Conference Presentation Feedback, Part 4: Scalability and Sustainability

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

As the sole instruction librarian at my library (among a staff of seven), scalability and sustainability are really important to me.  So when I saw comments to the effect of:

well, it’s lovely that you’re able to do this at your itty bitty liberal arts college, but we teach 500 sections of intro comp every semester, with 75 students in each section. How on earth are we supposed to transcribe all eleventy-bajillion of those minute papers, never mind actually analyze and think about them?1

I sit up and take notice.  Yes, it’s certainly true that I’m able to do things in a program of this scale, that people managing a program of a much larger scale simply can’t even contemplate.  (But also, vice versa.)  But that doesn’t mean you have to write off any kind of assessment or evaluation that doesn’t rely on a scantron form.

Here are some thoughts on how to manage minute papers, and other classroom assessment techniques, in a much larger program:

  1. You don’t have to administer minute papers on paper. An online form, either hosted at your library’s or university’s web site, or hosted elsewhere (SurveyMonkey, a Google Docs form, etc.) can accomplish exactly the same thing, with no transcription required.  (Google Docs is a particularly inviting option, because of the ability to export your results in a variety of formats.)
  2. Even more importantly, you don’t have to assess every thing every time.  I said this before in the previous post in this series, but it’s even more pertinent here.  A representative sample is just fine, and even a non-representative sample works well, as long as you’re continually gathering information over time.  So instead of assessing all 500 of those sections, only assess 100 of them.  Assess a different 100 next semester, and a still-different 100 the semester after that.  Gradually, you build up a comprehensive picture of what’s happening in your program, what’s working and what isn’t, and how you can change things to improve learning.
  3. Tools like Wordle and more sophisticated content-analysis tools are your friends here.  When you get enough qualitative data all in one place, you can do some really interesting things with content analysis.

Next up in our series: those blasted print journals!

  1. I’m exaggerating for comic effect here; this paraphrase is much, much snarkier than any of the comments I actually received.