Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ

Q

What is the purpose of assessing student learning?

A

Assessment of student learning demonstrates that Wilson College’s students have the knowledge, skills and competencies consistent with institutional goals and that our students at graduation have achieved appropriate higher education goals.

Q

What is assessment?

A

Assessment is the systematic collection, review and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development (Assessment Essentials: Implementing and Improving assessment in Higher Education, Palomba and Banta).

Q

Who benefits from assessment?

A

For students, outcomes assessment will:

--communicate clear expectations about what is important in a course or program;
--inform them that they will be evaluated in a consistent and transparent way;
--reassure them that there is common core content across all sections of a course;
--allow them to make better decisions about programs based on outcomes results.

For faculty, participating in outcomes assessment will:

--help them determine what is working and what is not working in their courses or programs;
--facilitate valuable interdisciplinary and intercampus discussions;
--provide powerful evidence to justify needed resources to maintain or improve programs;
--allow them to tell their story to individuals outside their area (e.g., to administrators, politicians, employers, prospective students, transfer institutions);
--provide reassurance that all faculty teaching a particular high-demand course agree to address certain core content.

For administrators, implementing college-wide outcomes assessment will:

--demonstrate an institutional commitment to continually improving the academic programs and services offered by the College;
--provide valuable data to support requests for funds from state and local government and private donors;
--demonstrate accountability to funding sources;
--provide valuable data for academic planning and decision-making;
--enable them to inform elected officials, local businesses and potential donors about the College's impact on our students and our community in a very compelling and convincing way.

For the public, implementing college-wide outcomes assessment will:

--enable potential students to choose Wilson College, taking into account its mission and institutional goals;
--satisfy accountability needs of legislators, funding agencies and others;
--help the public understand more clearly what an institution seeks to accomplish.

Q

How is the process of assessing student learning defined?

A

According to Barbara E. Walvoord, “Assessment of student learning can be defined as the systematic collection of information about student learning, using the time, knowledge, expertise and resources available, in order to inform decisions about how to improve learning” (Assessment Clear and Simple 2; italics in original).

Q

How does such a systematic collection begin?

A

Typically, assessment programs begin when institutions establish learning goals and decide how those learning goals will be evaluated and by whom. It is common for such learning goals to be divided into three primary categories: skills, knowledge(s) and competencies. At Wilson College, the faculty, administration and Board of Trustees have approved institution-wide learning goals and outcomes.

Q

What is the difference between a learning goal and an outcome?

A

The seven essential institutional learning goals are large, umbrella-type categories. For instance, goal W1 is Communication and its four outcomes concern writing (a-b), oral presentations (c) and foreign-language proficiency (d). Goal W2 concerns Critical and Creative Thinking. Its three outcomes cover quantitative literacy (a), interpretation of texts and experience (b), and analyzing evidence (c). In all, the Institutional Learning Goals document contains 19 outcomes.

Q

How are individual outcomes assessed?

A

Individual outcomes are broken down into competencies specific to them. The individual competencies are organized into modular rubrics. In other words, if a professor were evaluating Communication W1c, which relates to oral presentations, s/he would use the established rubric to assess students’ speaking abilities and command of their subject matter. If that same professor were also evaluating Ethical Awareness W4 b in a particular course, s/he would use that additional rubric as well.

Q

What procedures are involved in assessing student learning?

A

At base, assessment involves several related procedures. Faculty establish learning goals and outcomes, evaluate the performance of their students, analyze the evidence comparatively, and use that analysis to improve how they teach students, inside and outside of the classroom. Assessment is also essential for planning and resource allocation.

Q

Are faculty and students the only people involved in assessing student learning?

A

Staff members and administrators who are responsible for the co-curriculum are important partners in assessing student learning.

Q

In general, what are the primary types of learning that get assessed?

A

Faculty members assess what students produce in their courses already, e.g., artwork, computer programs, dance performances, exams, group work, oral presentations, papers, portfolios, projects, research and tests. These direct measures of student learning may be supplemented by indirect measures, e.g., course evaluations, focus groups, graduate-school placement rates, job placements and student surveys. Some institutions substitute “direct and indirect evidence” in place of “direct and indirect measures”.

Q

Where does assessment occur institutionally?

A

The Middle States Commission requires that assessment occur throughout a college or university. Specifically, its assessment protocol requires learning to be assessed at the institutional, unit (i.e., division), program and course levels. It follows that assessment will be tied to an institution’s mission, planning efforts (including its Strategic Plan), curriculum, resource allocations, etc.

Q

But doesn’t that lead to doing assessment all of the time?

A

To be sure, educational institutions are required by the Middle States Commission to establish and support an ongoing culture of assessment. However, assessment works best when it is strategic. It follows that institutions decide what and when they will assess. What is crucial for student learning is that it be carefully assessed and that the results of such assessment be used for improving courses and programs.

Q

When will students’ learning be assessed?

A

Students’ learning will be assessed throughout their four years at the College.

Q

Who will assess student learning?

A

In general, student learning will be assessed by the faculty in programs or departments, by the professors, instructors and adjuncts who teach individual courses, and by staff members in Student Development who contribute to the first-year curriculum and elsewhere.

Q

What is the role of capstone projects or other culminating experiences in assessment?

A

According to the Institutional Learning Goals document, each student will complete a capstone project or culminating experience, “such as a senior thesis, art exhibit, senior-level course or portfolio of written work”. Typically, such experiences are completed during the final semester of a student’s senior year. The projects will then be assessed by the faculty in the student’s major area in relation to departmental learning goals and to the outcomes in the Institutional Learning Goals document.

Q

Won’t assessing student learning in terms of departmental and institutional learning goals lead to overlap and duplication?

A

To a certain extent, overlap and duplication will occur. However, it is important that students be assessed by the faculty members who are most familiar with their work. For its part, a capstone project or culminating experience provides the best overall evidence of the skills and knowledge(s) learned by students at Wilson College.

Q

How might such assessment occur in the major/program?

A

Each department or program has developed its own learning goals for its majors. The capstone project or culminating experience—and, in many cases, a presentation associated with it—will be evaluated in relation to those goals. Additionally, faculty members will evaluate the skills and knowledge(s) demonstrated in their students’ work using rubrics provided in the Institutional Learning Goals document.

Q

How will faculty know which of the modular rubrics to use?

A

Individual departments will assess as many institutional learning outcomes as are pertinent to the capstone projects or culminating experiences produced by students in their disciplines. For instance, the faculty who teach the Physical and Life Sciences research seminar evaluate W1 a-c, W2 a and c, W3 a-b and W7 a and c.

Q

Am I required to assess all of the competencies listed as part of a particular rubric?

A

Yes. Should a particular competency not apply to a student’s work, the faculty member assessing it will mark it as “not applicable” (N/A). A competency may not be applicable for three reasons: because the task in question was optional or not assigned, not suitable for the level of the course or not relevant to the discipline.

Q

How will course-level assessment occur?

A

Individual faculty, instructors and adjuncts are required to list learning goals on their syllabi. Typically, those goals will take two forms: course-specific goals and institutional learning outcomes that are pertinent to the course. Individual faculty members, instructors and adjuncts will assess the course-specific goals and keep records of that assessment. Additionally, they will complete assessment data sheets that apply to the institutional learning outcomes and forward them to Assistant Dean Elizabeth Anderson.

Q

Must each assignment in each course undergoing assessment be evaluated in relation to the Institutional Learning Goals?

A

No. It is generally a good idea to assess the assignment (or assignments) that most clearly represents a student’s learning in the course. For instance, in ENG 108 College Writing, a course that meets the Writing Foundations requirement, faculty members assess two student papers. The final paper of the two receives the most detailed assessment. In writing-intensive courses, by contrast, only the most involved writing assignment is assessed.

Q

What does it mean to establish a benchmark for a given learning goal?

A

A benchmark is a standard that establishes the average competency for a given goal or assignment.

Q

How will the data produced by analyzing student learning be analyzed departmentally?

A

Faculty members and departments will analyze the data derived from their courses with the goal of learning how to best address those aspects of their curriculum that students find the most difficult to master.

Q

Will assessment data become a part of students’ College records?

A

No. The assessment process is not intended to track the progress of individual students.

Q

How often will individual courses be assessed?

A

Faculty members have already developed a course assessment schedule in consultation with Dean Anderson. Generally speaking, courses that are either remedial (e.g., MATH 096) or meet foundations requirements (e.g., ENG 108) are to be assessed each time they are offered. Courses that are taught every year may be assessed on an every-other-year basis. Courses that are taught even less frequently (e.g., on an every-other-year rotation) will likely be assessed each time that they are taught.

Q

Who will oversee the assessment of student learning?

A

Mary Hendrickson, the Vice President and Dean of the Faculty, and Dean Anderson will oversee such assessment. They will be aided by an Assessment Committee composed of division heads and the chair of the curriculum committee.