Last week I was at the Northeast Educational Assessment Network (NEEAN) fall forum at College of the Holy Cross. Wow – what an excellent conference! The theme of the conference focused on the past, present, and future of assessment in higher education.
I co-presented with two incredible professional colleagues (see photo below): Carol Trosset (Associate Director of Institutional Research & Assessment, Carleton College) and Holly McCormack (Dean of Field Work Term, Bennington College) on assessing the liberal arts and its preparation for life after college via internships. Carol brought together the work she and Holly had been doing at Bennington with projects we’re in the midst of at Carleton to make this presentation. We had a such a great audience who brought insightful questions and ideas. Loved it!
The keynote speaker, Steve Weisler, gave an excellent presentation and concurrent session about assessment’s present and future. I took furious notes; here’s what stuck out to me:
- Assessment means riding the bike while building it
- Treat student learning outcomes (SLO) as an inquiry question – assessment is a process of inquiry NOT a committee report
- Assessment and SLOs need TIME to show their real value, similar to discipline-specific research
- Reconcile the fact that assessment needs lots of time with the fact that we need to be presenting/showing progress now
- Focus on making sure we have the appropriate learning goals because they will shape the conversation
- SLOs need to have variables that are sensitive to what truly differentiates a student at the beginning and end of college (e.g., Is “critical thinking” the appropriate measure? Or is it focusing progress on the wrong metric?)
- Content cannot be the main measure of learning
- Students will forget so much of the information-specific content they acquire, thus we need to focus more on capturing the larger learning happening in its midst
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good: Assessment needs to start somewhere
- Be practical on your start, and then as you implement your assessment plan re-examine if your goals and strategies are in alignment
- You want quality SLOs over quantity – start small and simple and then grow into it
- You won’t be able to start if you’re constantly problematizing your process
A big THANK YOU to my co-presenters Carol and Holly for a meaningful collaboration and presentation, and to NEEAN and Steve Weisler for such a hearty, learning-dense conference.
My friends for the assessment revolution! My office is gearing up to take the next step in our learning outcomes assessment efforts. I’m VERY excited! It’s going to be fun, intellectually and professionally fulfilling, and (most importantly and hopefully) provide meaningful insight into the student experience. But in addition to excitement, I am also a bit nervous, because, as you’ve likely noticed, measuring for learning is messy – which is the largest part of its difficulty, but, also, its beauty. In my research about student learning and assessment over the past few years I’ve come to learn that it’s not just me who’s feeling this way:
In watching videos like the above and reading anything I can get my hands on, I’m hearing a few common themes (some old, some new) that I’m keeping in mind during this big year for our assessment efforts in the Career Center:
- Assess learning not just once, but at multiple different points and from different parts of the student experience. (read: Learning is happening all over campus, thus, assessing learning all over campus is not just a good idea, but needed.)
- Give students multiple opportunities to practice their learning in high-touch, intentional, reflection-centric ways. (read: It’s going to take a lot of time, there’s no quick fix, so settle in for the long haul and love the process.)
- Assessment tells the story of student learning, but let the student be the narrator. (read: Ask students to narrate their learning and they will tell you! Their story IS your assessment data. Now use that data to tell the larger story of student learning at large.)
- Set up assessment to do double duty for you – it can be a learning tool in it of itself, in addition to a data collection.
“…a really interesting kind of analytics should reveal to the learner even more possibilities for their own connected learning. The analytics shouldn’t simply be a kind of a diagnosis of what’s happening now but analytics at their best can be a doorway that suggests what else is possible.” -Gardner Campbell, Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success at Virginia Commonweath University
- Follow best practices in assessment while also breaking the mold, because learning’s blessed messiness means it’ll always need more than the gold standard. (read: Follow and break the “rules” of assessment at the same time – simple, right????)
It might be a messy year in assessment, but that’s ok, because it’s a worthwhile pursuit. And as my supervisor reminded me when I was wigging out about it recently: remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
So commit to the adventure and just do it.
Hands-on learning, experiential education, engaged learning, whatever you may call it, student affairs professionals can agree that creating an environment in which students test, reflect upon, and reapply their learning will result in better outcomes (read: more bang for your higher education buck). We know this anecdotally but the High Impact Practices (HIP) research out there provides the data to support the level of engagement HIP have on the collegiate experience as well as gives professionals ideas and steps for how to enact all of this goodness (or more likely maximize what you already have). What is clear in all of the research is that the next level of this engaged learning is not the mere existence of experiential education, but rather that students have multiple opportunities to engage in high impact learning and that we properly assess these efforts and students’ level of learning.
Provided today at Oh no are resources for you to dive in more…
According to the George Kuh via NSSE, high impact practices:
- demand considerable time and effort,
- facilitate learning outside of the classroom,
- require meaningful interactions with faculty and students,
- encourage collaboration with diverse others, and
- provide frequent and substantive feedback
Below are the most widely held examples for HIPs from AAC&U:
On the NSSE website, you can build your own report with the data they’ve collected in 2013 and 2014 – so fun!! Give it a try and sift through it to review the fun findings. Have I mentioned FUN!
Ashley Finley (on behalf of the AAC&U) provides some brief (though important) thoughts on proper execution of HIPs:
Other Videos to Watch (or more likely, just listen to in the background while you work on something else and occasionally look at):
- George Kuh presentation about HIPs:
- Ashley Finley’s plenary presentation about integrative learning:
What high impact practices are you working within? Where have you found success?