Friday, August 10, 2007

From the Annals of Not Blogging

Why was Fosco absent from blogging for so long? He has promised some explanations. Here's one now.

Fosco couldn't blog because he was busy... writing student narrative evaluations. Here's the thing. When it was created by a bunch of hippie academics, UC Santa Cruz did not use letter grades! The policy was described in an assessment conducted in 1994:

UCSC opened in 1965 during a time of unprecedented university growth, student protest, and introspection. The founding faculty, dissatisfied with traditional forms of grading, opted for a system that was intended to provide a better understanding of what a student had achieved in a course, while downplaying the competitive aspects of learning. Faculty-authored narrative evaluations were adopted in lieu of letter grades. UCSC instructors would write a personalized narrative evaluation of each student's academic performance in all courses in which the student earned credit.

How progressive! How admirable! How... much work for the instructors!

Because, of course, guess who writes the narrative evals...

If you answered "the TAs," you are correct.

Wait. It gets dopier. In 2000, UCSC added mandatory letter grades for its undergraduates... in addition to narrative evaluations. So, as a TA you have to prepare TWO different types of evaluation for each student: a letter grade and a written narrative evaluation.

Now Fosco hates to complain about life as a TA (after all, isn't it all part of the apprenticeship process?) But it does take a remarkable amount of time to sum up the performance of a student in a narrative, especially since an evaluation has to

  • contain enough detail about the student's work in the course to make it clear that you know who he or she is.
  • follow a specific format (there must be a sentence describing each major assignment in the course).
  • avoid making any reference to personal attributes of the student or your impressions of the student's behavior. You can only talk about the work itself.
In the end, you write extremely formulaic evaluations that you attempt to enliven with novel adjectives. The Thesaurus is a good friend during eval writing.

What makes this process even worse is that throughout it you have the gray feeling that no one (not the student nor any prospective employer of said student) will EVER read this evaluation.

Are you curious? Here's a sample:
Lindsay's performance in the course was generally quite good. She attended lecture and section almost without fail and occasionally participated in section discussion. Her first paper, a comparison of Captain Singleton and Oroonoko, showed good close reading skills and evidenced room for improvement in argument development. Her second paper showed great improvement in extending a close reading; however, the thesis was not as strong as it could have been. Lindsay’s final exam was her best work of the quarter and showed a deep understanding of the course material.

This one took about, say... 30 minutes to write. Ouch.


todd said...

I could totally write you a web-based generator for that sort of thing. Plug in a name and a couple other variables and faster than you can say 'Javascript' there's your eval.

Of course, there's the whole thing about the integrity of the academic process, but if I've learned anything from Barry Bonds it's that cheaters always win.

ted said...

I written written evaluations for all of my students, and, yes, it takes a long time. But most of them have the same problems, so I just cut and paste a lot. And change "she" to "he." And "idiot" to "moron." Etc.