Archive for January 27, 2010

How do we get more, without sacrificing good, while measuring it?

“Without an unrelenting focus on quality—on defining and measuring and ensuring the learning outcomes of students—any effort to increase college-completion rates would be a hollow effort indeed.” So proclaimed Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive of the Lumina Foundation for Education, during the opening plenary of the annual conference of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, held here last week.That statement reflected the tone of the entire conference. The nearly 1,900 presidents, provosts, and faculty members who gathered here generally said that they welcome the White House’s efforts to increase the proportion of Americans who earn college degrees. But they do not want to see those degrees watered down in the process. If colleges are going to provide high-quality educations to millions of additional students, they said, the institutions will need to develop measures of student learning than can assure parents, employers, and taxpayers that no one’s time and money are being wasted.

via Educators Mull How to Motivate Professors to Improve Teaching – Curriculum – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The tension between wanting to have more students to graduate (to improve competitiveness, for the sake of the students’ future economic success, to reduce inequities) and wanting to maintain standards (what’s the point of more students graduating, if those graduations aren’t worth anything) leads to a need to teach better — to produce more while not decreasing quality.  That’s really hard.  The blurb quote above points to an obvious need to be able to measure the learning.

Thus, we hit a roadblock in Computing. We don’t know how to measure learning in Computing.  Sure, we can ask about learning in any given course, but if you listen to the complaints of teachers (“They learned Scheme — why do they do so poorly in Java?” and “You saw this algorithm in your CS2. Why can’t you do it now?” and “These students know Java and C.  Why can’t they pick up C++ on their own?”) and industry (“We have to hire people who know language X, because it takes too much time to learn X or to retrain our people in X”), you can see that we’re expecting a deeper kind of learning than just a course-at-a-time.  We don’t know how to measure this kind of transfer in Computing. We have no language-independent measures of CS learning.

If we had them, I’d bet we’d be disappointed with the results.  That’s a really high bar that we set for ourselves.

January 27, 2010 at 7:44 am 10 comments

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