Learning Goals We Have Established for English Students
We want our students to be able to engage literary texts (a field we construe very broadly) both closely and deeply, understanding how texts function internally, what relation they bear to their generative contexts and traditions, and how they respond to and resist the changing circumstances of their reception.
We want our students to know how to pursue the work of interpretation and analysis in relation to other people; how to find, learn, and contribute to a conversation; how to formulate robust and original arguments in respect to that conversation; and how to communicate such arguments, along with their stakes and ramifications, effectively in both oral and written form.
We hope our students will be keen to apply their critical habits of thought both to and beyond the study of literature as it is presently understood. We wish them able to probe and to alter the conventions that govern their utterances.
How We Measure/Plan to Measure Achievement of These Goals
How well our students have achieved the first two goals can be observed during the English Department Senior Colloquium, a two-day event during which all seniors present and discuss their research in a formal setting before their peers, faculty, and the public at large. (This is the second year of the Colloquium, but the first in which all seniors are required to participate as part of their senior exercise.)
The Colloquium is modeled on the MLA Convention: four to six papers are presented on individual panels, each moderated by a senior. Each presentation is ten minutes long, and each panel is followed by discussion. The panels were organized by the two faculty teaching the senior seminars, Aaron Kunin and Brad Pasanek, and by Dara Regaignon , who taught the thesis seminar. The panel titles included “Fact’s Fictions”; “Ingenious Nonsense, Persistent Folly”; “Dialogic Sympathies “; “Gender, Flirtation, Marriage and Divorce”; “At the Limits of Personhood”; “Autobiography in Motion “; and “Thinking through Metaphor.” Aaron, Brad, Dara and I were present for the entire colloquium in order to be consistent in our evaluation of how well our students achieved the goals outlined. We met a week later to assess the exercise and the individual performances, and to make recommendations for the department and conveners of next year’s Senior Colloquium.
We measured our nine thesis-writing students’ success in two ways: Aaron, Brad, Dara and I discussed these students as a subset of the Senior Colloquium, and the department discussed them in conjunction with awarding the senior thesis prize. The process for determining the senior thesis prize was formalized this year in order to be more consistent in measuring the students’ success. The first and second thesis readers and Dara, who read all the theses, referred the top theses to a subcommittee that read them and made its recommendation to the department for the prize. After deliberating over two meetings, the subcommittee recommended splitting the prize.
This is the first year our new curriculum has been in place, so it is too early to assess its effectiveness in achieving our third goal. We note, though, that we have added a number of new majors who are excited about the creativity allowed though the new openness of the major, and who welcome the responsibility for creating their path. A number of students have expressed pleasure that our new curriculum allows, with departmental approval, classes in other literatures and from other disciplines. In time we expect to find our third learning goal has been addressed by our new curriculum. This will be determined through conversations between students and their advisors that are discussed in department meetings, and the path proposals themselves that are discussed by the entire department for approval after the initial approval accorded by the advisor.
Modifications of Curriculum Resulting From Our Assessment of Students’ Achievement in Meeting Learning Goals
While we have not substantially modified our curriculum after the major revamping last year, we have instituted new processes and made some minor changes based upon our assessment of the senior exercise. In addition to formalizing the process for determining winners of the senior thesis prize, we have discontinued the senior thesis seminar, and will instead ask our liaisons (one of whom is writing a thesis) to organize informal thesis writing groups. To emphasize the importance of beginning early to write the thesis, we have instituted assigning a fall semester grade for the first chapter of the thesis, and will also require students to work as closely with their second reader as with their first. We will also post on our website the deadlines for submission of thesis and path proposals; the date of the Senior Colloquium and the submission date for drafts of research to be presented; and all department events.
Because our assessment of the thesis writers revealed not all of our students are sufficiently conversant with library research, we will emphasize research more consistently in our gateway course, Literary Interpretation, and in our upper-division classes. Even though our students performed very well in the Senior Colloquium, to provide greater consistency of performance we recommend that Kevin and Val meet with their spring 170 classes to discuss various ways the students could present research (e.g. in addition to exposition, to present a problem for feedback, or a close reading, or an overview), and to discuss what students might expect in the Q and A following the panel presentations.