The Learning Community

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Winter 2017 (March 3, 2017)

  • The words “program assessment” strike fear and loathing into the hearts of some faculty members. Assessment can feel like one more bureaucratic thing on the to-do list that takes up time we would rather spend on course prep, curricular development, student mentoring, or research. Yet, most Carleton faculty are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of particular activities or experiences in their courses, and engaging in discussions of what worked, what didn’t, and how they might change their approach the next time around. Department or program assessment moves those discussions beyond a single activity or instructor to evaluating effectiveness at a larger scale. At a small college like Carleton, it’s tempting to claim that our knowledge of our students’ performance in classes and their post-Carleton trajectories is sufficient for assessing the effectiveness of our programs, and that if their comps are good enough, then everything must be fine. Yet as Jason Decker and Dan Groll said in their recent LTC presentation, the central question of assessment is actually a good one: “Are we doing a good job imparting to students the skills we want them to have by virtue of taking our courses or majoring in our department?” Assessment is a chance to reflect collectively on what we are doing and how we can do it better.

  • One of the LTC responsibilities I particularly enjoy is the chance to talk with new faculty, visitors and tenure-track, during the LTC new faculty mentoring lunches. Over the course of this year, I’ve had the chance to have many conversations with junior and senior faculty about mentoring. Although the formally-assigned faculty mentor and the LTC mentoring lunches are designed to provide new faculty support throughout the first two years, current conversations on mentoring in the faculty development world focus on the  importance of helping new faculty develop a network of mentors. Supporting new faculty as they consider the opportunities, responsibilities, and challenges in the professional spheres of teaching, research, and service and in the personal sphere is too important to be the responsibility of just one or two mentors. The National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) has developed a mentoring network map, which invites new faculty to consider the many different people who can provide support and advice in different areas.

  •  I’m exploring more opportunities for groups of faculty and staff to examine a particular topic together over an extended period of time.