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I've not been writing much on the blog and to my subscribers, I apologize. It's been a long, agonizing year, with an "academic program prioritization" process that led to my major being cut from our college. I will continue to teach, albeit not to art history majors. Now we've made it to the end of the Difficult Year and I'm resetting the blog and my priorities in my position at the college.

Today's post is about setting assessments that don't match learning objectives. I did that for my "finale" for my nineteenth-century art class this past May. I did not want a memorization exam. Although such exams remain the bedrock of much of higher education assessments, especially for art history, I don't find that it tells me much about how much students have learned from my classes, particularly the nineteenth-century art class. In that course, I emphasize that I want them to learn visual analysis: to look and to observe and by doing so, to come up with a thesis of potential meaning just from the formal elements in the painting. For instance, in  Courbet's painting The Stonebreakers (seen below) the meaning of the painting can be gleaned from visual analysis.When we examine this painting in class, I ask the students to tell me what they see. They answer with such observations such as: their backs are to us, so they do not seem like individuals; one seems young and the other older; they have frayed work clothes; they are doing hard labor of breaking up stones; they seem in a closed-in space where the only light is in the upper right corner, and out of reach.

All of that is correct. And what that leads to is a thesis for the painting that is this: the men are trapped, in a sense, in labor that will continue. The younger man will continue working until he, too, is like the older man, unable to carry heavy rocks, and instead will kneel to chip them into smaller rubble. The cycle will continue, for there is no "escape" spatially in the painting for these men. There is no social mobility, no "changing careers" or "moving up."

That is all learned by visual analysis, and trusting that observations can lead to these kinds of potential meanings. Of course, art history is more than just this, and we talk about how one would solidify such an interpretation:  by researching to find out more about when roads were built, who built them, what was working culture like around 1850 in France, etc. But you can get started with interpretive analysis from just looking.

For the "finale" of the class, I decided to make a "Jeopardy!" type of game. There are lots of free templates on the web that will allow you to make a game of whatever topic you desire. We played, and I was dismayed. They did not remember titles of paintings, or some of the dates, or some of the names of painters.

But then we got to "Final Jeopardy." Each "team" was given a painting and they had to tell me everything they remembered about it, using visual analysis. I gave each team a chance to talk about the painting and then we had their answers.

They remembered so much. When the assessment matched the learning objectives - it seemed like magic.  Of course, it was not magic; in class after class after class I  structured our time to give them chances to build their visual acuity and trust that they could - and would - learn what the paintings were seeking to tell them just by looking, carefully, at what was placed before them.

I will admit to not being an assessment guru. My assessments often miss the mark in terms of what I have been teaching them. But this time the starkness between "trivia"-like answers versus visual analysis of entire paintings helped me see that it is so important to line up assessment that will focus on what you were seeking to have them learn. I really do want to know what they have learned. It's just so often that the assessments I have been told to use don't do that.

Do you teach and have an assessment that works well? How does it match the learning objectives you have for your course?

Students: how would you like to demonstrate what you've learned in a class? An exam? Something else? I would be curious to know!

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This past week I spoke at the annual NCAA Convention in Orlando, Florida. I was one of the speakers on a panel about engaging faculty with athletic programs and represented the NCAA's Division III. If you had told me five years ago that I would be speaking at the NCAA convention, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. And yet:

Dr. Gretchen McKay at the 2019 NCAA Convention, Orlando, FL.

The room was packed and there was really good energy in the room. I spoke about how I got here, and those who have followed this blog know about my "original football Romans" who took my class in the fall of 2015 and started me on this path. I decided that I would engage them in my course, which led me to want to know more about what they did as student athletes. Soon I was attending away games, which led to an invitation to become the faculty mentor to the team.

Who knew then where it would lead?

This post is for anyone who is on a path and can't quite see where it might lead. Keep going. I had no idea that I would eventually end up speaking to a room of about 500 people. And frankly, I am just getting started. I have more research to do on what student athletes do on the field and how that could be better translated into the classroom for their studies. I am planning to write a book that better explains the realities of the Division III student athlete. I hope to do some of the research for that book with student athletes this summer.

Today marks the start of the 2019 Spring semester for my school. I will teach my best. I will get to know my students. I will challenge myself to engage all students. I will go to "spring ball" football practices. And who knows what else may come up?

Because the truth is, you really never know where interests might take you. But if you remain authentically curious, take risks, and remain courageous enough to step onto an unknown path, you may end up in a place you never thought you would.

Like addressing a crowd at the NCAA convention.

Faculty Engagement Session, NCAA Convention, 2019

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Many people, at first even myself, wondered how a woman who was a professor of art history was suited to mentor a football team. In this role, two of the repeated refrains that I have heard coaches say to the players are "Do your job!" and"Don't Give Up!"  Over the course of two years, I am seeing that I share these two characteristics: I do my job - and try always do it well - and I don't give up.

This last is particularly on my mind today because I plan to write a book for higher education institutions, mainly for administrators and faculty, about student athletes and how to engage them successfully inside and outside the classroom. It's meant to be a holistic approach that examines active learning, navigating college systems, and goal-setting for their post-college lives. My experience in those three areas, research from two focus groups, and interviews with students led to a book proposal that I wrote over the summer.

It was rejected this past week.

Now it's my turn to look to the next publisher in the same way that every Monday the team would turn their back on the previous game, win or lose, and focus on the next team they would face. I need to do the same. They have a resiliency that a ten-game season of winning - and possibly more importantly losing - teaches them. Having the book proposal rejected didn't feel that great and I know from being close to the players that losing a game definitely does not feel great.

In this book proposal rejection, I see parallels between me and the players on the team. I don't give up; I am tenacious not only with my work, but with helping them. Some of them have learned that first hand; I will not give up if they need an answer or need help! While I have never played a team sport and miss a lot on the field when the game is going on, I think I am well-suited to this role. It's time to learn from them.

So for all the members of the McDaniel College Green Terror Football Team, as you turn to your last three weeks of the semester, I will be turning to the next publisher. Because as members of the Green Terror Football Team, we do not give up.

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