This week, at the Secondary Coordinating Council meeting, we came up with a great idea. I called it the Panopticon Project. It is a bit of a joke. Panopticon is a kind of a prison building, where everyone is visible to the guards, and no one knows when one is being watched. Michelle Foucault, in Discipline and Punish has famously used it to illustrate the gentle oppression of the modern age. But to improve, we have to make things visible – not to the guards, but to each other.
We were just talking about the data on program quality, frustrated at how the data is not reliable, how it is hard to read, how hard is it to get the information across the academic turf boundaries, and how it always comes so late to do anything about it. So we thought it would be so great if you can just see instantly what is taught in every class (without reading a 20-page syllabus), and what students have learned. So, we came up with an idea that I think is going to work really well for us. It is simple, the technology is there, and it is fun.
Imagine that in every class, students are asked to complete a short survey "Ten things I have learned in this class," and the results of it become immediately available for viewing. The instructors will have to agree, of course, on what the ten main things are, and students will have to agree to be honest and objective. But this would provide a great snapshot of program design, expose gaps and overlaps, provide a glimpse of overall quality, and a constant feedback loop to program coordinators, administrators, and faculty. OK, let's just imagine a web page like this. I even piloted the technology (that's how excited I got!), so click on those two live links to see how it might look like (Sidorkin-007 :survey; results). Feel free to enter a few test answers, and see how the results update.
Spring 10 (Instructor, section)
EED 402 Kraver: survey; results
Of course, we would have to overcome anxieties, our traditions of secrecy, and assume a certain amount of data contamination. However, it would allow us to learn quickly, and to change quickly. For example, in the next semester, we will realize that there needs to be a set of different questions we want to ask, or that we need to change some of our methods and assignments. If I see students learned about the law better in Wayne's class than in mine, I will come and ask him how he does it. I think a tiny bit of public pressure is also needed for us to work on constant improvements. The Council members Mary Schuttler and Jeri Kraver agreed to pilot it in the Spring semester, and I am hoping Social Foundations faculty would be able to pilot all EDF 366 and 370 courses as well.
I am sick and tired of bad data, of bad standards written by people who know nothing about the real life; I am tired of compliance for the sake of compliance; I can't waste anymore of my time on instruments and measures that are not that useful. I want us to move to the Google age.