Updated January 26th. So, for the massive, massive throngs of people in the world who are on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what my dissertation topic will be– at this stage, I am still working on being able to get access to a particular data set, and I still have to go through the Institutional Review Board process. However, in broad terms: my dissertation is an empirical evaluation of the CLA+, particularly the Performance Task as an assessment of student writing. I will quantitatively analyze texts in a research corpus, god willing, using techniques and programs from latent semantic analysis, contrastive corpus analysis, lexical diversity, and related textual processing fields. I will attempt to find consistent patterns and features in these texts, and relate them statistically to the scores that these texts received on their assessments.
I will then qualitatively analyze representative texts to demonstrate how the patterns and features contribute to the communicative, rhetorical, and stylistic characters of the texts. I will locate the evidentiary, “value-added” assessment push in a political and economic context, and discuss some pedagogical and institutional consequences of new assessment regimes and models. At present, I consider myself a qualified supporter of the CLA+ system, as I believe some sort of assessment mechanism is natural and inevitable, and because I believe brick-and-mortar institutions have a profound educational advantage over online colleges that they will have to demonstrate empirically. The theoretical, pedagogical, and political supporting documents of the CLA+ are refreshing in their agreement that no standardized assessment can measure all learning and in their opposition to a high-stakes model.
I hope to defend my prospectus in the middle of February. It’s going to be a long journey, and I can’t wait.