assessment, accreditation, taxonomy: bloom’s picker!

UT Knoxville is approaching its date with the destiny that is SACS re-accreditation. We’re due to submit our campus-wide application in September 2014. That means we’re getting in to full gear now for the hoop jumping that is this process. Today I got to attend an “Assessment Training” for program directors to introduce us to the language and form of assessment. I have a very jaded view on this. I suspect most faculty do.

The session began with a reminder that accountability in higher education has “increased over the past decade and accelerated with the recent recession.” Due to pressures from accreditation agencies, like SACS, as well as I’m sure tons of other interest groups, “we nee to transition to a culture of assessment.”

Cultivating a culture of assessment in Higher Education is, apparently, a new thing. All the forms of assessment that professors use with their students aren’t what we’re talking about here. That sort of assessment doesn’t ensure students, parents, and legislators that learning is happening. What will ensure it is choosing a set of learning goals, writing a rubric to assess them and the programmatic level, and then of course make changes based on the result. I love how agencies assume as an opening gambit that such things aren’t already happening, and assume such because the iterative process of education isn’t written in the correct formal language.

What is that formal language, you might ask? It’s a language that is shared amongst institutions undergoing the process. To write learning goals and assessments correctly, one can simply google sacs accreditation and look at materials institutions put up on the web. A “Culture of Assessment” is really about a “Language of Assessment.” It’s one of many newspeaks in operation on campus today, and together with MBA-Speak and associated corporatization-of-academia-speaks, I find it simultaneously vapid and invidious.

Assessment-speak, like corporatist language on the university, claims to promote efficiency and accountability. But how and to whom? Institutions facing SACS re-accreditation are encouraged to construct an elaborate set of learning objectives using verbs tied to Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. That’s right, a significant portion of SACS approval hinges on the facade of a set of terms related to educational research published in 1956. The taxonomy is, of course, hierarchical and posits that students move to higher levels, from remembering to creating, as they learn more.

taxonomy

My experience is that students don’t move from lower to higher levels in a linear fashion, but rather iteratively and messily. Nonetheless, we get to write learning objectives that draw on the higher levels, and demonstrate movement to them. These are supposed to follow a particular form:

The student will verb object.

Despite the learning objectives drawing on the higher end of the taxonomy, they’re also supposed to be simple and measurable. I figure, the easiest way to do this, appropriate to the rigor of the process, is to automate it. So, as a service to history departments across the country facing regional accreditation, I present to you Bloom’s Picker, a simple web app that will write your learning goals for you. Just refresh the page. Three to five are usually sufficient!

The thing is, the sentences produced by the app almost always work and could be copy and pasted straight into an assessment rubric. This isn’t a commentary on the rigor of academic history. I’ll leave it to you on what it does measure.

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Associate Professor of Early Latin America Department of History University of Tennessee-Knoxville

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Chad Black

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I, your humble contributor, am Chad Black. You can also find me on the web here.
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