Thursday, March 15, 2012

It's Like That

. . . in the immortal words of Run DMC

Recently, as part of my quality reform campaign, I took several protégées under my wing. It was a responsibility I'd been ducking for years. I've always thought that I more than met my obligations to my industry by simply doing the best work that I could do.

But how much of a difference can I make by myself? Yesterday I was talking with a friend who mentioned that 22,000 items will be coming through the agency where she wields her magic works. 22,000! How is it even possible to glance at 22,000 items, let alone perform a thorough content review?

Hence the protégées, whom I've been training in the manner in which I was trained, but more so. That is, much of the training I received was on-the-job, and even though it was much better, much more comprehensive than what is passing (or not passing) for training in most places nowadays, there certainly could have been more of it. (More did come later, when the director of our department launched the development of a processes and procedures manual.) Which I recognized at the time, and which inspired me to educate myself in the work of the industry.

I spent a great deal of time talking to colleagues in various departments of the Great Big Huge Company where I was employed. Like many companies, Great Big Huge Company had a silo culture. People mostly stuck with their own. The programmers ate lunch with the programmers. The style editors took walks together. The content people went out for coffee together. The psychometricians mostly remained in their offices, except for when they appeared at meetings. The upstairs people stayed upstairs, while the people in operations kept everything in motion downstairs. I went everywhere (I got lost a few times in that first few months, once in the warehouse, a cavern with concrete floors on which were stacked towers of testbooks on wooden pallets) and talked to everyone, from those in shipping and operations to manufacturing and finance. I wanted to know what everyone did and how everyone's work fit together to create the bigger picture. (With much envy, I listened to stories of the glory days of Great Big Huge Company, the days of raucous St. Patrick's Day parties and of flights in some executive's small plane and of leisurely, sociable Friday lunches. It was the '80s.)

I started reading. A lot of what I read made no sense to me. I didn't speak the language yet. It was discouraging to understand so little, but I approached it as if it were grad school and kept reading, kept asking questions, and always, kept doing the work, and then eventually I knew what I was doing.

This sense of mastery is what I hope for the protégées--this group, the group to come, maybe many groups in the future. Maybe these will go on to train others in best practices. Now that I've begun, I see that it's a worthwhile endeavor. Two or three or four protégées who may go on to become experts and provide work of the highest quality may not sound like a lot. But these two or three more people doing excellent work will leave less room for two or three bumblers. And then when clients get into the habit of receiving excellent work, they'll have less patience for the substandard. That's my fond hope, anyway.

Assessment content development is a funny little world. There's not much published information about what it is and how to do it right. Content developers don't often meet to share information, to talk about challenges and discuss solutions. When people ask me for sources, I point them in the direction of Thomas Haladyna. James Popham. Grant Wiggins. Jay McTighe.

Even so, one won't always agree, and when one does agree, there will be gaping chasms gaps between theory and execution.

[Thanks to Bob DeBris, who introduced me to the video posted above.]

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