Re: [xmca] lanlguage and systemic change

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Aug 06 2006 - 08:29:14 PDT


Your "sidebar" on the practices associated with assessment at Lesley got me
thinking about several issues. But I'll comment just
on one. Perhaps others will be encouraged to comment on other aspects of
your report, perhaps not. Anyway, here is what caught
my attention:

 Community members make no distinction between their day to day work and
assessment, but rather identify assessment as the process for collecting
evidence that will assist them in their continuing and new work.

What struck me is that this characterization of (ideal?) members' normative
behavior is a lot like what we might term "crticial
thinking" at the level of individuals.This thought, in turn, got me to
reflected on the issue of the "subject" of activity in various
activity theory discussion. Is the subject an individual, or a collective
subject? Are differrent processes implicated depending upon
how one thinks about the individual/collective relation?

I assume that as is true of most people, some of the time community members
are not thinking of assessment (evaluatng
crtically the consequences of their actions, at other times -- some of them
institutionally mandated by such contingencies
as progress reports or accredidation deadlines--- assessment becomes the
leading concern.

Would it be proper to say that a cultural of evidence takes the statement in
red above as an ideal that members value to be strived
for and valorized, a norm that helps to organize joint activity?

On 8/4/06, bb <> wrote:
> As a sidebar to the present discussion, I've spent the greater part of
> this week involved in program assessment and redesign with the goal of
> supporting my institution's application for a new national
> accreditation. In this context I reviewed a vision paper on assessment
> practices at the university, written several years ago, sponsored by the
> provost, and of which I was a coauthor. We adopted the term "culture of
> evidence" (which was used heavily this week) and proceeded to adapt it to
> our circumstances, with the following exerpt providing the core definition
> -- of which I was pleased to rediscover that the last paragraph has
> a clearly traceable influence to this forum and its several of its
> participants.
> bb
> -----------------------------
> III Culture of Evidence
> One outstanding pattern in models of best practices that appear in the
> literature, and on the Internet, is the systemic weaving of assessment into
> the fabric of the institution, as a culture of evidence. Assessment is not
> simply patched onto extant practices, as an adjunct or summative process,
> but instead is integrated into day to day routines and operations, and
> thereby is integrated into the totality of work in the
> institution. Assessment data provides the basis upon which departments,
> programs, schools, and individuals evaluate their practices in relation to
> their stated goals and the university mission, and upon which decisions are
> then made to support the operations of the institution and to make
> improvements. Culture of evidence specifically refers, in its ideal form, to
> the systemic coordination of people in an institution who are:
> Identifying and addressing student, faculty, and staff issues,
> Consulting about data needs and assessment methodologies,
> Planning and designing assessments,
> Ensuring sound assessment methodology using current technologies and
> techniques,
> Routinely collecting and analyzing student-oriented data,
> Organizing to continually address selected needs and demands of the
> university,
> Providing institutional support for assessment practices and their
> improvements,
> Ensuring that collected data are analyzed, interpreted, and
> disseminated to all invested decision-makers, who include faculty, advisors,
> support staff, as well as administrators.
> Our use of the term culture is to convey an ideal that is not
> undemocratic: everyone gets involved, the process is not one of mandated
> changes, and assessment becomes a shared tool. By definition, each member
> of a culture necessarily enacts the practices that constitute that culture,
> and the culture of evidence can be thought in part as the consolidated and
> collaborative coordination of assessment practices in an
> institution. Members of the community continuously ask: What do we
> know? How do we know it? What resources do we have to do something about
> what we know? Are we constituting and enacting a responsible system?
> In contrast to thinking of assessment as an external activity, assessment
> is recognized as an ongoing ethnography of the balance between challenges
> and capacities. Assessments help to define and articulate the zone between
> the everyday actions of the present and new and possible forms of
> activity. Community members make no distinction between their day to day
> work and assessment, but rather identify assessment as the process for
> collecting evidence that will assist them in their continuing and new
> work. This way of thinking about assessment also constitutes the culture of
> evidence, where decision-making and planning is based on the data and
> information created during the processes of learning, teaching, and
> working. The culture of evidence is both a way of doing and a way of
> thinking.
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