"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"
- Barbara E. Walvoord, 2004, in Assessment Clear and Simple.
UW-Parkside is dedicated to excellence in teaching and learning. The goal of outcomes assessment is to look systematically at what students in a department or major are learning, across courses and over time, through their experiences in the UW-Parkside General Education program and continuing within the major. Assessing what students are learning is essential to ensure we are achieving two of our core values, academic excellence and student success. By assessing student learning outcomes, we affirm our successes, identify areas for improvement, and have a basis for making systematic changes in the curriculum to improve learning.
One of UW-Parkside's initiatives to support its assessment efforts is its participation in the Higher Learning Commission's Student Learning Outcomes Academy (HLC-SLO). UW-Parkside's Academic Achievement Assessment Committee (AAAC) wrote a proposal to be accepted into the Academy. The requirements of the proposal are outlined in the application proposal document (PDF). UW-Parkside will participate in the Academy from 2010 through 2014. The members of the Academy initiative, which is led and supported by the Provost, are:
Participation in the Academy requires that the institution have a plan, execute that plan, regularly update HLC on our progress, and participate in annual Institute's and HLC annual conference activities associated with the Academy. For more information regarding UW-Parkside's plan, please contact one of the HLC-SLO participants or AAAC.
In collaboration with AAAC and the General Education Committee, the HLC-SLO Academy participants are leading the effort to develop and expand UW-Parkside's assessment program. And, in collaboration with AAAC and General Education Committees, the HLC-SLO members send semi-annual updates to the SLO-HLC leader, Manual Gomez. UW-Parkside's HLC-SLO initiative also provides us with a mentor who gives feedback and expert advice on our efforts. UW-Parkside's mentor is Kirstan Neukam, Director of institutional Research and Effectiveness at Governor's State University.
The following student learning outcomes guiding principles provide a useful framework for assessing student learning outcomes at UW-Parkside. They are:
1) Supportive of UW-Parkside's Strategic Goals and Academic Planning
For the assessment of student learning outcomes to be useful, the goals of assessment need to support the identified goals of the university through its Strategic Plan and Academic Plan. As departments consider their goals for student learning outcomes assessment, considering their goals within the context of the university's goals, as presented in its Strategic Plan, the General Education program, and Academic Plan, is a good place to begin.
2) Faculty-based, Department-led, Centrally Supported
The most important resource for assessing student learning outcomes is the faculty. Through the collaborative action of faculty members working together, the most appropriate goals for student learning outcomes can be achieved. We all share a common commitment to the quality of our programs which will be realized through our goals for student learning. At the same time, each department’s approach to the program's student learning outcomes assessment will reflect the unique characteristics of the department and the major/program.
The Director of Assessment provides support, training, and resources to assist faculty to meet their assessment goals. Through the synergy of the department's lead and the Assessment Director's support, UW-Parkside is able to successfully assess its programs in support of learning.
3) Clear, Reasonable, and Evidence-based
To be effective, the goals for each major need to be clearly presented and understandable by a wide, diverse audience. Further, our goals for student learning should effectively convey their purpose to our campus community. In addition, the process for assessing our goals needs to be reasonable in terms of effort expended for benefits realized. Our assessment results should be based on evidence that is similar to the level of scholarly rigor we bring to our research and provide tangible, meaningful results to use as the basis for program improvement.
4) Useful and Timely Information
Outcomes assessment activities should be designed to provide useful information to the department at a time when the department is prepared to act on the information gathered. In any given year, a department may only focus on one goal. The intent is to assess every goal but to do so over a time frame of two to four years, depending on the unique needs of the department.
There is a naturally occurring cycle of teaching, learning, and assessment that occurs in the classroom. Faculty start out with their goals for the course and decide on the manner in which they will evaluate student performance toward achieving those goals. Faculty then engage in individual student assessment throughout the course of a semester to see how well those goals have been achieved. When faculty members finish teaching a course, they reflect back on the semester or academic year, and ask themselves such questions as, "what worked well in the course?", "what goals did students struggle to achieve?", and "what should I do differently the next time?".
Outcomes assessment is the process of faculty working together to examine and reflect on how students are learning within the curriculum. Similar to the individual faculty member's reflection on his or her course, through outcomes assessment faculty reflect on the program or major and ask such questions as, "where may the curriculum be expanded or further developed", "where are there gaps in student learning?", and "how can we improve student learning in the major/program?"
In order to reflect collectively on the curriculum, the discussion of goals for the major or program should begin with the question,
"As a department, what do we need to know to examine the impact of our program on our students"?
The assessment cycle is the process of setting goals, measuring those goals, reflecting on what was learned, and applying that knowledge to make improvements in the curriculum. The assessment cycle is illustrated as follows:
Once faculty have completed a cycle, the cycle is repeated applying the knowledge gained in the previous cycle. Assessment is never "finished." Instead, it is continuous process designed to support improved teaching, learning, and student engagement.