Conference Presentation Feedback, Part 2: Getting Buy-In

(See this post for an introduction to this blog series.)

The single most common response I got on my conference presentation minute papers can be accurately represented by this quote:

How on earth to institute this kind of reflective practice among other librarians!!

First off, this is a problem of leadership and organizational culture. Assessment, when it’s done right, and regardless of what you call it, helps you determine what’s working well in your classroom, and what isn’t.  It helps you know what your students are learning, and what they aren’t.  Fundamentally, it helps you do your job better.

If you have a bunch of librarians who don’t want to do their jobs better, you have a big problem.

Now, it’s entirely possible that librarians (and, ahem, teaching faculty) don’t realize that that’s what assessment — again, when it’s done well — is for.  They hear “assessment” and immediately jump to “multiple-choice exams standardized tests administrative oversight Spellings Commission OMG ACADEMIC FREEDOM.”  That’s an unfortunate, but also understandable, chain of associations for academics to take.

But assuming that this isn’t the case, or isn’t entirely what’s going on, what can you, the lowly instruction librarian, or instruction coordinator, do to convince your colleagues to adopt classroom assessment techniques in place of “course evaluation” type instruments?  Here are some thoughts:

  1. Lead by example.  Do it yourself, either instead of, or in addition to, standard evaluation instruments.  Presumably nobody has said that you can’t do this.
  2. Talk it up. Talk about what you’ve learned from your classroom assessments, and how it’s helped you do things differently in the classroom. Show your colleagues how assessment is helping you do your job better.
  3. Get their ideas: what don’t they like about the current evaluation system (if there is one at your library)? What would they like to know about their teaching and/or the students’ learning that they’re not currently finding out? How would they go about finding that information?  Get them to come up with the idea themselves and you’ll have buy-in.1
  4. Send them to LOEX or Immersion.2

The other piece of the responses I got on this topic was the consistent thread running through them of how can I get my coworkers on board without them feeling threatened by assessment?  Part of this is addressed above when I talk about assessment as a tool for doing your job better, but there are other ways to address it as well:

  1. You don’t have to call it assessment.  Call it a minute paper (or whatever technique you choose; there are many) and leave it at that.  If assessment is such a charged word on your campus (and if, as I hear from other campuses, “assessment” by definition means “quantitative data,”) that it sends people scurrying for the hills, just don’t call it that.3
  2. And these librarians don’t feel threatened by teaching evaluations, which students often fill out capriciously and without thought for their effects on instructors’ careers?  Evaluations measure the teacher. Assessment measures learning. I feel much more threatened by the former than the latter.

So, there are my thoughts on getting buy-in.  Next up: the vicious spectre of quantitative data. (Cue the spooky music!)

  1. Note: I am not a management consultant and I have never actually tried this maneuver. But I have been a union organizer, and I can say from personal experience that this approach works in the context of labor organizing. YMMV.
  2. Okay, I’m partly kidding here. If someone is really resistant to assessment or changing their own pedagogical practice in order to improve student learning, sending them to a conference against their will isn’t going to help; it’s only going to make them more resistant. But if they’re open to the idea, but hesitant about implementing it, the experience of hearing others be excited about innovation — especially in the supportive atmosphere of Immersion — can be a powerful experience.
  3. I did an instruction session for a faculty member on my campus who is extremely vocal about his opposition to assessment practices (which haven’t even been implemented yet), and did a minute paper at the end of the class, and shared the results with him afterwards.  I was sorely tempted to add in a little zinger at the end of my email message to him, to the effect of, “did you realize that this is assessment? Doesn’t seem so awful, does it?” But I didn’t.

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