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May 6, 2011

Notes from the underground

My email is on auto-reply: “I am going partially underground until May 13 …” I had to clear some time to finish putting together the NCATE report. We are doing it as a website,, rather than one long text, for a couple of reasons: first, it is easier to use the same documents for different sections of the report; and second, it allows us to include resources already on the web. The disadvantages are mainly technical: several people had to learn how to use Dreamweaver, which is neither easy nor very intuitive. There is also an organizational challenge: it comes to the point – within the next week or so, when one or two people only can edit, make sure there are no contradictions, gaps, or weird things. While the main body of the report is not that large, perhaps 50 pages, building the architecture of the report’s web site is a challenge. The site already contains 1827 files in 113 folders, more are coming online. The site was put together by about dozen different people, each able to edit the site directly. Faculty members, chairs, and many offices on campus have been exceptionally helpful in providing many different bits of information. The challenge is: we sometimes don’t know which of us has what data. With that many files, we can lose track of which is the most recent, and which is an older version. We can link wrong files, and override each other’s writing. Different sections may develop inconsistencies, redundancies, or gaps. That’s what really takes time, and only so much of it can be done by many people.
It is actually fun, believe it or not. Organizing information is an interesting challenge, like putting together a puzzle; except you get to design pieces. I especially enjoy finding bits of data that allow our programs shine. Did you know, for example, that 74% of our classes are taught by full time faculty? This is much better than in any number of peer institutions. Did you know that 97.5% of our FT faculty members have doctoral degrees? I am sure my co-authors experience the same thrill of a good find. You should take a look at the description of our assessment system put together by Susan, our field experiences (Eileen), and our  Diversity section and a number of different key pieces, including the monumental Curriculum and Assessment Chart nurtured by Karen. The site is still under construction, of course. I am fully aware this admission of having fun is somewhat contradictory to all my misgivings about NCATE. But putting all this together is actually an enjoyable exercise; it has an element of game in it. I also enjoy the crisis mode; sorry to admit it. When time runs out, and things happen fast, it is exciting to try to direct all the flying pieces to the same goal. Not that it always works, of course. Thanks to  the NCATE leadership team, working on the final stages of the project: Susan, Karen BR and Karen C, Eileen, Patrick, and Monica, and to our assistants Melissa, Erica (a.k.a. the queen of Dreamweaver), Paula, Kim, Dottie and Rose.
My former colleague and partner in crime Carolyn Edwards just reminded me yesterday how we had to miss the undergraduate commencement last year to put some finishing touches on the NCATE report. Yes, we did; perhaps the only commencement I missed in my career. But isn’t she a beauty?

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