Yep, it's yet another "get these thoughts out so I can focus again" writing run, based on "Scholarship Assessed" by Charles E. Glassick, Mary Taylor Huber, and Gene I. Maeroff. Good book, by the way.

Let's say we've figured out what a faculty member is (what are the boundaries of what this word means?) and the changing, diverse populations that join that profession (a fun history story to recap) and we've decided that their job is to do "scholarly things" well. Let's... pretend that I've written about this and/or cited folks who have (which is mostly true) and that I've done a good job of it (definitely not true yet). All this is useful to my thesis, which... we'll place on a high shelf somewhere for about half an hour.

Sweet. Now I can get sidetracked on the evaluation of scholarly activities, which doesn't support my thesis at all. Quasi-unsubstantiated opinions, let's go! (Don't take this post as serious, well-thought-out, reference-checked material, etc. etc. etc. It isn't.)

While reading "Scholarship Assessed," I was mentally designing a faculty evaluation system for my future self -- basically, how would I like to be graded at my future job?

  1. I want to be able to set my own goals and directions every so often; not so frequently that I have no long-term compass, but not so far apart that I feel stuck.
  2. I want formative feedback on both the directions (as I'm figuring them out) and my progress towards them, as well as an understanding that the two will coevolve.
  3. I want to give as well as receive feedback -- I want to help and watch others through whatever process I am going through myself.
  4. I want to look at process and practice (and praxis, if you want to get fancy) as well as product.
  5. I want to be able to share whatever artifacts I think best represent me, and explain those artifacts on my own terms.

Turns out my design matches nicely with the recommendations at the end of the book. It also looks a lot like what I (very dimly, vaguely, and possibly incorrectly) understand of Olin's faculty review process, making me wonder whether and how this book influenced its design.

I want to be able to set my own goals and directions.

For example, on p. 53, "Scholarship Reconsidered" proposes "creativity contracts" for institutions where faculty can reinvent their foci every 3-5 years. Olin does a form of that (on the long edge of that timescale). That's my desire to "set my own goals and directions every so often." It's important that these contracts and goals look at a wide spectrum of work, and build/rebuild our tools for doing the looking. It's all too easy to only look at the things we have existing tools to examine. As Glassick et al put it (p. 22-23):

"Most college and university guidebooks implicitly suggest that different types of standards apply to different kinds of faculty work, leaving the impression that standards for research and creative work come from the various disciplines; standards for teaching are institutionally defined; and standards for professional service vary so greatly by project and profession that hardly any guidance can be offered. This fragmented paradign reflects the differential respect accorded research, teaching, and applied scholarship at most institutions. It also, we believe, helps to perpetuate the hierarchy that places greatest importance on research."

This is the equivalent of only looking for a dropped key under the streetlamp. The "research" streetlamp is big and bright -- and beautiful, it's true. But if we want to go out into the dark and unexplored fields, we're going to need some awesome flashlights to go hunting so that we can look at where we step.

I want formative feedback.

In terms of formative feedback, I'm surrounded by amazing mentors... and need nudges and excuses to reach out to them. ("But they're busy! But I'm busy! But I shouldn't bother them!" is a voice that I eventually realized is never going to stop; I need to find ways to work around it.) Regular tiny-group meeting setup for this purpose for next semester? Check. (TOTALLY looking forward to this.)

I want to give as well as receive feedback.

That tiny-group will help with feedback in both directions, but as the most junior person in the group (also, I need to get this blasted dissertation OUT OF MY LIFE) it's also good to do peer feedback with... actual peers. Fortunately, I've been blessed with amazing PhD-student buddies who'll work in text chat alongside me, even if we're scattered across the country (or even the world). We're all going through the dissertation process; a few have finished, a few are in the same end throes as I am, and a few are in earlier stages -- so there's that wish granted.

I want to look at process... as well as product.

Looking at process is something I only know how to do haphazardly at present. Glassick, Huber, and Maeroff found the same thing. Around p. 33-35, they critiqued the lack of what they called "reflective critique" in the current system of evaluating scholarship at present. If we don't look at process, how will we know how to improve in the future? As someone who feels like a lot of her "best" work has been dumb luck, I'm struggling to understand what elements give my work strength and what holes I tend to repeatedly fall into.

Movement is best arena for understanding process/reflective critique. When I started working out at the personal training student clinic (graduation requirement for them, free training for us), I proudly showed my student trainer how I could knock off a dozen or so push-ups in a row. He immediately showed me how my form was ripping out my rotator cuff. With proper form, I could do... 2 negative push-ups from my knees. We worked together that semester to get up to my original number of reps, but with excellent form -- and early on I didn't know what that meant or felt like, so process feedback was a huge part of my coaching.

Movement is more easily observed than thought (as early Cognitive Apprenticeship theorists have noted), so I still struggle to translate the process-reflection to my scholarly life. That having been said, I do have a sense of whether I'm doing "well." It's just that I have a fuzzy knowledge of that sense, and need to get to know it better.

I want to be able to share whatever artifacts I think best represent me.

Finally, in terms of choosing artifacts to share, the "Scholarship Assessed" authors propose (on p. 43-48) that scholars create a "professional profile" for evaluation, consisting of:

  • a statement of responsibilities -- what they'd hoped or agreed to accomplish, and how this fits with future personal career plans and institutional needs
  • a biographical sketch -- "quantitative" documentation of scope and productivity; an expanded CV that also covers teaching, grants, honors, consulting, etc.
  • selected samples of scholarly work -- including teaching, service, etc. and each with a "reflective essay" that provides annotations, critique, contextualization, and behind-the-scenes information for colleagues.

"Documentation should place scholarly work in perspective," they say (p. 49). "The scholar presents, explains, and interprets his or her best work for those who will review it, in the process renewing his or her own reflective critique."

The weird part

The challenge of thinking about these ideas is realizing that I already have a lot of freedom to do exactly what I've asked for -- there are no excuses, just a fairly open field where... I can go and make this happen. Empowering, sure. Scary. Right now I mostly look at that field and feel a tiredness within me and go "but... but... I just... please... just tell me what to do?"

Seriously. At least once every semester, I start fantasizing about working as a barista, or a truck driver, or... y'know, somewhere the goals are... clear. And set by someone else. With flexibility and responsiveness in meeting those goals, and variety from day to day (I never fantasize about being an assembly line worker), but man, there's clarity in "get this stuff to Toledo by next Tuesday." You know the goal, you know the tools you have to reach it, and you go.

Aaaaaand... all right. Dissertation, let's get back to you. The things I need to do to do my work... are also part of my work.