I recently gave a plenary talk at the ADE East here at the University of Maryland on Outcomes Assessment, thus irrevocably outing myself as an assessment lady (put an outcome on it?). But one observation that David Laurence (MLA) and I shared was how much the climate on outcomes assessment had changed. A survey we conducted before the conference showed that 90% of respondents were currently engaged in an assessment project, and that 88% believed that assessment could contribute positively to student learning. That, of course, does not mean that the many problems that assessment is raising have gone away. It does, however, suggest that assessment may be with us for the long haul, and that many departments are actually finding it useful.
I wanted to share a few good ideas that came up in the discussion and in a workshop I facilitated the following day.
Faculty, quite reasonably, often object that they already have too much work to fulfill this unfunded mandate. One department chair, however, reported that he cancels classes for a day or two in order to allow faculty to assess student work. As he pointed out, K-12 does this regularly (“professional development days”). While we are always struggling to get all we want done in a class accomplished, most courses could probably spare one class for this purpose. By doing this, the chair not only makes assessment a collaborative, valued, and department-wide project, but addresses the main point of faculty vexation.
In the workshop, we also talked about faculty distress over having papers from their courses read by colleagues, who might draw unfavorable conclusions about each other’s teaching. We didn’t solve this one, but some good ideas were put on the table. One was to sample papers early in the course, so that only conclusions about the program could be drawn (rather than conclusions about an individual instructor). Another was continuous collection (which I always recommend to department), so that a variety of papers appear in the assessment pool. Still, I think until there is full assurance that assessment will be used to improve learning and not to evaluate individual faculty members, this will continue to be a problem.