Notes from the ARC: Making Magic

My parents recently gave me a box that was packed from my boyhood room.  This box, taped shut since 1984, contained an item that speaks to the work many of us do, particularly if we’ve come to the ARC.   

When I opened the box, my eye caught the spine of a book: Learn Magic by Henry Hay.  I had a childhood fascination with performing magic.  In elementary school, I studied the covert mechanisms behind “drawing room” illusions that used playing cards and coins, and I paid special attention to making things appear out of nowhere.

Revealing something where there seemed to be nothing is among my routine tasks while I conduct learning outcomes assessment at a large research university.  And I suspect my fellow assessment researchers also find themselves making the unseen become seen as they uncover what students have learned, how, where, and to what extent.  

At this year’s ARC, I’m presenting the assessment management system I developed to support the evaluation of program learning outcomes. I orchestrated this system’s appearance out of thin air, assembling it from commonly-used local software.  Student work can be stored, accessed, and assessed:  The magic of assessment!  My hope is that I invented this system for my audience to perform it themselves at home to the amazement of their friends (or at least their deans and department chairs).  

Don’t we attend conferences to learn new skills, to be inspired, and to walk away with something unexpected?  Aren’t many of us involved in education because of how it felt to gain insight in school when we were young?  Don’t we experience a certain urgency when an exciting idea pops into mind?  

Materializing a fresh solution to a problem, however, isn’t always a simple or easy undertaking.  There remains the chance that the magic will come apart at the seams or dangle awkwardly by its strings.  

When I consider the dangers of attempting to make something new appear, I search for a mechanism that can make the magic work, and self-efficacy looms large as a concept that travels in my mind just ahead of its theoretical cousins: grit and mindset.  

Self-efficacy is a factor that contributes to persistence in the face of obstacles – a measure of our confidence that we can create the conditions to make something happen. When we face challenges, it proves indispensable. I’ll share with you how self-efficacy can come to your aid when you’re tasked with filling a void with something new, be it a critical thinking rubric or a visualization of Core Competency attainment in Tableau…  You get the picture. 

These are the levers to pull if you’re seeking a boost from self-efficacy’s magic:

  • Find a supportive audience as you rehearse and perform your magic, and listen to that audience cheer you on (through social persuasion);
  • Know that others are out there are doing this, too – you can find them and follow their examples (through vicarious learning);
  • Identify that feeling in your stomach as sparks of excitement instead of nervous butterflies (by monitoring your physiological state); and
  • Work your magic one step at a time, breaking the effort into sequential parts, so that each stage of your success accumulates steadily (through mastery experiences).

May we have the confidence to take risks and face challenges, and, armed with the power of our effort, may we – both individually and collectively – make something remarkable appear.  

Kelly Wahl is the Director of Statistical Analysis and Assessment Coordinator at UCLA College of Letters & Science. He will be presenting at the #2019ARC on Thursday, April 11 during the session entitled, “Provocative Questions and Courageous Answers about Teaching, Learning, and Assessment - Is Higher Education Accomplishing what it Said it Would?”

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