Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Faculty Evaluations of DL Faculty

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Nov 23, 2000

Posted to DEOS-L
23 November, 2000

And yet...

"Dr. Steve Eskow" wrote:

In what other art or science or field of practice is it appropriate to "evaluate" the practitioner apart from his or her work?

Actors? Of course not. Critics evaluate their work: they do not try to evaluate Robert deNiro apart from his performances.

We evaluate the play Hamlet separately from Olivier's performance of Hamlet...

We do not "evaluate" Newton or Einstein, we evaluate their science.

We evaluate the question of whether relativity is true separately from the question of whether Einstein plagiarized it from his wife. We evaluate the truth of differential calculus separately from the question of whether Newton plagiarized it from Leibniz.

We do not "evaluate" Picasso or Gertrude Stein or T.S. Eliot apart from their pictures and poetry.

We evaluate the question of whether Picasso was pleasant to live with (he was not) separately from the quality of his art. We investigate the question of whether Eliot was a booze hound separately from the quality of his work. We evauluate each of Picasso's paintings, or Stein's writings, individually (that's why Picasso's paintings sell for different prices).

We do not have two ways to evaluate Frank Lloyd Wright and his buildings.

We evaluate his overall approach to architecture (unrealistic) separately from individual instances of his architecture (occasionally brilliant).

We need to bring to light the assumptions behind asking students to "rate" or "evaluate" instructors apart from the impact of their teaching.

And yet...

An instructor may be working with excellent content - which s/he may or may not have produced - and deliver that content badly.

The content is different from the delivery.

What this unexamined practice leads to, I believe, is a simple-minded and useless list of the characteristics of "good" teaching: a list as useless as a comparable check list which we would apply against Albert Einstein to determine if he was a "good" scientist.

And yet...

Being a good scientist is different from being right.

A person may be a very bad scientist and yet still arrive at the correct theory. Much of Newton's thinking, for example, was based on occult and astrology: classically bad methodology, and Newton's theories turned out to be (largely) correct: classically good results.

Yeats said it well: you cannot tell the dancer from the dance.

The great choreographer Martha Graham would disagree. It may be Rudolf Nureyev and Margpot Fonteyn dancing Lucifer and the Scarlet Letter, but it is Graham who is evaluated for the dance; in significant ways, the dancer *is* different from the dance.

What this dialogue represents is the 'lone wolf' theory of online learning as opposed to the emerging 'wolf pack' theory of online learning.

In the former, which has characterized traditional in-class learning for decades, the instructor is the star, the center of the show, the one and only shining light, solely responsible for (and given credit (and payment) for) the course.

In the latter, which is much more charateristic of the performing arts (where you have writers, directors, performers, etc., collaborating on the same work), the work stands alone, and each person's role in presenting that work is evaluated separately.

If, in learning, we ask, "which model will prevail," we should ask, by analogy, "would it be reasonable to mount a stage production or a movie following the lone wolf model?" And the answer is almost always, "no." Such productions are too complex for a single person to mount alone.

Same with distance and online learning. It will be hard for many professors to bear, but they will have to share credit. Because if they insist on doing it by themselves, they will be swamped by the "Star Wars" of the online learning world.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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