(Article originally published in the July-August issue of Assessment Update, available electronically to subscribers at publication.)
This article is a case study based on the efforts of two colleges to expand and strengthen faculty and staff assessment activities; it is also a road map for you and your institution to create a cadre of assessment gurus. Although we received a grant from the Teagle Foundation that led to a series of formal on-campus “Assessment 101” workshops for faculty and staff, we suggest that your institution can create similar, highly successful assessment training workshops that are budget sensitive. At the end of this training, your newly minted assessment gurus will help themselves and their colleagues use assessment evidence to improve teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom.
Faculty and Staff Workshops on Student Outcomes Assessment
Background. In May 2008 the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University received a $149,667 grant from the Teagle Foundation for a forty-eight-month period to increase faculty expertise in assessment, create an institutionalized system of mentoring good assessment work, refine data sharing and communications structures related to assessment, and enhance oversight processes and structures to sustain the momentum for this work.
The primary vehicle for mentoring faculty and staff in the craft of assessment was to create—from scratch—four yearlong assessment workshops. Our “Assessment 101” workshops were designed to introduce faculty, staff, and student participants to the literature on student learning; help them explore issues in higher education assessment; teach them about assessment methods; and have them design, conduct, analyze, and use assessment to improve pedagogy and curricula and to provide highly visible accountability in their respective departments and programs and across the two institutions. During each workshop we employed two to three undergraduate “Student Research Scholars” who participated as peers of our faculty and staff. The students played a significant role in our class discussions while developing their skills as they worked in the Office of Academic Review and Curricular Advancement. The director of that office provided on-the-job training and professional mentoring to these students. Presently, all of the graduated Student Research Scholars are enrolled in doctoral programs or are in preparation for doctoral studies. By the end of the grant, we had trained fifty-four faculty and staff members. Of those fiftyfour, thirty-nine are faculty members from twenty-seven departments, and fifteen are staff members from twelve areas in student development or academic affairs.
These workshops have had very positive effects at our institutions. Examples include the following:
Description. Most faculty and staff (whether during or after graduate school) never received formal training in post-secondary assessment, including being trained in typical assessment analysis. Consequently, all of the workshop training we designed used a hands-on, problem-based approach to learning about and using postsecondary student outcomes assessment, and then applying that learning to improve teaching and learning, demonstrate accountability, and improve assessment in our departments, divisions, and institutions. We designed the workshops to accomplish the following specific participant learning goals:
Each workshop participant was assigned to a “base” or home group. Membership in base groups lasted for the duration of the yearlong workshops; we did this to facilitate individual and group ideas and projects, workshop discussions, and activities. In addition, a Teagle Student Research Scholar was assigned to each base group to work as a research consultant, helping participants with workshop activities and projects. While base groups served as the focal point for several of the small-group activities and individual presentations, activities and discussions also occurred in the larger workshop groups.
Assessment Analysis (Part One and Part Two). As individuals and as a member of a base group, participants applied what they learned and analyzed assessment in their departments, programs, or divisions. Participants individually presented the strengths and weaknesses of an assessment plan meaningful to them, including the learning goals to be measured; the implementation, analysis, and reporting of assessment; and the use of assessment to improve teaching and learning, provide accountability, and refine ongoing assessment. Participants first presented their assessment analyses during meetings held at the end of the first semester. This first presentation was mostly a dry run because, although it had all the elements of careful assessment planning, participants were not asked to present their assessment evidence.
At the end of the second semester, after further development of their assessment plans (including refining learning goals, selecting appropriate measures, and using assessment to make improvements), participants were required to present assessment evidence. Participants were also asked to think carefully about providing stakeholders with evidence of accountability and to consider how to refine assessment efforts in the future.
Assessing the Workshops. The workshops were evaluated using a variety of measures including focus groups, online surveys, and individual conversations with the facilitators. In addition, involved faculty and staff were asked to help design appropriate measures of the workshops’ effectiveness. The workshops included the mandatory completion of a project.
Implementing Assessment Workshops on Your Campus
To begin your own series of Assessment 101 workshops, we first suggest that representative faculty, staff, students, and senior administrators take the time to consider the following questions. We believe that working collegially on these questions, and the implications the answers have for improving teaching and learning, is essential for success. Once this is accomplished, find the campus assessment experts willing to offer assessment workshops.
Continuing the Workshops After the Grant
The provost and academic affairs have committed to sequester the funds needed to continue the Assessment 101 workshops for faculty and staff indefinitely, albeit most likely in a shorter (probably one semester in length as opposed to two semesters) and more cost-conscious way. Initial conversations suggest that we will institutionalize the workshop series by offering it as one of the faculty development program opportunities. We hope that this description of our work will encourage you to create your own assessment gurus.
Philip I. Kramer is director of The Office of Academic Review and Curricular Advancement, Rita Knuesel is provost, and Kenneth M. Jones is assistant dean of the common curriculum at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
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