Texas Tech University

OPA Assessment Spotlight

Brock Williams

OPA Spotlight Interview

By: Becky Fletcher, Administrator

Brock Williams is the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. He has been at Texas Tech University since 1999.

How did you get involved with assessment?

I helped with departmental strategic planning in the late 2000’s and was first confronted with the problem of assessing whether any of our plans were actually making a difference. For the last couple of years, handling the department’s programmatic assessment has been part of my associate chair duties.

How do you use assessment in your job? What are some interesting assessment techniques you have used or are planning to use?

One of the techniques we rely on heavily is embedding assessment questions on student final exams. This has a number of important advantages for us. It is completely transparent to the student. No class time is lost, and we don’t contaminate the process by making it obvious to the students that their work is being observed. The only additional time cost to faculty is the need to collect the grades on the embedded questions. Since almost all our courses use written final exams, this process works for everything from lower level undergraduate to PhD courses.

Is there anything else you would like to share about assessment?

One of my favorite lines from the TV show Babylon 5 is in Season 3 when one character has to deliver what seems to be very bad news, but explains “I suggest you look on this as an opportunity, rather than a burden.” The repercussions from that opportunity send the show spinning off in a completely new direction for the final two seasons. I think the work of assessment is very similar. There is additional work involved, but it provides an excellent opportunity to adjust the course of our programs to better serve our students, to ensure that our courses cover the material we really want to teach, and to more effectively teach what it is we really want our students to learn.

What is your hometown or where do you tell people you are from?

I am from a very small, very rural community in central Mississippi. I grew up on a dairy farm, and waking up at 3 AM every weekend was both an excellent way to develop the discipline to succeed as a mathematician and an excellent motivator to find a career that didn’t involve standing in ankle deep cow manure at 3 AM.

What do you like to do when you are not working?

I’m not sure that I’m ever not working. Mathematical research mostly involves staring off into space for long periods of time and occasionally scribbling something down that usually doesn’t work out the way you’d hoped. So I’m usually thinking about a problem whatever else I’m trying to do.I do listen to a lot of audio books (I have something over 700 in my audible.com library), mostly history, theology, and science fiction. I have a reasonably large garden, and my wife and I often teach Bible classes at church.

What is something you have not done but would like to do?

I have always wanted to teach a study abroad class in London. I think it would be a lot of fun to teach calculus while showing students some of the key places that influenced the culture of England between the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 when Isaac Newton was discovering calculus.

Quote from Dr. Toda, Department Chair, Mathematics and Statistics:

"Dr. Brock Williams, who has received the designation of Integrated Scholar at Texas Tech University, is a Professor and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studied in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. He has been instrumental in the program assessment efforts for our B.S. and B.A. degrees, and in reporting them. His contributions to updating the undergraduate curriculum and addressing the S.A.C.S. accreditation requirements and recommendations have been extremely valuable."

Office of Planning and Assessment