Assessment and Networks from a Novice Perspective

Full disclosure: I have not had any formal education in pedagogy. I taught one hybrid college course in the fall semester of 2020 three months (and two weeks) after graduating from a master’s program that did not focus on pedagogy. (A Master’s in Theological Studies at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry usually prepares students for a PhD program that will incorporate TA work and pedagogical formation into the four to six years of study.) I was 24 and 25 while teaching, just a few years older than the juniors and seniors I taught. I used the syllabus already used for previous iterations of the course and modified it for hybrid class sessions and a slightly greater focus on social justice.

In retrospect, I know I could have improved many aspects of the course. At the same time, I feel I did an adequate, even good, job as a first-time college instructor more or less flying by the seat of my pants. However, other than student surveys, I do not have a good way of assessing my work for the course. Combined with the vast resources in pedagogy available to instructors today and even the managed collection of resources offered through DigPINS, this dearth of assessment feeds into and exacerbates my insecurity as I prepare to teach two sections of an introductory theology course this fall.

Overreliance on assessment – on how others view me and what I do – is a personal issue that I have confronted for a decade and will likely confront throughout the rest of my life. This week’s topic has shown me a method of applying what I have learned from this overreliance to my teaching. I want to provide students clear, candid, compassionate, and concrete feedback on the assignments I give them. At the same time, I do not want to hamstring, paralyze, or scare students in my assessment by making it arcane, disjointed, or perfectionistic: doing so is counterintuitive to motivating students to engage in the course and truly gain knowledge, skills, and self-confidence from it. I appreciated Sharpe’s concrete examples of connected and lucid assessment, and I intend and hope to create such assessment for my own classes.

I need other people to help me as I prepare for and teach this course, even as I take responsibility for designing and implementing it. I am grateful to the theology faculty for offering me assistance from the moment it was announced I would be teaching in the fall. They are providing assessment for my course assessments and my course design as a whole. DigPINS is also key to my course design and assessment, as it is the most formal pedagogical training I have had (or have made the time for among my other jobs, responsibilities, and periods of laziness and procrastination). Even if I feel overwhelmed by the resources at times, I know I can come back to and draw from their wisdom and the wisdom of the virtual community fostered by this project. The people here model in many ways the kind of teaching I want to do this semester and, I hope, six or so years from now when I have a PhD (and, by some miracle, a job).

As a novice instructor who teaches theology and practices a religion, the networks I have for assessment at my institution and through DigPINS are truly Godsends. I hope (and pray, to be honest) to utilize these resources wisely so that the students I teach this fall have repeated and welcoming opportunities to engage in, learn from, and grow through the semester.

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