California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 28, 1999
Faculty on the Site.
Authentication as an Interactive Project
The Gifts of Hierarchy and Our Comfort with Labelling
Our Rage at the Arrogance and Injustice of Labelling
How to Measure Learning
Forms to Guide Us Through Interactive Measures of Learning
Authentication and the Discourse of Disbelief
There are some solid theoretical reasons for preparing attestations of competence (awards, honors, letters or recommendation) interactively. By "interactive" we mean that both students and faculty must actively contribute their perceptions, perferrably at the discourse table. When the teacher attempts to assess who knows what, there are impenetrable barriers. Peer knowledge is very different from the front stage behavior exhibited to teachers as is also the dyadic behavior exhibited by a specially chosen student to mentor. Ryan's research, going way back to the early 70s, showed how unable teachers were to predict who would choose to work with whom. Students are people. They are complex. They are many shifting images of their identities, not all of which the teacher has the chance to see. The commuter campus of the millennium is particularly a problem, since our students are more turn by different facets of their identity than ever before.
The teacher catches one image. The persona to which she/he has been privy, and that as one of the many students with whom she/he has interacted. A theory as old and classic as Kurt Lewin's psychological life space is adequate to remind us that the student sees his/her own interaction differently, as placed at center stage. For the teacher trying to fit evaluative reports or letters of recommendation into a crazy quilt of other tasks, that student is peripheral. Thus, a fair and accurate authentication is more likely to come of shared perceptions.
But this is the same advice we gave years ago on career planning. If you do not tell your supervisor, in clear terms that he/she cannot be hear, how well you are doing, when time comes for promotions, your name is less likely to come up. Books by the American Management Association will tell you that one of the great myths of the market place is work hard and you will be rewarded. Make sure that your supervisor knows that you work hard, and that that hard work fits into his/her agenda, and you will be rewarded. Well, maybe, depending on lots of other variables.
On the job, ratings are often more informal. You'll have to do them over coffee. But if you've thought them out as thoroughly as a request for a recommendation, then you'll be able to take advantage of the time shared over that next cup of coffee. Surely you would not say to your supervisor, "Well, whatever you think of my work." And let it go at that? No, no, no. You want input. Well thought out, concise, honest input. Preferably over time, not the day you here a promotion is coming up.
We'll gradually add detail to this section. The following sources will be cited in detail, though most of you will recognize them as works to which we regularly refer in the discussion of discourse skills.
Purposes of authentication: the academy should give first priority to its own needs, which are:
What about cheating? Only likely if you use tests, and we know what we think about tests. Fudging, misrepresenting. If the authentication is developed, as it should be, over time, and if the teacher is an expert in the field, and if the measures we have sought are largely verifiable so that results can be reproduced and predictions made, which is really what industry has been asking for, not grades per se, then cheating is not possible because the authentication is interactive and continuously verified. In Habermasian terms, as I understand them, we will have created a learning as opposed to a non-learningauto-poietic sub-system. That means that when many people fail a given ritualized test, instead of punishing those who fail and those who give the test, we look to the underlying unstated assumptions to develop better measures and conceptualization of the variables. Of course, it is easier to blame the students who fail and the teachers who give the test. Many of them are even unsophisticated enough to agree with you (Blalock throroughly describes the low-quality academic training that leads to this inability to defend their own intelligence); and it is always easier to build a non-learning auto-poietic sub-system. Does away with much of the complexity of thinking and active subjects (or objects, depending on your theoretical orientation).
What about grade curves? Well, if you want to adjudge a small percentage of our student population as As, and recognize that those As are harder to get the more elitist the school because the more support the teachers have, the more homogeneously well-trained the student body, the more discrimination between good, better, best, and leave the rest of the population out there. Go for it. Then you support all the incompetents. That is a patently stupid argument in terms of how the grades are assigned and in terms of their purpose. Wake up!
We need to check recent developments in this area, but the overall predictive ability of the teacher as a face-to-face group member for whom front stage behavior is often reserved, and who is not included in most of the backstage dyadic flow between members, should not have altered. If anything, teachers at all levels, have been increasing the distance between themselves and students, in keeping with the supervisorial trend of the labor market. (References here to David M. Gordon and to Craig Calhoun on the "supervised society".)
As we noted earlier, learning is a factor in our identity. For one thing, our identity is learned. So how we learn affects who we discover we are and who we become. But in an even more important sense learning, our tolerance of the ambiguity of knowledge, our tolerance of different perceptions, our choices to remain open or closed to other concepts, all are essential components of who we are. And we don't just happen to be who we are, we become who we are within a social context. So there is a narrative for each of us, a narrative that may fit the normative pattern or may not. Certainly there is a gendered narrative that differs from the normative pattern drawn from patriarchal societies, and certainly there is an ethnic narrative that differs from the privileged Western normative pattern.
We, of the Dear Habermas project, must operate to share the skills of public discourse within a limited university support system, and within an educational environment largely hostile to complexity and the sophisticated methodology needed to describe that complexity. It is easier to give a test and have done with it. But that is not our project. On the other hand, we have worked on this project for years, and we have data to guide us. We have listened, carefully, and in good faith, to the narratives of learning our students have told. We believe that, at this point in our development, as a country, and as a discipline, and as participants in a realtively uncharted venture, that the collection of individual stories matters.
Several years ago we convinced our students to write, and they did, and we were inundated, and did not know what to do with the results. But our students were writing, and that was good. Our students have continued to write, but never as we predict. Always we respond, and always they shift once again. We try to focus, for if we are to develop testable hypotheses, we must limit the variables, we must move past the stories. Barney Glaser is right. Story talking is delightful, but we must solve some of the social issues we face, beyond the conceptualization that fascinates us.
But story talking is where it must begin. Let us give you two examples:
In 1990, in Amsterdam, at the International Sociology Meetings, we presented a paper on our students' learning. We spoke then of trying to explain this learning in terms of normative ordering, for first in college, non-traditional students did not relate to the academy in all the old patterns. They were not always respectful; they were angry, feeling that they were smarter than some of those who had better access, better grades. But they were self-deprecating at other times, recognizing the lacunae in their training. They learned a lot. But they could always be caught out by someone crafty enough to come at them from an unexpected angle. One of the stories from that period involved a young black man who complained that his white professor simply did not understand. There was no way he could explain his research study without the professor twisting his words. "You don't understand our logic," he said. "So you've got some new kind of logic I don't know about," countered the exhausted professor at ten p.m. one Saturday night. Not too long after that incident a feminist scholar published a work on the social construction of reality in which she dealt with this very conundrum: logic is not socially constructed, and we do not get to change logic for different social contexts. Odd, that I didn't see the connection then. I just thought the student misused my language and mis-spoke himself. Not so. He did see the patterns. He did see the logic. He was simply trying to escape all the attendant assumptions that got him into hot water. Assumptions like, if you've done your homework, you'll report to your research professor and get credit for it. Not when you know you're late, aren't quite sure of some definitions, and that you're going to be caught out at that. And not when you finally get up the courage to go to her office and discover that she isn't there. Now good straight logic says you've been had, even if she was in class at the time. So it's not illogical to accuse her of never being available. It fits the trap you feel.
We would never have thought to write that scenario into the narrative of learning. We did not see it as a narrative of learnng identity when it played out. We needed his story to see this piece of learning. We still are not sure how to measure what he did learn, but that is a step along the way to conceptualization and categorization that will permit verifiable measurement of learning we have rarely measured.
The measures so far:
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. What was described that is like what you would do? Did that teach you anything? Make you think? Make you wonder or worry? Make you proud?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. What did it explain? An event you had wondered about? The way someone reacted to you? The way you reacted to someone? A problem you had thought about?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. Why? Was it smart? sensitive? a compliment? the remarks of a winner? Could you say it someday? Will you?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. Someone like who? Give a few adjectives that would describe this person. Does it help to find people in your readings who are like someone you know? Does it help explain why someone you know may feel the way they do? Does it help explain why you may feel the way you do about them?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. Is there a word or concept that confuses you? Do you understand literally what the issue or concept is, and yet still feel that you don't quite understand it? Do you think you could identify the concept on a multiple choice test (convergent thinking)? Do you think you could explain the concept in your own words? Do you think you could find applications of the concept in the real world and in other disciplines? Would you be happier if you could find the concept re-explained in different words, another example?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. Did you go quickly through a book? over a large site? Was it satisfying to have an overview? Did you already know enough that the overview suffices? Or will you go back to study in more depth? Or do you see that you need to study it in more depth, but will probably not get to go back over it unless you have to for some other reason? Or will you probably not go back because you are anxious to go further, see more?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. What exactly did you go back to? Was it clearer this time? Was it satisfying to get the concept down more thoroughly? Was it frustrating to have to spend the time? Are you likely to go back more often?
Give a specific example in 25 words or so. What was exciting? Confirming something you sort of knew, but had never thought through? Finding out that there are many sources that you feel comfortable with? Learning to locate sources, and judge them? Feeling more confident about your knowledge? Is this kind of learning something you would like to keep room for in your life? Can you?
Sara Scott (1998) 'Here Be Dragons: Researching the Unbelievable, Hearing the Unthinkable. A
Feminist Sociologist in Uncharted Territory'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 3, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/3/3/1.html
Annie Huntington (1999) 'A Critical Response to Sara Scott's 'Here be Dragons: Researching the
Unbelievable, Hearing the Unthinkable. A Feminist Sociologist in Uncharted Territory' '
Sociological Research Online, vol. 4, no. 1, http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/4/1/huntington.html
These two papers, on the issue of ritual child abuse and whether or not it can be shown to actually exist, tangle with the modernist idea that there is somewhere a "truth," and that within the context of that truth personal narratives are either true or not true. Separating out the researcher from the participant from the survivor from the feminist from the academic puts all the questions we consider on postmodernism on the table. The papers are worth reading. jeanne Links added June 22, 1999.
The relevance of the two papers to this section of our site is the issue of authentication. There is a "discourse of disbelief" surrounding the claim that today's student is as honest, as hard-working, as motivated, as committed to the community as those of the more traditional student populations of twenty to thirty years ago. Soon we will put up another section of the Narrative of Learning Identity that will focus on this "discourse of disbelief." So, here also be dragons, and perhaps ones that it matters more that we slay, and soon.