An Assessment Idea: Git

I just had a short conversation with Dave Grant. Dave and I started at UNI at the same time, we have kids of similar ages, so I saw him tonight when he came to pick up my son for a sleepover. While the kids were playing we chatted about “stuff,” and the topic of assessment came up.

At this point, I am talking about assessment of a program, or its pieces, rather than assessment of students. Dave mentioned that he had described a process for several of the Languages and Literature courses involving keeping drafts and comments on those drafts as evidence of student work and improvement.

It immediately made me think of Git. Basically, the problem of documenting all of these things is one about version control. Computer scientists have solved this problem (and more).

So, is it crazy to imagine a world in which college students are asked to use a version control system to document their work?

This doesn’t solve the problem of how to take that data and turn it into some useful measurement of “success.” Still, I think it might be useful.

Tell me why I am wrong.

5 thoughts on “An Assessment Idea: Git

  1. First thought (maybe from the Lizard Brain): it’s hard for people to learn to use/employ version control. This leads to a natural cost-benefit discussion that can only had by the stakeholders.

    Second thought (again from the Lizard Brain, perhaps): this will require a database of information that no academic department is willing to create and administer until there are case studies that establish the benefit.

    Third thought: wouldn’t it be great if all our colleagues ditched MS Word in favor of text editors! That would open the door for Git-ing in a way that could be transformative. And they wouldn’t even have to use LateX. They could use Markdown or Multimarkdown, both of which are relatively easy. This would have the additional benefit of promoting (for students, especially early career students) a “content first” mentality that would lead them to focus on the ideas they are exploring and the way they are communicating them to their audience. Only later (in their academic or course career) would they layer in more sophisticated formatting to give their “steak” more “sizzle”.

    But what’s the chance that our friends in other departments would ditch Micro$oft? Zilch, certainly.

    The middle way is promoting collaborative writing with tools like Google Docs, and requiring students to engage in deep revision. This would give changelogs that could be mined for the type of information that you’re looking for, right?

  2. Ooh! I hadn’t thought about the google docs tools. we have google apps on campus, so that might be easier to implement. The real problem is that it throws latex out the window…

    I know I am being naive and optimistic. I have colleagues, in my own department, whose work I respect and admire, who still use MS for writing… Even math-heavy things. Sigh.

  3. I am an example of Jason’s first point: while I understand the basic concept of version control, I do not yet understand it well enough to know why this is an awesome idea.

    And I also have about half of my department is still on Word for everything. It drives me nuts.

  4. Let’s not say “awesome” just yet. The reason I want it is because reasonable use of git would keep a complete record of all submitted versions, comments, revisions, and final product for any particular file that was tracked. It would even keep a record of how the changes move along in time, and you can go back and find whatever you want.

    This handles all of the “database” problems that arise when trying to collect assessment data.

    It doesn’t do anything about the problem of how to effectively use that collected data.

  5. I don’t think math work goes through the same type of draft-comment-revise-repeat scheme that you see in the humanities, as probably most of the revision is done on scratch paper as a student tries out different ideas until they find something that seems correct. You might see some of this pattern if you are having them write up small projects. Thus I’m not sure what value we’d get from seeing all the drafts.

    Two thoughts:

    Since students usually do different variations on the same type of problems throughout the semester, it seems that a portfolio of work from the beginning to the end (plus drafts if you want), would provide the same type of data and would be easier to collect. Plus, you could create a rubric for what you are looking for overall and have people evaluate samples of student work from early in the semester to compare with that from later in the semester.(Our English department does something like this to evaluate their program and their instructors)

    I have a colleague who is trying to capture the early part of a student’s work by having them record themselves doing the work using Google Hangout On Air. He has them type the work up in Mathematica, so on the video we can see the screen and what they type, and hear what they say about it. Again you have the problem of using the data.

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