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Innovative Methods of Assessment

“Teaching Conundrums” & “AssessFest” in the Department of English


For years, the assessment leaders in the literature program in the Department of English were frustrated by the traditional approaches used for assessing student learning in their field.  Pre- and post-content tests or evaluating papers with rubrics did not yield enough meaningful data for a variety of reasons.  First, instructors assign different texts across sections, making it challenging to develop a standardized and consistent set of evaluation criteria.  Additionally, typical assessment tools such as rubrics or grading scales can be limited in their ability to capture what is essentially a highly contextualized, individual process, and faculty in this field tend to be skeptical of the efficacy of quantitatively-oriented analyses. 

As a result of these concerns, the assessment team for the Bachelor of Arts in English: Literature decided to institute a three-step process to assessment:

  1. Teaching Conundrums & Sample Artifacts: The program directors invited faculty to submit sample papers to a shared folder, asking them to select papers that exemplified a “teaching conundrum” that they wanted to discuss with the other faculty and graduate instructors in the program. Questions relating to conundrums included:
    1. What are the best ways to encourage careful, close and critical reading of texts?
    2. Which qualities – originality, cogency, clarity, coherence, accuracy – should be most valued and promoted in student writing?
    3. How do we advance students’ capacity for original writing?
  2. AssessFest: The program directors planned a special gathering of program faculty to raise and select a particular teaching conundrum to pursue. The AssessFest began with a presentation and review of the sample papers and conundrums suggested in the shared folder.  Then, the faculty engaged in an open-ended conversation with the goal of pinpointing and exploring a significant problem or question that emerged from the sample papers. In this discussion, faculty quickly focused on the problem relating to original writing, especially in light of the new advances in Artificial Intelligence technology.  The discussion led to a deeper analysis of the issues around AI and to the generation of new strategies for addressing this learning-oriented problem.  Some of the strategies created include:
    1. Assign projects that incorporate public writing, personal memoir, or the contents of specific classroom discussions and discussion posts by classmates.
    2. Assign unique projects that have customized features or requirements--e.g., asking students to imitate a particular genre or style or incorporating a separate reflective essay in which students explain the choices that they made in the assignment they submitted.
    3. Create scaffolded assignments which include frequent in-class exercises in which students develop their own original ideas, practice textual analysis, or edit their work.
  3. Assessment Report: Following the AssessFest, the assessment team developed the assessment report which summarized the entire assessment process, including a summary of the key AssessFest findings and plans to implement in the coming year.

The assessment leaders in the program reported on the benefits of the new assessment approach.  Not only did it enable faculty to quickly identify shared problems and brainstorm solutions but it also provided a safe venue for collaboration.  As one attendee of AssessFest noted, “We all talk in the halls about teaching; it’s nice to have a formal moment for doing this . . . this space for conversation is very productive.”

For more information on this program’s assessment, contact Michele Navakas, Professor (, and Patrick Murphy, Professor (, in the Department of English.

November 2023