California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 8, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy (First Draft, Spring 1998)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy (Second Draft, Spring 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Data (Third Segment of Draft, May 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Stories (Fourth Segment of Draft, June 5, 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Constructs (Fifth Segment of Draft, June 6, 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy:
Flexibility and Structure (Sixth Segment of Draft, June 6, 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy:
Standards in a World of Legitimacy and Discourse (Seventh Segment of Draft, June 8, 1999)
By Jeanne Curran, Susan R. Takata
Copyright June 1999. Permission for "fair use," not for any for-profit use.
A week's stop along the way to analyze what's happening with Dear Habermas:
Those 4000 submissions were in hardcopy. We couldn't share them easily, and we had no support money for copying them. We traded them amongst us for reading and responding. Very unsatisfactory and time consuming. We suspected then that if we could lay them out, have simultaneous access, and look for patterns, we would find them, just as we are finding them now in the e-mail. The writings then, too, served as a catalyst to more and more specific kinds of writing.
We did request funds. From the Research and Funding Committee. To make xeroxed copies so we could have simultaneous access and look for patterns. That was when a colleague reportedly said something like, "Oh, yeah, why don't you give each of us several thousand dollars so we can xerox our students' term papers!" It is sometimes remarkable how collegiality escapes any reflexive thought, and how colleagues fail so utterly to give each other a good faith hearing. Those were not term papers. They were purposefully short papers designed to help us find the patterns for which we were searching. We couldn't describe the patterns because no one had seen them yet. The academy had simply retreated behind the simplistic labeling of students as those who "couldn't write." Our funding was scornfully rejected, and we plodded on with what we could manage from our hides.
Just a sad story? Sour grapes? I don't think so. One of the women who wrote Women's Ways of Knowing speaks of the same collegiality to destroy that which differs from the traditionally sodden path. Research and development funding is meant to support people in their restless efforts to find out how we all work, long before such prodding can be translated into formal hypotheses.
For the record, this research has followed the same rough path as that of Women's Ways of Knowing, and many, many others of its ilk.
Break here. One of the leaps that can occur in process texts. Here the discussion turns to the questions and lecture notes designed around the basic concepts of each course on Dear Habermas, and each major issue of public discourse on Dear Habermas.
I found that most often in-depth conversations began from within a question - an aside where the question had taken them or at the end of a submission, as an afterthought that wanted expression, having been dredged up during the writing.
This means they freely express their feelings, but they are comfortable with our providing sources to enhance, as well as to challenge those feelings. They are even becoming adept at listening to others who disagree with them, in good faith. This is going to provide a particular kind of process text. One which will parallel a class discussion. The beginning of such a text is illustrated by Erik Harris' "Get to the Real Problem". Erik did not address the literature on his position. Nor did he offer any detailed rational argument. He offered a memory of something like this happening before, an affective component of the narrative. Often, that is where we begin any discussion. Where it affects us in our lives.
Now, as Erik and others elaborate on the beginning he has offered, different feelings, different arguments will surface. The advantage of process texts is that we can offer interactivel exchange at each segment of the development of a position. Many of us may now join this opening stage with our own memories, our own reactions. The issue shall be the richer for such merging of interests.
Faculty can then join with students to explore the knowledge base covered by our mutual efforts and broader searches into the literature. As we do so, the process text grows.
Hopefully, the germ of an idea in a virtual academic discussion will eventualy grow into a publication that invites others to join in the speculation and understanding. This is interactive scholarship.
We need to develop carefully the link from topic which captures interest in a discussion, through the preparatory readings and lecture notes, through the insistence that students come back to the literature, not reinvent the wheel, to the emergence of new perceptions, new theorietical directions, in the ensuing texts that grow from the discussion. I could see this in the e-mail. Documenting is going to take careful re-examination of the data.
But now we have simultaneous access to the data, and the Internet for connection. Thank God for technology.
By Jeanne Curran, Susan R. Takata
Copyright June 1999. Permission for "fair use," not for any for-profit use.
This segment comes from my notes of January 4. I had just spent another day long session recording the e-mails from several classes over the Spring semester. Other simpler and quicker methods would have verified the grades most students already knew they had earned, since the terms had been fairly specific. (Elsewhere in the paper the norms which have evolved for the "grading" will be discussed in specific detail.) But patterns were emerging, and it became important to record enough of those patterns in some way that we could begin to use the data collectively.
The following are some of the patterns that drew my attention and a summary of the stories they invoked:
Some groups responded by rejecting the offending member. Sometimes this happened as a group decision, without whaat the ejected member considered a good faith hearing by the group. Sometimes the group responded quickly enough to just send in future exercises without the errant group member's name.
Some groups responded by continuing to send the entire group roster, but eventually someone found the deception contrary to the shared contract, to Habermasian discourse, and explanations of actual shared work were made.
Skirmishes over these decisions are reflected in our data as, of all things, mutiple submissions. Some of the errant group members joined other groups, and persuaded the other group to resend the submission with their name included, resulting in some group members now having submitted the exercise more than once.. Some sent their own submissions, separately, and did not rejoin a group. Some of our best students worked with several groups, reflecting what is most likely a pattern of groups that could manage to get together working when they could and reporting their membership according to actual presence, not what they shared perceptually as membership. Some of these students also submitted work individually.
All these patterns, and more that will emerge with more careful study of these data, supplemented by exploratory interviews with students still available, show that one reason "groups" have never been as satisfying to students as the literature glowingly suggests they should be, is that the students themselves have little control over the composition of their groups, even when such control is purportedly given them.
More notes - June 5, 1999
This seems so ridiculous to plod through these thousands of e-mails, when I fully recognize that we could never ask this of a normal course load. So why have I steadfastly persisted in it? There is something here that I am convinced I have to see. The recording is a mechanical process, not yet perfected, but mechanical.
But beyond the recording there is the importance that I, not an assistant with less training in patterns of critical thought as applied to the specific instances of the exercise concepts, read the messages. When the students actually attempt to put the concepts in their own words, the results are informative. They tell me where their thinking went astray, and what I need to inject into the dialog to get them back on track. That takes the very essence of the best teaching. I could allow another skilled and well trained teacher to read and analyze the messages, but not a newly starting out research assistant or teaching assistant. This was one of the mistakes we made repeatedly in asking for help from teaching assistants within our classes.
I don't think a teaching assistant should engage in activities that do not enhance his/her learning. I don't think recording information about the counting data related to class submissions teaches our students enough to take that activity beyond the charge that we are treating them as "free labor." When we are charged to share the challenge of teaching such large classes, it is incumbent upon us to find meaningful ways to share that do not just duplicate the labor of paid assistants.
My present sense is that the Dear Habermas site has provided us with a means to do this. Once I understand clearly what I need to record, and another thousand or so e-mails will permit me to understand that, then the recording task can be nearly automated, since I have refused to interfere with the electronic process. We may well need to add another software program, or program the necessary pieces ourselves.
Then the task becomes focused on the teacher, well trained in learning theory and critical thinking. The teacher must read and respond succinctly to a class of say 60 students. And that class of students must write, for writing practice they need. How do we focus the activity to manageable proportions?
The exercises need to be on the basic concepts we feel every student should be able to take from the course. We're already there in curriculum development.
The lecture notes need to provide answers to the exercises, with sufficient additional lecture material interspersed that the students need to read them, and that they cannot be summarized into our standard 25 words or less without some understanding.
This combination covers the student who is functionally illiterate, terrified before trying to think his/her way through the material. If they have trouble formulating the answers, the lecture notes guide them. All they need to do is figure out how to say it in acceptably few words. If they are really damaged from previous experiences or from a total lack thereof, then they can copy out the answers, identifying the source they are quoting.
For most students it will be possible to rephrase the answer in 25 words or less (emphasis on short and directly to the point - not on word count). That is the kind of writing practice they need. Saying what they have learned, clearly and concisely. Our students adhered to this standard without complaint by semester's end. They did break with the standard when they wanted to tell us a story. But they flagged the story (David Ausubel's theory), acknowledged the standard, and then went on to tell the story. Right in the middle of the exercise, on which they adhered to the short answer standard on other questions.
I have found that over a seven-day intensive insane attempt to pull this whole project together at this, the appointed end of semester, I can answer their misconceptions at lightning speed, transfer their stories to a file designated for site placement, and record their exercises.
The A grade and the C grade represent the two ends of a continuum. The B falls somewhere in the spectrum between them.
All of these activities are open to group participation. They are also all open to individual effort, separately from a group. A few of our students worked individually. I was amazed to realize how few. Most worked in groups ranging from 2 to seven members, and the membership shifted. Individuals sometimes took on dialog alone, and at other times, moved back into group participation. Through all these unending e-mails, it feels as though the students found on their own the right mix for group and individual work. I think it helped that I placed no restraints on that dimension.
All of these activities are also open to group and teacher prodding. Some students who would have gratefully settled for a C are prodded, pulled, and pushed until they earn a higher grade. The teacher sometimes pulls, and is sometimes pulled by the group. These are all responses I saw, and will illustrate in narrative, this semester. They are responses of a classroom system where all are recognizing their roles, and learning to make themselves heard.
Of course, there will be some who defraud. But they are the concern of the "police" of the setting, not of the teachers. If a student is given permission to copy, when that is the stage of learning at which he/she finds himself, and if he is given an honest C for honestly doing that copy, both we and cognitive dissonance theory say that student IS learning. Perhaps not making up in one semester for twelve years of poor schooling, but the institutions of higher education can't do that anyway.
As the student experiences success, chances are he/she will want to take on more challenge. The solution to the dishonest student is for us not to be dishonest in our teaching. There are very few "real criminal" students in my forty years experience of teaching college. There are many, many very frightened and frustrated students who cannot figure out how to cope with the system. Anthony Giddens says sociologists should teach people to cope with the system. This dear habermas project is trying to do just that.
One example in the present data set of the students' coping with changing circumstances is the fluidity in the groups. One very articulate and highly motivated student discovered several weeks into the course that he did not need the course as a requirement. He switched to another course with the same instructor, and so ceased coming to the class. Although there was no mention ever made of the change, the group, with which he had been active in the early weeks, simply began to appear without his name. Students, given the trust and the opportunity, manage the complex situatedness of today's campus. Follow up interviews to confirm whether the group ever had knowledge of the student's change in plans is planned.
June 6 notes. I called this Characters earlier, but I think I like constructs better, for that is what I had in mind. As I continue the data recording process, I see examples of forgiveness, trust, helping others to state validity claims, the frustration of wanting to help restate a claim - not knowing how to - so bullying the teacher in favor of the other's claim - cute sequence.
I have also been impressed at the extent to which good manners has prevailed. There has been minimal arrogance, self-righteous indignation. (Only a few "you haven't answered my e-mail. Did you get it?" "this is the third time I've sent this.") Much more often: "just checking" "please confirm if you can". I think this goes to prove that students are citizens in the academy. Time we honored that.
Balancing Group/Individual Work and Balancing "Right Answer"/"Creative Answer"/Different Question - Need to go back to convergent and divergent production to explain the two track process in which we're always engaged. This combines with issues of difference, including the issue of assimilation as it applies to whether or not the general public and its children wish to assimilate to the academy, or merely prefer its credentialing for the attainment of highly divergent goals, of which the academy is often not even aware. Do we climb only upon the shoulders of giants we accept as our heroes, or do we use what is out there to attain our goals? (Chavetz, feminism and formal theory) Much of this theoretical literature will have to be summarized for an understanding of how we went about developing and marketing flexibility in the midst of a rather adamantly inflexible world. Barney Glaser also reflects having seen some of this same pattern.
Brief leap now back to the practice framwork.
Then very specific project - where they have to provide something short, substantive, with links and/or references that is for sharing on the site.
That's as far as I can get just now. I know that we live in an academic world that is very demanding of their time and energy , and that any attempt to be reasonable about that leads to some students just doing nothing because they can, or at least doing as little as they can. But that didn't happen so much this semester. I think the schools could recreate enthusiasm for learning.