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Improving Assessment

Here are some steps you can take to improve your departmental/program assessment to make it as meaningful as possible. Since you need to do assessment anyway, why not make it useful for you? You care about what your students learn. Here are some ways to put that to work.

First, have a conversation.

Don’t just assign one person (chair or assessment rep) to take care of all assessment matters alone. Have a conversation to determine what different people in your department or program are interested in knowing about student learning. Even if one person winds up doing most of the work, they will be working on behalf of the whole community.

Second, start your assessment process as early in the year as possible.

Yes, you have many other things to get done, but the earlier you start figuring out what you will assess this year and how, the better your assessment will be and the more you will learn. Less crunch, more value.

Third, reconsider where to look for demonstrations of student learning.

Yes, much of Colorado College has made productive use of capstone projects but there are many other places to inquire about student learning.

  • What about assessing learning in a gateway/core/majors entry course?
  • What about assessing learning in methods courses not linked directly to your capstone?
  • What about assessing learning in theory courses not linked directly to your capstone?
  • Focus specifically on skills in “techniques” courses or course sections: lab skills, field skills, art skills, music performance skills, theater performance skills, dance performance skills…
  • Assess student learning in electives. Try a very popular elective in your department/program or a very unpopular one.
  • Assess learning at two points across the major simultaneously (early and late, for example)
Fourth, follow your curiosity rather than picking the easiest point of assessment.

Ask targeted “why” questions:

  • Why do students in multiple courses seem to have trouble with this particular outcome?
  • Why do our seniors use some methods more effectively than other methods in capstone research?
  • Are there demographic differences or other differences of interest between majors that might relate in any way to different success with learning outcomes?
Fifth, get creative with your demonstrations of student learning.

Feminist and Gender Studies includes an exit interview with majors that involves discussing “big ideas” that call for connection and reflection, for example. Hypothetically, a course on religion could include a “create a religion” portfolio consisting of a multimedia “archaeological find” of a variety of materials associated with a religion never before heard of, with the intent of demonstrating student understanding of the different elements of religions and how they work together.

Sixth, have a bigger conversation.

Once you are using some of the above approaches, talk about assessment with other departments and programs and perhaps even colleagues at other colleges and universities. What are they doing? Can you learn from them? Teach them?