Monday, February 23, 2009

The Burden of Proof #2

Some blog readers may be interested in a recent discussion list post "Re: The Burden of Proof #2" [Hake (2009)]. The abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: Kevin Carey in his blog post "The Burden of Proof," quoted Paul Basken's report "Engineering Schools Prove Slow to Change" on a Carnegie Foundation study that bemoand "a faculty culture resistant to change." Carey objects to blaming the slowness of change in engineering schools on culture because, in his view, "the more autonomy faculty are given in the classroom, the greater the burden the burden of proof to demonstrate that their choices are actually working.

But the problem is that most faculty fail to discharge their burden of proof of student learning because they (and administrators) are immersed in a culture that relies on course exams and Student Evaluations of Teaching (SET's) to gauge student learning - both of which typically measure lower-level educational objectives such as memory of facts and definitions rather than higher-level outcomes such as critical thinking and non-algorithmic problem solving.

How then can faculty measure their students' higher-level learning from start to finish of a course? As demonstrated by the physics education reform effort, by direct formative evaluation of students' domain-specific learning through pre/post testing using: (a) valid and consistently reliable tests of conceptual understanding devised by disciplinary experts, and (b) traditional courses as controls.

Such definitive evaluation of the cognitive impact of courses has (a) increased student learning in some U.S. introductory physics courses (including large enrollment classes at California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo, Harvard, MIT, North Carolina State, and the University of Colorado); (b) is gradually gaining a foothold in introductory astronomy, biology, chemistry, economics, engineering, geoscience, and math; and (c) has the potential to gradually enhance the effectiveness of higher education generally, including that in engineering.

To access the entire 28 kB post please click on

Hake, R.R. 2009. "Re: The Burden of Proof #2," AERA-L post of 23 February 2009 14:57:57-0800; online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at

1 comment:

G F Mueden said...

This reminds me of another Rote vs. Reason experience almost sixty years ago in Civil Engineering at Cornell. "Spike" Pendleton gave us a question in an exam that he had not covered in class. The West Pointers, all engineering officers there for more schooling, were very upset; they felt that it was very unfair. Spike felt that they should have been able to figure it out. ===gm===