Literary Study, Measurement, and the Sublime:
Disciplinary Assessment

Edited by Donna Heiland and Laura J. Rosenthal
With the assistance of Cheryl Ching



Richard L. Morrill
Donna Heiland and Laura J. Rosenthal
In their opening essay, Heiland and Rosenthal consider the forces internal and external to the higher education that are shaping the ongoing discussion of learning outcomes assessment, argue for the importance of assessment of—and within—a disciplinary framework, and offer a brief overview of the essays in this collection.

Assessment, Liberal Education, and Literary Study

Transformative Learning—Mine and Theirs
Carol Geary Schneider
Schneider, a leader in the national conversation about liberal education—understood as education that cultivates key cognitive and personal capacities—ties that conversation to her own experiences as a young faculty member and as a student at Mount Holyoke College.

Making the Case for Discipline-Based Assessment
Rachelle L. Brooks
Brooks argues for the value of discipline-specific assessment of student learning, and reports on a study of liberal learning outcomes in the fields of classics and political science.

Where Has Assessment Been in the Modern Language Association? A Disciplinary Perspective
Rosemary G. Feal, David Laurence, and Stephen Olsen
Feal, Laurence, and Olsen place current discussions of assessment in the context of US discussions of higher education since the 1980s, and trace the history of the Modern Language Association’s engagement with assessment efforts.

Measuring the Humanities: The Slippery Slope From Assessment to Standardization
Michael Holquist
Holquist argues against standardized assessment. In a wide-ranging essay, he locates the goal of university teaching in the cultivation of what Kant called the capacity for "criticism," and traces the growth of organizations and practices—in Europe as well as the United States—that he views as directly countering that goal.

Sublimity, Creativity, and Learning

The Pygmies in the Cage: The Function of the Sublime in Longinus
W. Robert Connor
Connor reads Longinus’ treatise on the sublime as an educational theory that instructs us in how to reach a "loftiness of spirit," even as it confronts us with the haunting image of pygmies in a cage—confined and voiceless, emblematic of a world in which sublime experience is no longer available—and concludes with a fictional courtroom scene that puts the possibility and even desirability of sublime accomplishment on trial.

Approaching the Ineffable: Flow, Sublimity, and Student Learning
Donna Heiland
Heiland asks about the intense engagement that leads students to "aha!" moments, showing how theories of "flow" and the sublime can help us give voice and shape to learning experiences that are generally described as ineffable.

Fearful Symmetries: Rubrics and Assessment
Sarah Webster Goodwin
Goodwin demonstrates the potential of rubrics as a liberating force in assessing—and even making space for—ambitious and original student work, in an essay that considers texts ranging from the poetry of William Blake to the multimedia projects of her students.

Posthumanist Measures: Elephants, Assessment, and the Return of Creativity
Lucinda Cole
Cole explores the nature and importance of creativity in literary study and in institutional settings. In a searching analysis, she probes the nature of creativity through the fascinating and controversial example of elephant painting.

Assessment in Literary Education
Charles Altieri
Altieri asks whether or not limited resources are most effectively spent in developing assessment protocols. In a reading that brings together Hegel’s discussion of aesthetics with Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, he demonstrates the complexity of literary analysis and suggests the importance of small classes in communicating the richness of a text.

Politics, Institutions, and Disciplinary Goals

Assessment, Literary Study, and Disciplinary Futures
Laura J. Rosenthal
Rosenthal places the assessment controversy in the context of recent pressures on higher education and the humanities. While most critics have placed assessment on the side of corporatization, Rosenthal argues that assessment instead might benefit not just students but the discipline of literary study itself, in part by providing new strategies for advocacy.

The Future of Literary Criticism: Assessment, the Curricularized Classroom, and Thick Reading
Charles M. Tung
Tung points to the classroom as the place to rethink the discipline of literary study, "in response to the 'coroner’s report'—that keeps getting written for literature departments." He suggests how a "curricularized" classroom not only can offer a new strategy of reading (which he calls "thick reading"), but can emphasize the contributions of disciplines in the humanities.

A Progressive Case for Educational Standardization: How Not to Respond to Calls for Common Standards
Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein
Graff and Birkenstein argue for the democratic potential of some forms of well-done standardized assessment, and show how to do it.

English Departments, Assessment, and Organizational Learning
David Mazella
Mazella offers a wide-ranging and ambitious argument about assessment and broader issues of institutional organization. Mazella bases his conclusions on research into institutional behavior as well as his own experience launching the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Houston.

Case Studies and Templates

From Skepticism to Measured Enthusiasm: The Story of Two Literary Scholars' Introduction to Assessment in the Major
Kirsten T. Saxton and Ajuan Maria Mance
Saxton and Mance reflect on the process by which they came not just to accept, but to generate, some "measured enthusiasm" for assessment: Saxton documents the process by which her department revised its "Introduction to Literature" course, while Mance explores how good assessment practices could help the department realize its commitment to a diverse curriculum.

A Cautionary Tale About System-wide Assessment in the State University of New York: Why and How Faculty Voices Can and Must Unite
Pat Belanoff and Tina Good
Belanoff and Good document and analyze a case study that makes disturbingly clear how assessment for learning can be trumped by assessment for accountability, and offer practical strategies for ensuring that this pattern does not become the norm.

Reading Foreign Literature Critically: Definitions and Assessment
Jenny Bergeron and Russell A. Berman
Bergeron and Berman consider the most important learning outcomes for students of foreign literature and map out possibilities for how in many cases a revised curriculum—and sophisticated assessment of it—can help students achieve them.

The Collaborative World Languages Department: A Teamwork Approach to Assessing Student Learning Outcomes
José G. Ricardo-Osorio
Osorio-Ricardo examines the relationship of literary study to language learning, and offers a manageable assessment plan that builds from this connection.

How to Construct a Simple, Sensible, Useful Departmental Assessment Process
Barbara E. Walvoord
Walvoord constructs a guide to designing successful assessment strategies for departments of English, with attention to the assessment of classroom work—and especially of those seemingly ineffable learning goals that have been a focus of many of the essays in this collection.