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Assessment uncovers ways to improve learning

06/17/2013

Teresa McGowan facilitated a cultural shift in assessing students preparing to be teachers within Miami University's School of Education, Health and Society. That shift earned her a Lifetime Achievement Award from Miami's Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching and University Assessment (CELTUA).

The school’s already high student learning standards for educators combined with the need to mesh them with Ohio’s requirements for teacher licensing made for a complicated system of assessment that needed precise coordination.

“Teresa created a process that spotlights Miami’s own unique emphasis on how we want to define our education graduates,” said Cecilia Shore, director of CELTUA. “She stressed the importance of assessment and showed faculty their critical piece in the system. The division created key assignments embedded into courses that make sure that students are meeting the standards in order to be successful when they graduate from Miami.”

McGowan, director of accreditation and assessment for the School of Education, Health and Society, retired this year. She emphasized that implementing a system of student performance-based assessment is not difficult conceptually.

“What do you want students to know and be able to do? Your answer becomes your set of outcomes,” McGowan said. “Then, you choose assignments—either some currently used or new ones—that address these outcomes and have students complete them. You then score them using an assessment tool—rubric, Likert scale, etc., that is aligned to the outcomes. Once scored, you have data that you can now look at to determine students’ strengths and weaknesses. Information you receive will only be as good as the assignments and the scoring tools. Faculty were a huge part of this process.”

The educator preparation programs were the first areas of focus, however, other programs within the school are also moving to performance-based assessment.

“We have learned that maybe some of our assignments did need to be changed. As teachers, we tend to hold on to what we have developed even though it may not be the best thing to use. Reviewing the data really can be a good thing, not only for the student and the program, but also for us as teachers to grow. If we don’t do that, we shouldn’t be teaching.”

Assessment grows at Miami

All Miami’s academic departments either have or are working on assessment plans. A full-cycle assessment process includes four steps: creating a plan, collecting data, reporting and discussing it as a faculty and implementing any necessary changes.

Through the assessment process, departments recognize their successes and note areas for possible improvement, according to Jennifer Blue, CELTUA assessment associate.

She reviewed reports and noticed that while some departments were satisfied with the results of student learning other departments found some areas where they could make changes to benefit their students’ learning.

For example, some departments changed key content areas in courses and added new faculty to meet those areas of focus. Other departments have adopted more active pedagogy strategies.

Listed below are highlights from several departmental assessments:

  • During their last accreditation review, faculty and staff from the interior design program discovered they did not meet certain indicators, such as providing exposure to a variety of business, organizational and familial structures. In response, the department has substantially changed the content of several courses to include a variety of types of clientele and projects. They also hired a new faculty member with professional experience, to which their students needed exposure.

  • Faculty in engineering technology, electromechanical (EMET) concentration reported that progress was made between their last professional reviews. New laboratory activities in upper-level courses had improved student mastery of the knowledge, techniques, skills and tools of the discipline; student ability to construct, analyze and interpret experiments; and student ability to identify, analyze and solve technical problems. Students also showed gains in their commitment to quality, timelines and continuous improvement. These new laboratory activities required students to be much more active in the design and assembly of the experiments, which seems to have made a large difference in assessment results.

  • Faculty in the department of philosophy discovered students were very strong at presenting the context and purpose of their writing, analyzing texts and arguments, and organizing their ideas, but they were somewhat less capable of developing their own arguments with supporting evidence. They are devising new preliminary writing assignments to improve this skill.

  • Similarly, in mass communication, students’ lowest scores were in critiquing media texts and in writing clearly. Like philosophy, the department will be more cognizant in their courses of the need to bolster their students’ critical evaluation skills.

  • Latin American studies also found that students’ written work showed some weaknesses in argumentation skills such as critical evaluation and analysis, while their oral presentation skills were very good. They realized students received a lot of practice in their core courses in giving oral presentations, and that they needed to be more consistent in their courses in requiring students to construct arguments.

Assessment statistics

• 98 percent of Miami’s undergraduate programs have fully developed assessment plans.
• At the graduate level, about 82 percent of the programs have plans.
• 83 percent of the undergraduate programs either are known to be collecting data or have a written report of their results and faculty discussion.
• A few graduate departments have also completed a full cycle of assessment.

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