Monday, October 13, 2014

Feedback and fruitcake

The first round of peer evaluations are in.  Eleven undergraduate students and one graduate student have provided quantitative and qualitative feedback to classmates who are partners in maintaining (and, ideally, improving) a retail business for class credit. The challenges?  Giving useful feedback, learning to receive feedback, and preparing for the day when both giving and receiving feedback will affect raises, bonuses, promotions, and corporate survival.

The students have the same challenges as the upper-level managers with whom I've worked: Who said that about me? That's just wrong; I'm not that way at all.  Why would someone say that?  How can I respond to feedback that is inconsistent with other feedback? Do I try to change my behavior? If so, how much do I change and which feedback do I use?  How do I rationalize quantitative feedback that says I'm a superstar with qualitative comments that tell me I have lots of room for improvement?

My goal is to help them understand that feedback is (trite though it sounds) a gift.  It's an indication of how others view your actions, though it's far from being an unbiased statement of fact. It's an awareness that not everyone loves you, likes you, approves of you, or even has a clue about you.

More than anything else, feedback from peers is a call for rigorous self-assessment. It is the opportunity to determine whether and what you will change...or not change.  It is the sometimes painful realization that motivation can be both misunderstood and harshly judged.  As with the ubiquitious holiday fruitcake, few people really enjoy feedback, despite the tradition of giving and receiving.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Creativity in a box

Conventional wisdom is that the more we learn, the less we know.  It's not that learning makes us stupid (at least not by design), but that a broader understanding of the world in which we live or a deeper understanding of a given subject shines a harsh and unforgiving light on simple solutions and easy answers. Thus, the longer I teach, the more questions I have:

  • How can creativity be taught or explored within a traditional academic course bound by a traditional academic calendar?
  • If research indicates that knowledge and facts have little bearing on the decisions we make--that, in fact, passion and existing beliefs have far greater bearing--what is the role of education?
  • Do taxpayers understand or care about the reality that tax dollars support the academic practice of providing guaranteed salaries for tenured academics and the increasing size (and salaries) of administrative oversight?
  • Have we constructed (or allowed the construction of) political and educational systems that are, for all practical purposes, mostly divorced from the people they are charged with representing and educating?
  • Within the boxes of our making, how do so many people still manage to find beauty around them, value in a life well lived, and purpose in brief existence?
Perhaps the last question is the necessary but not sufficient condition for grappling with the others.