our colleagues in the health science programs have a longer track record of teaching critical thinking, and I look forward to learning more from them in the near future.
Some of the sessions I attended were reports of attempts to find significant links between student demographic information and success and retention in college and in professional careers. I have zero background in research in social sciences, but my past history in more concrete research makes it hard to accept some of the data presented as reliable or indicative of what the researchers claimed. Can students’ self-interpretation of knowledge and ability be used as a proxy for student learning? Are sample sizes large enough and random enough to generate reliable data? Should institutional decisions be made based on data that is acknowledged to be imperfect and incomplete? For this last question, the answer of at least some administrators is a qualified “yes,” if for no other reason than that this is all they have on which to base decisions.
So from all this, I have come away with a sense of commitment, if not urgency, to contribute to the collection of useful information. To me, this means I am measuring what I think I am measuring, that I am collecting reliable data, and that I am interpreting it correctly, with a goal to improve student mastery of the course outcomes. I know you all have the same values in your professional positions, and I hope we can all work toward the common goal of providing the best A&P courses we can for our students. I look forward to a lively exchange of ideas at HAPS – San Antonio!
Can’t make it to San Antonio for the Annual Conference May 24-28? See if a trip to Cincinnati OH will fit into your schedule!
The HAPS Central Regional Meeting will be held at Galen College of Nursing on March 7. Online registration is available through the day of the conference, but sign up now to make sure you get a space.
The conference will include keynote addresses from Laura Woollett, Ph.D. and Raymond Boissy, Ph.D., both of the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine.
After the day of meetings, there will be an informal trip to visit the Cincinnati Museum Center to see the “Mummies of the World” exhibit. This exhibit displays a collection of real mummies and artifacts from all around the world. The collection is presented with dignity and respect and includes ancient mummies dating back as far as 4,500 years. Contributions came from 10 world-renowned Institutions and two private collectors. You will learn how mummies are created, where they come from and who they were. You will also discover how modern science is used to study mummies through innovative and non-invasive techniques, allowing incredible insights into past civilizations.
This trip will complement a workshop on human preservation by Ronn Wade. Carpooling will be available for this event.
It is definitely time to start thinking about the HAPS Annual Conference. Described by MANY as the best, most friendly, and most FUN conference you can attend, HAPSters start counting down to the next Annual Conference the day after the previous one ends!
So if you’re planning on attending the HAPS Annual Conference in San Antonio May 24-28, here are a couple of things to add to your To Do list this week.
The conference promises to be amazing, as always. There will even be an opportunity to participate in a bird watching trip with HAPS Executive Director Peter English and famous birder Victor Emanuel. (If you are interested in this, sign up soon!)
It’s the season for local athletes to sign letters to commit to teams at the next level, and I find it heartwarming when these young people acknowledge the impact of their coaches and other mentors. They realize that their opportunity came about not only because of their own talent and drive, but also because they were trained in skills and habits that helped them succeed. I think that part of the reason these student athletes are so successful is that they accept the need for training and understand the time demands involved in becoming the best they can be. They realize that their skills and abilities improve over time.
If my A&P students had the mind-set of student athletes, I think they could all make it to the pros. They would drill on their weaknesses and get personal coaching to correct problems, knowing that they would be accumulating additional knowledge and skills. They would attend every practice session and review videos of their performance – okay, well maybe not that last, but they would watch the videos I post for them and complete homework assignments, anyway. They would know at the outset the commitment they needed to make, and they would fit the rest of their lives – temporarily at least – around the demands of mastering the curriculum that forms the foundation of their chosen profession.
Some of my students seem really detached from the course requirements – they don’t appreciate why, for example, we assign adaptive reading modules. As a consequence, they circumvent the deep learning that is supposed to occur, and they “phone in” their performance. If an athlete demonstrated that same mind-set at practice, I think the coach would very effectively communicate his/her displeasure! The invisibility of their poor preparation allows them to dodge, deny, or at least defer, the consequences of a poor performance.
So, it seems to me that one of my roles is to help coach my students to up their game. I can make sure they know what they’ve signed up for, time-wise, and help them develop personal schedules that include enough prep time. I can suggest they see themselves as professionals-in-training, rather than the passive students many of them were in high school. I can do more than convey content; I can help them develop basic academic skills, adopt habits of mind, and embrace a set of ethics and values that will serve them in both school and work. And maybe, they will all make it to the pros at some level, and when they do, some of them will remember the coaching staff that helped them find their way.
HAPSter Robert Rawding recently participated on an expert panel with the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) to come up with a new set of sleep recommendations.
The new recommendations separate adults into three categories, which hasn’t been done before. And for those of us who are smack in the middle of a new teaching term, this serves as a good reminder that sleep probably shouldn’t be the thing to go during a busy week.
The new recommendations of sleep hours per day are as follows: