48 Focusing on Process

Francis Williams

Summer 2019

The primary idea that has garnered my attention from my interactions with CPLC are two-fold. One strikes at the heart of how we currently do education. Some of my interest stems from the book by Cathy Davidson that has resonated with much of my own thinking over the past few years. Some of which I have attempted to implement in a couple of my classes previously. The other piece has to do with “ungrading”, and the discussion I was part of during one of our CPLC sessions.

Delving into the first, CD struck a chord when she discussed the teaching at a community college as compared to four-year institutions. Creating opportunities for students to contribute by injecting what they already know, while challenging them to expand their capacities. This is something I’ve been doing for a few semesters now and what I noticed immediately was the difficulty many students have with being challenged, well at least CJ students.  Many of them pushed back, by complaining on student evals that I was putting to much on them. It appears they wanted to be “taught” rather than participate in the learning process. Certainly not all of them but more than I had expected, and it really concerned me. In later semesters I made some adjustments, trying to parse out the pieces that students felt were effective while either changing or eliminating others. I’ve seen some improvement in the number of students who pushed back but have always felt some of it was deeper than the challenge itself. I fear many of our students have never been pushed before. It seems especially acute if they are asked to present their work to their peers. I find this rather interesting and wonder how much the effect of social media has on this seeming inability to accept challenges, especially those that require face-to-face communication with others

This leads to my second point, my interest in ungrading and how it might be used in concert with some of the challenges I present to students. There was a very engaged conversation during our session that focused on how we as teachers give feedback. It is not unusual for me to give a lot of feedback on various assignments especially early in the semester. Frankly, sometimes it is very frustrating as I take a lot of time to provide what I think is constructive feedback that is associated in many cases with scaffolding of assignments – the process of one assignment building on the next, yet too many times it appears as if students never read this feedback as the same errors and issues crop up on future assignments. So, I sometimes wonder why I should bother. I thought some of the ideas generated during the discussion on how feedback might be better served with focusing on process rather than content; thinking about how feedback might affect whether a student reads or pays attention to that feedback; having students write back to me regarding their feedback; and/or using self-assessments. Certainly, some of these can be labor intensive but could be used for one or two assignments.

In thinking about cluster pedagogy my thoughts turn to how best to introduce these concepts into certain classes. The way I see it is that some things may work well in one class while not very well in others. For example, I did a cluster project in the fall of 2018 that involved bringing an award-winning play – The Defamation Experience, onto campus. I was able to secure funding through cluster connect and the play performed by professional actors was viewed by over 200 students, faculty and staff. Originally, I had assigned my Race, Class, Crime and Justice class to be the facilitators and organizers of the play that was supposed to be followed up by a roundtable where students and invited guests would discuss the climate of awareness and acceptance of diversity on campus taking into account the dramatics of the performance. Unfortunately, the roundtable was snowed out and we couldn’t reschedule because it bumped up against finals week. This occurrence impacted the ability of the students to follow through with their assessment of what happened and prevented us from participating in the showcase of excellence. The students in RCCJ did a fine job for the most part, however, my attempts to engage another class in participating was not so successful as the concepts were not as readily accepted in that class. While some of the students did show up for the performance there was a lack of effort to become involved in the other two phases, notwithstanding the fact that the final two phases didn’t happen. My point is that I think we must be aware of how receptive students will or will not be to certain projects. Their excitement might not be as keen as our own.

Finally, I would like to point out that I have high hopes for continued engagement with CPLC. In thinking about this semester and how my expertise in the field can support this type of engagement, I have a couple of ideas. Let’s just say my knowledge of the impact of crime on various communities will factor into how potential projects might shake out. I’ve already spoken with one faculty member from another department about a potential project. We have agreed to meet later and discuss possibilities. I think my expertise coupled with her expertise might lead to something of interest for students that would prove to be a good cluster project. I have high hopes of taking advantage of the Co-lab. More to come.

Below is an outline of some of my other thoughts:

Accommodating students from a grade-based system. Balancing both of these worlds to blend the two.

  • Self-assessments pitched from students.
    • Grading inhibits learning
    • Less likely to take risks
  • Beware of rubrics – rather than a single point rubric what is the evidence you are choosing? Competencyworks.org
    • Gen ed habits of mind
    • Eliminate use of specific terms
    • Have students generate ideas
    • Design a way to their reflections
    • We tend to design assessments for what is important to us as opposed to what might be important to students
    • Maybe starting small with one or two assignments – using a sliver as opposed to the entire concept
    • Process is one thing that educators might use to grade or assess
      • Think about how feedback might affect whether a student reads or pays attention to that feedback
      • Have students write you a letter back concerning your feedback
        • Don’t grade until after they’ve digested the feedback and there’s been a discussion
          • Evidence, assessment, and learning outcomes
        • Let’s you know that they have read the feedback
        • Long feedback is probably not read – no feedback before grade
        • Facilitates dialogue
        • Instructor can take 5 or 10 minutes at end of class
          • Find out from students what were/are the most important thing students have taken away from the class today


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