Thursday, June 19, 2003

Assessment - the bright side
There are aspects of assessing student papers which I know I would miss if they were removed - and they may very well be, because as Jill argues, with one internal and one external assessor, a lot of resources which could have been spent elsewhere are channeled into assessing often boring papers.

The up-side is in collegial cross-breeding of opinions. When I am responsible for exams with oral assessment, I always try to put together as diverse a board of assessors as possible. The first time I had an all-female board there was outrage - despite 20 years of all-male boards before that. I try to get people from different colleges and universities to work on the same exams, turning the oral exams into events of academic networking, as much as a dreary duty. Since we have 100 students that need to have their papers assessed each fall, we can have five media professors as our guests in Volda for two days. That means one dinner and two lunches when people from Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger, Lillehammer, Kristiansand or Bodø can meet the Volda faculty. It also means that we get to show off the wide range of topics our students are interested in, and we get to hear what people in other universities and colleges think of the same thing. And although those two days of oral exams equal 60 days of work (we use two local assessors for oral exams), those 60 days are extremely important as an assessment of our own ability to teach, not just the student ability to learn, as a way to be updated on what happens in other universities and colleges, and a way to learn about new topics we would otherwise not take the time to read up on.

The up-side of assessing the six-hour school exams isn't quite as bright, but I just got off the phone with Alex Iversen, an assessor we have used for years. We spent perhaps 30-45 minutes agreeing on the 20 papers we had read - yes, you become quicker at this the longer you've been doing it. And then we spent 30 minutes chatting about books we have read, articles we have written and which we wish to write, articles other people have written and which we think the other should read, and links we should exchange but didn't manage to find during the conversation so we'll email them instead. So the students were assessed, Alex pointed out some interesting common flaws to the student arguments that indicated that we need to adjust next year's teaching, and we both had a good inter-disciplinary chat!

The Competence Reform in Norway opens for removing the external assessors in assessing student papers. At several studies in Volda that has already happened. Here, at the Department of Media Studies we are acting very conservatively and insist to keep them, for two reasons.

One is to protect the students. We work very closely with our students, and feel that they deserve to be assessed by a person who for instance has not had to sit across from them over a table and hear them tell us what incompetent idiots we are who can't plan a semester properly... (which all students know better than we do, of course). After something like that, abusing the power of giving grades isn't even a conscious act.

Second is to retain the collegial networking and exchange. Of course, we could spend the money we saved on inviting the same people here to talk, but then there would be nothing forcing us to cooperate, and we would easily not show up, give up arranging the thing after the first 5 people asked were busy elsewhere, make some other appointment, or find something else to spend the money on.

Of course, there must be ways to keep the good things from the old system, and get rid of the bad. I just haven't found them yet.

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