As a policy guy, I’m a staunch believer in assessment and evaluation, but I hate bad measurements. Unfortunately, bad measurements are so much easier than good measurements, and recently I’ve been required to comply with two particularly bad measurements.
One has to do with ensuring credit hours for independent studies. The federal government is trying to crack down on diploma mills, so all colleges and universities receiving federal funding must ensure that an hour of academic credit corresponds to an appropriate amount of work. This includes credit for independent studies, which are trickier to ensure than a course that actually meets for the specified number of credit hours, and so in setting up an independent study for a student for next term, I had to “demonstrate” credit hour equivalency. I was puzzled as to how to do this, until I found out that all I actually had to do was to assert it, with a statement on the syllabus along the lines of “this course meets the credit hour standards of an in–class course.” Heh, and here I thought actual evidence was required.
And in my on-line course for a community college, they are evaluating on-line instructors in part by whether we’re logged into the course software system for enough time. A well-designed on-line course doesn’t need the instructor to be logged in for significant amounts of time. The lectures and ancillary materials are all prepared, uploaded, and need not be looked at again during the course of the term (unless an error is brought to the instructor’s attention); the course grading can be done online, but it can also be downloaded and graded offline; and communication with students happens almost wholly via email which mostly does not require logging into the course software (although the software does have an email function). A person could satisfactorily teach such a course while being logged in only a couple of hours for the whole term, and in logging in for longer periods of time does not enhance the value for students because it neither requires, nor is likely to promote, student interaction (students take on-line courses for convenience, so it is highly unlikely that you could hold regularly scheduled chat sessions at a time when many students would find it convenient to log in). The incentive here is clear: stay logged in while you’re doing other work, including other classes.
A year or so ago I was told I wasn’t logging in enough, and they wanted on-line instructors to have more contact with students, so I should ask their course software specialist for ideas. And so I did. And they gave me ideas on things that could potentially make a course better–videos, etc.–but nothing that actually involved being logged into the system for any more time, or actually interacting with the students. And when I specified that I was looking for ideas that would result in more faculty-student interaction, I never received a response. My educated guess is that they didn’t have any ideas, either.
In fact I do have an idea about how to increase faculty-student interaction in an on-line course; design the course poorly and have numerous errors in it. Students will flock to email to consult the instructor. As I have fixed the problems over successive terms of teaching this course, I get fewer and fewer emails because I have made the course better and better. But that’s not as easy to measure, nor is the actual educational quality of the course, so they’ll measure my time logged-in.
I’m logged in right now. I’m sure it’s doing the students a world of good.