C.13 “Toward Authentic Student Learning Assessment in General Education: Encouraging Metacognition through Faculty Development, Quantitative Reasoning, and E-Portfolios”
Reviewed by Kristi Murray Costello (email@example.com)
Chair: Paul Hanstedt, Roanoke College, Lexington, VA
Dominic DelliCarpini, York College of Pennsylvania, PA, “Re- covering the ‘Teaching’ in Teaching and Learning: Enhancing Faculty Metacognition through General Education Assessment and Reform”
Patrick Bahls, University of North Carolina, Asheville, “Toward Authentic Assessment of Authentic Learning: Measuring Quantitative Literacy through Reflective Writing”
Paul Hanstedt, Roanoke College, Lexington, VA, “E-Portfolios, Metacognitive Writing, and the ‘Whole Student’”
Up until this session, at each session I attended, I had several of my graduate students in tow. Together we’d learned about Game Theory, Service Learning in the composition classroom, and WPA Survival. However, none of them found Session C13 “Toward Authentic Student Learning Assessment in General Education: Encouraging Metacognition through Faculty Development, Quantitative Reasoning, and E-Portfolios” appealing enough to attend with me. I, however, could not have been more excited about this session. I had scoped out the session months before, had circled in in my program, placed it into my CCCC IPhone App, and even arrived early to ensure I had a good seat.
This is because, as a new WPA, there is nothing sexier to me right now (academically speaking, of course), than authentic learning assessment. And I was not the only one. The session drew a good crowd. Based on the dead eyes and the frantic note-taking of those around me, it was clear that the majority of the session’s attendees were, like me, WPAs there for answers to an issue that has been plaguing us, our profession, and our universities for years: how can we implement authentic assessment? The hope in the air was palpable, so much so, one might have perceived the mood as tense.
The session started with Dominic DellCarpini’s presentation, “Recovering the ‘Teaching’ in Teaching and Learning: Enhancing Faculty Metacognition through General Education Assessment and Reform.” DellCarpini lightened the mood by sharing his views on assessment: that it’s important, fun, and a means to improving student learning. His characterization of assessment as “fun” surely elicited a few good-natured eye rolls, but mostly, it had us on the edge of our seats. DellCarpini encouraged the crowd not to forget the interrelatedness of student learning and teaching, something admittedly simple, but that many of us often forget. However, this is where the platitudes and the playfulness ended: This is when DellCarpini got serious.
DellCarpini pointed out that we have few methods of accurately assessing teaching quality. Then, to the audience’s joy, he began guiding us through ways of remedying this issue. According to DellCarpini, the first step is to ask, “What do we want from students in General Education Courses?” He explained that what he and his colleagues at York College of Pennsylvania want is for students to accept or understand certain methodologies. It is at this point that DellCarpini defined metacognition (most simply put as “thinking about the ways one thinks”) and discussed the interrelatedness of metacognition and methodology as well as shared that their goal became to get faculty to talk about metacognition.
DellCarpini’s main point was that in our teaching and assessment, we should shift the focus from content to methods. Instead of teaching decontextualized information, we should introduce students to the ways in which people in particular fields or professions think. Thus, the challenge he and his colleagues put before their faculty was “Can we help each other cross disciplinary thresholds” articulating to each other “why we think the way we do, why we use the processes we do, and why we see the world the way we do, in the service of articulating this to students as well?” To help faculty do this, DellCarpini and his colleagues hold faculty workshops, not unlike the WAC/WID workshops many of us are already accustomed to running, at which, in addition to helping faculty reimagine assessment, they engage faculty in reflexive writing exercises, which include prompts like “Thinking about key concepts, methodology, and ‘troublesome knowledge’ of your discipline, write what you take to be an ‘ideal’ student observation from your disciplinary perspectives course—an expression of what you hope students leave your course understanding. Begin with: ‘In this course, I learned….’”
What I appreciated most about DellCarpini’s presentation was his clarity. He was able to take complicated concepts and break them down into manageable, almost slogan-like precision. Too often, discussions about assessment, especially when cross disciplinary, become overly complicated and frustrating. However, I left DellCarpini’s presentation with two clear questions: 1) What do I want my students to say in their evaluations? 2) How can I make this so?
DellCarpini was followed by Patrick Bahls from University of North Carolina, Asheville. At first Bahls seemed like an odd addition to this panel, given that he is a mathematician, but soon it became clear that his presentation, “Toward Authentic Assessment of Authentic Learning: Measuring Quantitative Literacy through Reflective Writing” was a perfect fit for this panel. Like DellCarpini, Bahls was pragmatic and inspiring. He began by discussing metacognition in the STEM disciplines, introducing the audience to UNC Asheville’s Quality Enhancement Program (QEP), Inquiry ARC, and arguing for the need for robust assessment. He then shared with us ways of achieving these more robust means.
Similar to DellCarpini, Bahls emphasized the importance of not just measuring content knowledge in assessment, but students’ ability to engage within the content knowledge. Bahls further advocated for course designs that enhance critical thinking, using an adaptation of Richard Paul and Linda Elder’s 2011 definition, published in Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Learning and Your Life: “Critical thinking is a complicated process involving attention to: logical and quantitative reasoning; communication skills; metacognition; and the affective aspects of learning, among many other things.” To illustrate how to incorporate enhanced critical thinking into the classroom, Bahls outlined three successful projects: Finding Physics, Write Your Own Textbook, and Class-wide Wikis. While all of these were interesting and impressive, the Write Your Own Textbook Project, in which students in a math course were assigned to create, draft, revise, and format a textbook introducing math majors to formal math proofs, was particularly so, especially in terms of metacognition.
The last speaker was Paul Hanstedt from Roanoke College. He began by apologizing, explaining that his presentation, “E-Portfolios, Metacognitive Writing, and the Whole Student,” was more theoretical and less definitive and practical than the presentations of his predecessors. While Hanstedt’s assertion was perhaps correct, his presentation was no less engaging or helpful.
Hanstedt shared with us that his presentation was in many ways a response to a conference presentation he’d seen on “the whole student.” He chose to respond to the presentation because he felt as though the presenter had oversimplified students through his suggestion that if we educate students intellectually, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, students will leave our courses and institutions educated. Hanstedt illustrated his point, that the whole student is more than a composite of tarot cards, through effective rhetoric, well-placed source material, and anecdotes about two students: Bo and Joe.
Hanstedt explained that Bo was a fearless writer, though he lacked basic skills and polish, whereas Joe, while a solid writer, lacked confidence. Hanstedt pointed out that to write, one needs: 1) knowledge of the topic; 2) knowledge of the discourse; and 3) a sense of one’s right to write (i.e., Bo’s fearlessness). Hanstedt made a clear and inspiring point: no matter how effective we are at teaching writing, if we’re not also instilling in students a “right to write,” then we are not educating the whole student. Likewise, if we are guiding students to confidence, but not increasing their skills, we are not teaching the whole student. Hanstedt redefined the whole student as one who has content knowledge, skills in the field, and a sense of full agency. Hanstedt concluded his presentation by illustrating E-Portfolios as a means for educating the whole student.
After the presentations concluded, Hanstedt, Bahls, and DellCarpini took several questions from an eager and attentive audience, myself included. Questions ranged from potential resistance from faculty, compensation for participation in workshops, cost for their methods, and their overall perception of academia’s turn toward assessment.
I attended eight panels at this year’s CCCCs and all of them were great. However, as a WPA who is in the process of re-shaping the assessment practices in our Composition courses, Session C13 “Toward Authentic Student Learning Assessment in General Education: Encouraging Metacognition through Faculty Development, Quantitative Reasoning, and E-Portfolios” was by far my favorite and the most helpful. My sixteen pages of notes, the post-session glow I wore for the rest of the day, and my most productive assessment meeting of the semester were all direct results of this cohesive, pragmatic, and inspiring panel.