Participating in BLSCI’s self study has led me to think more about assessment, especially as it relates to my work as a Writing Across the Curriculum Fellow in the institute. WAC pedagogy emphasizes assignment design that is based on outcomes for learning, thus assessment is key to determining whether those goals are being met. It occurred to me that the Management 3800 students I coach have little sense of the learning outcomes they are meant to achieve by engaging in an in-class debate. What key communication skills are they supposed to learn and demonstrate? In the practice sessions I have held with student groups, their concern isn’t whether they have developed the necessary skills, but whether I (as a proxy for the professor) think they are doing what he wants in order to receive an A on the assignment. Perhaps this lack of clarity occurs because the professor I am working with doesn’t use and distribute a rubric for the assignment. In this post, I expand upon my earlier discussion about incorporating WAC principles into the courses I am supporting this semester by considering how developing a rubric for the debate assignment would help both the students and myself as their coach achieve our respective outcome goals.
Although the professor distributes a document at the beginning of the semester that outlines his thoughts about debating and thus implies what he is looking for in the students’ performance, (to my knowledge) they are not directly informed in advance about the criteria he will be using to evaluate their skills. His post-debate feedback for individual students covers aspects of both content and delivery. He comments on the following elements of the debate (in this order): dress, voice, ability to express ideas, presentation, preparation, rebuttal, closing statements, and overall effect. It is unclear whether any of these elements are prioritized in his evaluation of the student’s performance. Nor is it quite clear how a category like “presentation” differs from “ability to express ideas” or “overall effect” in the skills that are being assessed. By what standard is something like “preparation” being determined?
I feel that students would be better supported if fellows worked with faculty to develop a standard rubric that accounts for the overall skills the debate assignment aims to develop. During the coaching session the fellow could go over the rubric with students so they have a better sense of what they are meant to gain from the assignment based on how the professor will be evaluating their presentation. The fellow could even make written comments in each area/grid of the rubric so that students leave the session with something concrete to work on (rather than a vague sense of needing to improve based on our verbal feedback). While fellows are meant to consult on the delivery—not the content—of presentations, the rubric would certainly cover both elements and, in practice, I have found that students who come to my sessions want (and need) help with both. I challenged myself to imagine what a debate rubric would look like and admittedly had some difficulty because the assignment requires many skills and seems to aim for a number of different but related learning outcomes. Nonetheless, the rubric might include elements like coverage of the topic, organization of ideas, persuasiveness in the use of evidence, extemporaneous speaking skills, communication clarity, self-presentation, etc. Although it would take work on the part of both faculty and fellows, creating a debate rubric is a feasible goal because it doesn’t require any changes to the assignment or course design (unlike, say, scaffolding).
Finally, reading Christine’s thoughts about assessment criteria for the communication intensive course she supports (her post doesn’t identify the specific course) prompted me to consider how the communication goals of the debate assignment in Management 3800 relate to, as well as differ from, other oral presentation assignments Baruch students are given. If there are overlapping goals for the various oral presentations students complete in their courses, how might we synthesize design and assessment across the assignments to support these outcomes? Alternately, what is unique about debating as a way of thinking and communicating that might be significant for designing an outcome-based assessment in Management 3800?