Tuesday, April 09, 2013
The Nerdy Jam Session
Soon the team will go its separate ways, never to be reconstituted. The report will be its legacy. I’ll have to wait for the next nerdy jam session.
When I was teaching upper-division comp courses ("professional writing"), I used to try to persuade classmates that about 90% of occupational writing is writing-by-committee. The horror was more than they could absorb, of course, even though each semester a few veterans would be lurking in any given class, assuring the studenty types that what I said was so.
This is a great description of the facts of life. Academic or corporate.
We're putting the band back together
In the teams I've served on for ACCJC team members need to respond to some fairly focused questions regarding the standards/areas of the self study for which they are responsible for reviewing before the team does an initial meeting. When the initial meeting occurs (a month or so before the site visit--and we would have gotten the institution's self study and evidence about a month before that initial meeting) folks can start to raise questions, concerns, or give praise. THEN, we've been asked to construct a list of specific people we will want to interview at the site visit, and additional evidence we will need based on our reading of the self study. And THEN, in the teams I've been on, the team chair has always required that members prewrite a draft of the evaluation of the self study prior to the site visit.
In this way, the site visit becomes an opportunity to validate evidence and meet with people asking questions which require a level of specificity and thoughtfullness that comes from having already tried to bang out in writing an assessment of strengths and weaknesses. I know that I personally ask much better questions if I've actually spent time writing and working on a document beforehand. I really can't personally imagine doing as good of a job asking questions and analyzing the evidence while on a site visit if I was trying to write my section of the report from the start while on the site visit. That's not to say that there's still not a lot of speed writing and team writing involved. But the difference is that it involves refining and shaping a document that you, as a group, have already been discussing and working on collaboratively via email and in person for a couple of months and which you're now completing as you cross check your assumptions from the self study that the institution wrote with your observed experiences, interviews, etc.
From what I've heard, this is a fairly new trend for the ACCJC and it's also true that the team chair sets the tone and the expectations for the pre-site visit work. But it is something to consider, perhaps, for your future visits and if you ever happen to be a chair on an accreditation visit: is it better to have a draft of your report including an initial assessment of your findings before you get there? Or is it better to try to bang the whole thing out in a week?
I was struck at how similar DeanDad's description was to my experiences serving on an external review panel visting a large NSF-funded research center. We have piles of reports submitted beforehand, spend the day "working people" getting how things really work, and by night crafting a narrative that summarizes what we heard with what we read and figuring our what questions to ask people during our meetings the next day. After 3 days I was exhausted.
When writing a research grant or major paper, you generally keep your audience in mind and try to provide the sentence or three that the reviewer or reader will focus on. A self-study might not be written that way (I know ours appear to be written for the writers themselves), but it should know its audience.
Just being on a review panel helps you write better proposals. I expect you will find this exercise will help you with your next reaffirmation review.