Assessment, Teaching & Disciplinary Writing

My colleagues and I recently published an article on our experiences creating a senior portfolio of writing samples, and assessment. In this piece, we acknowledge that faculty begrudgingly participate in assessment directives from administration. However, we also show how assessment – conducted as social scientific research – can provide valuable insights on student learning.

Most of us have probably heard someone say something along the lines of “we know best” while providing a series of anecdotes or talking about “common sense.” This, however, is not scientific. Such assumptions about teaching do not exemplify the critical thinking skills we supposedly teach our students. As sociologists, we regularly teach our students that common sense, might not be reliable or accurate. As such, applying sociological insights to teaching and learning can help us critically think about pedagogy.

With 215 portfolios, consisting of 1,028 student papers, collected and assessed we have solid evidence on the strengths and weaknesses of our students. An unsurprising finding in our research is that student writing could use a great deal of improvement. However, we also have evidence linking this to the inability to apply theory and write a decent literature review.  In other words, components of good sociological writing. This is something, I’ve touched upon in my blog.  Good writing, on some level, means disciplinary writing. It means writing for an audience e.g. fellow sociologists. This involves prose, as well as different styles of citation

Right now, my grant supported research is delving into this problem through the angles of community building and co-curricular activities. Put simply, will identifying as a sociologist – as a fellow social scientist – improve a student’s writing? Using surveys, focus groups, and existing assessment data, I am tackling this research question – as research.

This project is ongoing, and I’ll likely have a post on it once it’s completed. However, I’d like to end this post by saying, assessment doesn’t have it be assessment. I can be research as well. This is research that can inform one’s teaching, as well as curricular changes.  Importantly, it can do so by using evidence rather than anecdotes.