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Making Assessment Work for Liberal Arts Colleges in the 21st Century

Imagine your college with a strong culture of assessment:

You leave faculty meetings feeling energized by a shared vision. You engage in frank, evidence-based discussions about teaching and learning challenges with colleagues and choose new approaches to test in the classroom. You confidently explore your teaching style because you can justify how students are meeting and exceeding the expected learning outcomes.

Your program frames such evidence into a compelling story that persuades the Dean’s office to authorize additional faculty positions and attracts student enrolment. Your alumni, thrilled by their college experience, donate generously and remain as engaged supporters. You welcome the external accreditor to show off your outstanding student outcomes and innovative teaching while embracing their feedback, because learning is an ongoing process for all.

This project's faculty-development framework allows participants to complete meaningful, self-selected assessment projects with support from experts and peers. It builds a community of practice within a safe environment so participants can dialogue about solving challenging assessment problems. Participants learn fundamental assessment principles they practice with their mentor over the year. Participants will tackle their classroom level, program level, or institutional level assessment goals with confidence and share their learning.

Overview

This project builds an intentional community of practice among participants and connects each person with a mentor.  The framework provides a common language for participants and mentors to discuss assessment principles and troubleshoot challenges with their assessment projects.  Through in-person and online forums, faculty can share their assessment problems and help each other find innovative solutions.

During the kickoff meeting, faculty participants will have time for guided discussions and informal networking to begin establishing relationships with peers and mentors. Throughout the year, further opportunities will allow them to interact with peers through the online forums and periodic virtual learning opportunities. During the final conference, participants will give presentations on their assessment projects so faculty can learn from each other. 

The overarching goal, from participant recruitment through conference activities planned as part of the project, is to highlight the importance of assessment.  The project team will help individuals recognize how assessing learning goals within the classroom, department, and institution can help further their autonomy in teaching. The team will also show how a collaborative process, such as the one used for this project, will foster discussions leading to creative assessment tools that, dare we say it, could be fun to implement.


Goals

Updated Jul 26, 2019

The goal is to develop and implement a flexible framework that fosters a culture of assessment within and between liberal arts college campuses.

Challenges

Assessment is here to stay in higher education despite some people wishing otherwise. Numerous entities require skilled assessment. Departments use assessment when revising their program curricula. Grantors demand realistic assessment of the projects they fund. External accreditors expect us to demonstrate our commitment to improving student learning by collecting and using evidence students are achieving the knowledge, skills, and attitudes we value.

Faculty may resist their institution’s assessment initiatives due to concerns regarding their autonomy for course development and application. Depending on institutional approaches to assessment planning, faculty may perceive assessment as bureaucratic nonsense taking time away from the real work of teaching.

Opportunity

To progress, we must empower faculty to build robust assessment structures within their classrooms and departments that will also fulfill their institutional assessment requirement. These should simultaneously accomplish their personal goals while addressing institutional and accreditor needs. For example, faculty might use course-embedded assessments that not only help them teach their courses but also provide the evidence needed by the other stakeholders. Well-designed assessment plans allow faculty to engage in activities meaningful to them while also promoting excellence in liberal education for the entire college.


Activities

Updated Jul 28, 2019

Projected calendar 

  1. Fall 2019 - Recruit/train assessment mentors. 
  2. Spring 2020 - Plan Kick-off Workshop and virtual learning opportunities. Recruit participants. 

    Program team will select 25 participants from interested faculty applicants. (Beloit may fund additional participants from their grant). First priority goes to faculty at team members’ institutions and second priority goes to faculty from any ACM school.

  3. May 2020 - Kick-off Workshop - Participants come on-site for two days to get oriented to the program, learn a few basics of assessment, listen to and consult with assessment experts, work with assessment mentors to plan their assessment project, and build relationships with other faculty. 
    • Draft Schedule: Day 1: a) Breakfast networking. b) Presentation to orient participants to the program. c) Sessions introducing basic assessment principles such as alignment and the assessment process. d) Lunch and networking. e) 2-3 sessions about assessment, such as approaching challenges to assessment. f) Dinner and networking. Day 2: a) Breakfast networking. b) Keynote guest speaker. c) Pair mentors with participants. d) Lunch with mentor. e) Participants meet with mentors. f) Wrap up presentation.
  4. June 2020 through May 2021 - Year-long mentoring and learning opportunities: Participants would submit quarterly updates and receive feedback and guidance from their mentors. During this time, participants may choose to participate in learning opportunities that may include webinars about assessment, virtual book clubs, Twitter chats, discussions, and peer review. We will make available digital technologies that can foster dialogue between faculty from different institutions.

    a) Quarterly check-ins with mentors, b) Various virtual learning opportunities (e.g. webinars about assessment, virtual book clubs, Twitter chats, discussions, and peer review), c) Plan Assessment Conference. Draft learning opportunity schedule:
    • June 2020: Webinar
    • July 2020: Book discussion
    • August 2020: Webinar
    • September 2020: Mentor
    • October 2020: Book discussion
    • November 2020: Webinar
    • December 2020: Mentor
    • January 2021: Webinar
    • February 2021: Book discussion
    • March 2021: Mentor
    • April 2021: Webinar
  5. May 2021 - Midwest Liberal Arts Assessment Conference - Participants come on-site for a two-day conference about assessment in higher education and demonstrate their assessment work in the form of talks, posters, abstracts, roundtables, performances, or other forms consistent with their disciplines. Anyone may attend the conference as an audience for the participants’ presentations to learn from the participants’ experiences. 
    • Day 1: Open to anyone -- a) Breakfast networking. b) Keynote speaker c) Concurrent sessions led by guest speaker and participants d) Lunch and networking. e) Concurrent sessions led by guest speaker and participants f) Dinner and networking.
    • Day 2: Private for participants -- a) Breakfast networking. b) Reflections on the project. c) Lunch networking. d) Identifying next steps. e) Wrap up session

In addition to planning and hosting the events, project leaders will design the entire experience as an educational research project. They will collect data about participants’ experiences and learning during the kickoff event, year-long mentoring, and final conference to evaluate effectiveness for faculty development Grant participants can opt to have their data included as part of the research project.


Dissemination Strategies

Midwest Liberal Arts Assessment Conference -- The project culminates in an assessment conference open to all ACM campuses and any academics interested in using evidence to enhance college student learning.

Participants have first priority as invited presenters to share the knowledge they gained during the program. The scholars who gather at this event have the opportunity to share results and to network around the topic of assessment.

This event may become the first annual conference hosted by different ACM schools with the goal of building an ongoing learning community around assessment practices and helping our colleges become leaders in liberal arts assessment.

On-campus service and education: Participants are encouraged to share their knowledge within their own campus through on-campus presentations, mentoring other faculty, workshops, committee service, and leading by example. 

Participants’ publications: Participants are encouraged to publish their experiences and findings in research journals and professional publications. 

Project leaders’ publications: The leaders will design and implement this project as a form of educational research evaluating an instructional intervention for faculty development. We will publish our data in academic and trade journals to share what aspects of our framework are most effective in helping faculty implement effective assessment practices in their departments and grow a culture of assessment in their institutions. Thus, other institutions can replicate the experience and make informed decisions about how to engage in faculty development on the topic of assessment.


Outcomes and Significance

This project builds an intentional community of practice among participants and connects each person with a mentor. The framework provides a common language for participants and mentors to discuss assessment principles and troubleshoot challenges with their assessment projects. In-person and online forums will allow faculty to share their assessment problems and help each other find innovative solutions.

During the kickoff meeting, faculty participants will have time for guided discussions and informal networking to begin establishing relationships with peers and mentors. Throughout the year, they will have further opportunities to interact with peers through the online forums and periodic virtual learning opportunities. During the final conference, participants will give presentations on their assessment projects so faculty can learn from each other. 

The overarching goal, from participant recruitment throughout the conferences, is to highlight the importance of assessment. We will help individuals recognize how assessing learning goals within the classroom, department, and institution can help further their autonomy in teaching. We will also show how a collaborative process, such as this, will foster discussions leading to creative assessment tools that, dare we say it, could be fun to implement.

Collaboration and innovation among faculty

When implemented effectively, student learning assessment plans help faculty to make evidence-based decisions about curricula. Faculty can identify a) how well students are achieving the desired learning, b) what educational experiences are essential to achieve the desired student learning, and c) where in the curriculum students learn the desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Armed with this information, faculty can make effective decisions about the curriculum. If the evidence indicates students are missing an important step in their learning, faculty can add appropriate coursework to better scaffold students’ educational experience. In this way, faculty enhance student learning. If the evidence shows areas in the curriculum have disappointing outcomes, faculty can focus their efforts on these areas, perhaps modifying, merging, or eliminating assignments or courses. In this way, faculty utilize their available resources (finances and faculty time) most effectively and efficiently to choose the best options for achieving desired student learning outcomes. Faculty might also use evidence about student learning to make compelling arguments for additional resources or positions within the program. In addition, when institutions use evidence to tell their stories about student learning, it may instill additional confidence among our stakeholders, including parents, students, alumni, and potential donors.

Reducing institutional costs, demonstrating value of high-quality liberal arts education

Assessment impacts every campus, and it's not uncommon to find faculty seeking to evade the ‘dreaded’ assessment meeting. To alleviate negative assumptions about assessment, this project provides a framework that supports faculty development relating to applying assessment principles. Within the framework, each participant is free to choose their own assessment approaches and implementations, which means this framework is designed to help each campus achieve its own assessment goals using approaches that are meaningful to them. For example, some participants may choose to work on their classroom-level assessment while others work to address their campus-wide assessment needs. Participants within the same institution may conduct individual classroom-level assessments and then aggregate their data to assess institutional learning outcomes.

Our intention is also for this project to raise awareness about the utility of assessment. Through this program, participants will be encouraged to share their experiences with other members of their campus community, who did not participate. This will help reduce the stigma associated with assessment, such as the restriction of autonomy. Through assisting with cohesion and acceptance of assessment within their individual institutions, it will help with a variety of campus goals such as student recruitment and student engagement because institutions will have more data to support claims regarding the effectiveness of their programs.

Collaborating partner(s)
Mark Levandoski
Grinnell College
Chemistry
levandos@Grinnell.EDU
Vanessa Preast
Grinnell College
Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
preastva@grinnell.edu
Bill Altermatt
Carleton College
Institutional Research
baltermatt@carleton.edu
Tara McCoy
Monmouth College
Psychology
tamccoy@monmouthcollege.edu
Nancy Bostrom
Macalester College
Assessment Office
nbostrom@macalester.edu
Kelsey Thompson
St. Olaf College
Assessment Office
thomps22@stolaf.edu
Steve McKelvey
St. Olaf College
Assessment Office
mckelvey@stolaf.edu
Sarah Purcell
Grinnell College
History
purcelsj@Grinnell.edu
Claire Frances
Grinnell College
French
francesc@grinnell.edu
Jin Feng
Grinnell College
Chinese & Japanese
fengjin@grinnell.edu
Ellenor Anderbyrne
Beloit College
Office of Institutional Research, Assessment, and Planning
anderbyrneek@beloit.edu
Elizabeth Brewer
Beloit College
International Education
brewere@beloit.edu
ACM Program Funding
FaCE
Award
$43,474
Funding Cycle
2018-2019
Project Duration
Keywords
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