Motivating Colleagues to Participate in Assessment

The movement to assess student learning in higher education has been around for roughly a quarter of a century. Why, then, is there still resistance to assessment on so many campuses? Marilee Bresciani (2006) suggests two underlying reasons: the value and importance of assessment are not understood, and assessment activities are not supported with appropriate resources. A third reason may be added to these:
fear of and resistance to change. (Suskie, 2009, pp. 69-70)

What are some sources of resistance to change?

Suskie (2009) highlights a few of the sources:

  • Some people are satisfied with the status quo.
  • Some people don’t see the relevance of an initiative to them and, therefore, try to ignore it.
  • Some old-timers have seen many initiatives come and go over the years; this too shall pass.
  • Some people think they will need to learn and use new skills that are difficult to master.
  • Some people feel threatened by a new initiative.
  • Some people have misconceptions about a new initiative.
  • The prospect of change means the prospect of more work.

What are some tangible actions to promote faculty participation in assessment?

Walvoord (2010) suggests doing the following to encourage your faculty members’ participation in assessment:

  • Devote at least two hours in one or more faculty meetings each year to discuss what faculty members in each program expect students to be able to do when they graduate, how you know whether or not students have achieved this, and what you could try to address weaknesses.
  • Ask each faculty member who regularly teaches the same courses to bring copies of one of his or her syllabi to share with colleagues. Discuss what expectations the faculty member has for the course, what weaknesses he or she sees in student preparation, and how this course fits in with others in the curriculum.
  • Adapt faculty performance expectations (or recognize them if they are already there) to explicitly acknowledge participation in assessment of student learning.
  • Recognize the scholarship of teaching and learning as a legitimate and important part of research in the department. Reward faculty members who receive grant funding (OIRE supplies this!), who make conference presentations, and who publish concerning teaching and learning in the discipline. (See the list of journals that publish on the scholarship of teaching and learning at the end of this chapter.)

What are the benefits of assessment?

In general, benefits include getting faculty members, within and across disciplines, talking about their goals for student learning, seeing how courses fit together, making expectations more clear to students, and sharing detailed feedback with students. (Suskie, 2009; University of Delaware, n.d.; Wolvoord, 2010)

In general, assessment:

  • increases our confidence that we are putting our time and resources into activities that we value as an institution.
  • increases our confidence that we are allocating resources to areas that are producing the outcomes we value.
  • gathers and uses data that will enable us to make decisions that lead to improved instruction, stronger curriculums, and effective and efficient policies.
  • strengthens our ability to say that our graduates are well-prepared to succeed in their future endeavors.
  • has ready access to data that will satisfy the requirements of accrediting agencies and funding agencies, and will inform various accountability driven conversations.
  • gathers and uses data that will strengthen arguments for increased funding and/or resource allocations to areas that are producing valued outcomes.
  • increases the effectiveness of our communications about the value of a university education.

Has assessment really improved student learning?

Yes, according to Suskie and Walvoord. There is an abundance of literature about how assessment has improved student learning within specific disciplines and within specific institutions. For example, see Banta, Jones, and Black (2009); Bresciani (2006); Maki (2010); Peterson and Einarson (2001) in addition to journals listed at the end of this chapter and issues of Assessment Update https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Assessment+Update-p-9780999903360.

How can we assess complex student learning? Isn’t assessment just about the lowest common denominator? How can we capture the ineffable?

Walvoord says that we should be spending our time in assessment concentrating on what really matters most. This is not easy, but it is not impossible. We need to figure out how to effectively evaluate what students do that reflect our goals for them. Many people have been thinking about this, both within and across disciplines. Is your national disciplinary professional association talking about this? An excellent resource for assessment of cross-disciplinary, liberal education college student learning is the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) LEAP (Liberal Education and America’s Promise) and VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) projects. (See http://www.aacu.org/LEAP and http://www.aacu.org/value.)

Does assessment violate academic freedom?

The Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Board of Directors Statement on Academic Freedom and Educational Responsibility (2006) directly addresses this question:

There is, however, an additional dimension of academic freedom that was not well developed in the original principles, and that has to do with the responsibilities of faculty members for educational programs. Faculty members are responsible for establishing educational goals for student learning, for designing and implementing programs of general education and specialized study that intentionally cultivate the intended learning, and for assessing student achievement. In these matters, faculty members must work collaboratively with colleagues in their departments, schools, and institutions as well as with relevant administrators. Academic freedom is necessary not just so faculty members can conduct their individual research and teach their own courses, but so they can enable students—through whole college programs of study—to acquire the learning they need to contribute to society.

Are there factors beyond our control that affect student learning?

Walvoord says that of course there are! Acknowledge factors that you cannot control, such as students’ incoming skill levels or the number of hours they spend in their jobs, to establish beginning points for student assessment and to provide a context for learning.

Why are grades not enough?

Suskie and Walvoord list the following reasons:

  • Course grades usually tell us something about how an individual student knows relative to other students in the same course section, but provide no details about exactly what that student actually knows or doesn’t know.
  • If grades reflect attendance, this does not tell us much about student learning.
  • If multiple sections of a class are offered and taught by different people, are the content and grading criteria exactly the same?
  • Grades for individual assignments are typically not available to anyone else besides the instructor and the student.
  • A degree program should be more than a set of disparate courses. Are there things we want students to know and be able to do that span multiple courses? Do we really know how each course fits into a coherent curriculum?

What are the most common misconceptions about program assessment?

The University of Central Florida (2008, pp. i-11) lists seven:

Misconception 1: The results of assessment will be used to evaluate faculty performance.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Faculty awareness, participation, and ownership are essential for successful program assessment, but assessment results should never be used to evaluate or judge individual faculty members’ performance. The results of program assessment are used to improve programs.

Misconception 2: Our program is working well; our students are learning; we don’t need to bother with assessment.

The primary purpose of program assessment is to improve the quality of educational programs by improving student learning. Even if you feel that the quality of your program is good, there is always room for improvement. In addition, various accrediting bodies mandate conducting student outcomes assessment. Not to conduct assessment is not an option.

Misconception 3: We will assign a single faculty member to conduct the assessment. Too many opinions would only delay and hinder the process.

While it is a good idea to have one or two faculty members head the assessment process for the department, it is really important and beneficial to have all faculty members involved. Each person brings to the table different perspectives and ideas for improving the academic program. Also, it is important that all faculty members understand and agree to the mission (i.e., purpose) and goals of the academic program.

Misconception 4: The administration might use the results to eliminate some of the department’s programs.

There are two types of evaluation processes: summative and formative. The purpose of summative program evaluation is to judge the quality and worth of a program. On the other hand, the purpose of formative program evaluation is to provide feedback to help improve and modify a program. Program assessment is intended as a formative evaluation and not a summative evaluation. The results of program assessment will not be used to eliminate programs.

Misconception 5: Assessment is a waste of time and does not benefit the students.

The primary purpose of assessment is to identify the important objectives and learning outcomes for your program with the purpose of improving student learning. Anything that enhances and improves the learning, knowledge, and growth of your students cannot be considered a waste of time.

Misconception 6: We will come up with an assessment plan for this year and use it every year thereafter.

For program assessment to be successful, it must be an ongoing and continuous process. Just as your program should be improving, so should your assessment plan and measurement methods. Each academic department must look at its programs and its learning outcomes on a continual basis and determine if there are better ways to measure student learning and other program outcomes. Your assessment plan should be continuously reviewed and improved.

Misconception 7: Program assessment sounds like a good idea, but it is time-consuming and complex.

It is impossible to “get something for nothing.” Effective program assessment will take some time and effort, but there are steps that you can follow that can help you to develop an assessment plan that will lead to improving student learning.

What are the most common actions resulting from assessment?

According to Walvoord, you can expect the following actions from your assessment:

  • Changes to the curriculum, requirements, programmatic structures, or other aspects of students’ course of study
  • Changes to the policies, funding, and planning that support learning
  • Faculty development

What journals publish scholarship on assessment of college student learning?

Suskie provides the following lists of journals that cover topics of general interest in higher education and teaching in the specific disciplines.

General Interest Higher Education Publications

American Educational Research Journal
American Journal of Evaluation
Applied Measurement in Education
Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education
Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice
Assessment Update
Change
College Teaching
Community College Journal of Research and Practice
Computer Supported Cooperative Work: The Journal of Collaborative Computing
Educational Action Research
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Educational Policy Analysis Archives
Educational Research
Innovations in Education and Teaching
International Innovative Higher Education
Interactive Learning Research
International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
Journal of College Student Retention
Journal of Educational Measurement
Journal of Excellence in College Teaching
Journal of Graduate Teaching Assistant Development
Journal of Higher Education
Journal of Student-Centered Learning
Liberal Education
National Teaching and Learning Forum
New Directions for Higher Education
New Directions for Program Evaluation
New Directions for Teaching and Learning
Peer Review
Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation
Research in Higher Education
Teaching Excellence
Teaching Professor

Journals on Teaching in Specific Disciplines

American Biology Teacher
Biochemical Education
Chemical Engineering Education
College Composition and Communication
College Mathematics Journal
Communication Education
History Teacher
Journal of Accounting Education
Journal of Agricultural Education
Journal of Chemical Education
Journal of College Science Teaching
Journal of Criminal Justice Education
Journal of Economic Education
Journal of Engineering Education
Journal of Environmental Education
Journal of Geography in Higher Education
Journal of Geoscience Education
Journal of Health Education
Journal of Management Education
Journal of Marketing Education
Journal of Nursing Education
Journal of Social Work Education
Journal of Teaching in Physical Education
Journal of Teaching in Social Work
Journal of Teaching Writing
Journalism and Mass Communication Educator
Mathematics and Computer Education
Mathematics Teacher
Physics Teacher
Research in Collegiate Mathematics Education
Research on Science Teaching
Research Strategies: A Journal of Library Concepts and Instruction
Schole: A Journal of Leisure Studies and Recreation Education
Studies in Higher Education
Teaching English in the Two-Year College
Teaching in Higher Education
Teaching of Psychology
Teaching Philosophy
Teaching Sociology
Trends and Issues in Postsecondary English Studies

References

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2006). Board of Directors statement on academic freedom and educational responsibility. Retrieved from http://www.aacu.org/about/statements/academic_freedom.cfm

Banta, T. W., Jones, E. A., & Black, K. E. (2009). Designing effective assessment: Principles and profiles of good practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bresciani, M. (2006). Outcomes-based academic and co-curricular program review: A compilation of institutional good practices. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Maki, P. L. (2010). Coming to terms with student outcomes assessment: Faculty and administrators’ journeys to integrating assessment in their work and institutional culture. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Peterson, M. W., & Einarson, M. K. (2001). What are colleges doing about student assessment? Does it make a difference? Journal of Higher Education, 72(6), 629-669.

Suskie, L. A. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

University of Central Florida, Office of Operational Excellence and Assessment Support. (2008). Program Assessment Handbook. Retrieved from http://oeas.ucf.edu/doc/acad_assess_handbook.pdf

Walvoord, B. E. (2010). Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.