Phi Beta Cons

Eval at Harvard

Here’s an article in the Boston Globe about assessment at Harvard. One of the profs mentioned is in physics, and he favors everyday in-class assessment using technology.

Mazur, who began teaching at Harvard in 1984, said it took him six years to realize he was not doing a good job of reaching students. In 1990, he read an article about a physics professor who quizzed students on their understanding of basic formulas, and the students did poorly. Mazur thought the quiz was “high school stuff” that his Harvard students could handle with aplomb. They did horribly.

No surprise there, even at Harvard. But one thing in the article gives pause. It calls Harvard a “trendsetter for other universities.” Well, maybe for wealthy, elite private institutions, but not for the vast majority of post-secondary schools in this country. Journalists often go to Harvard for higher ed news, but in truth, what goes on there offers very little for community colleges, state universities at the undergrad level, satellite campuses of state systems, regional liberal arts colleges, etc. And Harvard students are hardly representative.
Taking Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the rest as trendsetters, in fact, does more damage than harm. Too often, in the humanities at least, the trends they set and that filter down into the larger pool have to do with advanced ideas and postures–multiculturalism, cultural theory, adversarial culture, deconstruction, and the like–that only corrupt the educational process.