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Picking a Good Assessment Project

Your assessment project should be meaningful, manageable, and demonstrable:

  • "Meaningful" means that your project should be useful to you. It should enable you to improve student learning in your department or program by specifying one or more areas where such learning is not currently occurring as desired.
  • "Meaningful" also means that the findings from your project should enable you to pinpoint whether to make curricular changes, pedagogical changes, or both to improve student learning, as well as what specific changes to make. While there are circumstances in which an assessment project leads to the conclusion that no changes need to be made, or that the assessment project itself needs to be retooled, a project driven by a strong sense that learning is weak in an area (often backed up by informal observations over time) will generally conclude with valuable ideas about how to modify teaching to improve learning.
  • "Manageable" means that your project is realistic in the context of the Block Plan and the many obligations you have regarding teaching, research, and service. While it may add somewhat to your departmental/program workload, it will not add so much work as to be untenable, nor will it be so extensive as to be impossible to carry out properly.
  • "Demonstrable" means that you should be able to determine clearly whether students have learned the knowledge and/or skills described by your learning outcomes. There should be no ambiguity about the extent to which students learned what you intended, nor about what to do next to improve student learning.

The below questions may help you come up with a good project or pick one project over another.

The question/area of concern:

  • Are you continuing a previous project or starting a new project? If the former, are you clear that you still need to collect information specific to this project for an ongoing reason?
  • Are you already sure that you know the answer to your question or the solution to your area of concern, or is it a topic about which the findings could still surprise you?
  • Is the question/area of concern of some importance to the department/program or is it a project that you are generating simply because you need a project?
  • If you are considering a project that leans toward general education skills within your departmental/program context (writing, presenting, etc.), have you carried out a more discipline/interdiscipline-specific project recently or do you plan to carry one out soon?

The learning outcomes:

  • Are you able to tie the project to one or two well-written learning outcomes, either already existing outcomes or ones that you can write specifically for this project?

The information:

  • Is the information you need to answer this question or address this area of concern readily available from students (either now or following an assignment of some sort)?
  • Will you be able to get enough information to answer your question or address your area of concern appropriately? (This is primarily a concern for departments that study their capstones and graduate very few students every year.)

The assessment project/demonstration of learning/assignment(s):

  • Is the assignment you will use to collect information for your assessment project realistic, appropriate, and embedded in academic work that the students will already do?
  • Do you already have, or will you be able to create, a detailed rubric (including not just categories but language describing criteria for how much a student has learned)?

The reflection process:

  • Will you be able to review and reflect on your findings as an entire department/program rather than just as a single assessment representative?
  • Will you be able to take enough time to review and reflect on your findings to facilitate coming up with ideas for interventions that address your findings and improve student opportunities to learn?

The intervention:

  • Are you prepared in advance for the possibility that your findings will lead you to need to change something in your curriculum, pedagogy, faculty-student dynamic, or other aspect of the teaching in your department?
  • Are you committed to making whatever change makes the most sense based on your findings?
  • If your findings suggest that you need to approach assessment differently in the future, are you prepared to do so?