Assessing With the Net
From the October 1997 AAHE Bulletin
As campuses gain greater electronic capability, technologies such as the Internet and World Wide Web have opened new avenues for collecting and disseminating information about students and assessing their learning. This article highlights several innovative efforts along these lines.
The Web has greatly assisted campus efforts to collect information about and from students, information that is then electronically at the fingertips of the institution. Student Affairs Research Services (SARS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, for example, uses the Web as a tool to "provide information to administrative and academic units and to others for use in making decisions and taking actions." Among its data-collection efforts, SARS uses its Web page at www.colorado.edu/SARS to administer two of its regular student surveys: One asks seniors about their satisfaction with their educational experience and after-graduation plans, the other has students rate their courses and the faculty.
In a presentation at the 1997 AAHE Conference on Assessment & Quality, SARS senior researcher Ephraim Schechter explained that his campus instituted Web administration of the surveys to motivate students to respond, to save time and money through faster data collection, and to create an automated data entry process.
Schechter reports that data collection via the Web has proven effective, but there are issues for an institution to consider before relying on it to survey students, such as student access to the Web, potential sampling and response bias, technical difficulties, and respondent anonymity.
Schechter also reported that he has linked the SARS Web page with another UC page offering a wealth of information on Boulder's undergraduate outcomes assessment program. At that address (http://www.colorado.edu/outcomes/index.html) visitors find a history of the program, methods it has used, lessons learned, findings and results, and a link to other assessment resources on the Web.
Another institution using the Web in innovative ways is Eastern New Mexico University, this time with the goal of helping faculty learn more about students and their learning. Alex Testa, coordinator of the Assessment Resources Office there, has created a site (http://www.enmu.edu/~testaa/) that offers information on the university's outcomes assessment plans for academic and noninstructional areas, reports from the university's assessment efforts, assessment and other educational resources, and more.
In particular, Testa's "Cyber Cats" section educates faculty about Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) and how they can use CATs to better understand their own teaching and their students' learning. He created Cyber Cats as a way to introduce faculty to the use of CATs through the Web. From the Cyber Cats page, faculty can access information about CATs, take an interactive survey to evaluate their teaching goals, explore ways to administer CATs online, and complete a form to report on the outcomes of their assessment, the effectiveness of their teaching, the relationship between instruction and course goals, and the opportunities for change in their teaching.
As these two Web sites show, the Internet can also be an effective tool for disseminating assessment results to the campus community. As comfortable as most people are with information on paper, it can feel overwhelming to begin an online project. Cel Johnson, director of institutional research at Montana State University, began to tackle such a project in 1995 in preparation for an upcoming accreditation visit. Her approach comes as good advice: Start small and expand over time. Visit MSU's Student Outcomes Assessment site, which includes a program description, an online survey, and links to other Web resources, at http://www.montana.edu/~aircj/assess/ .
Johnson found that the Web offers several advantages in addition to saving paper and time; it allows for access to a broader audience and makes it easier to standardize incoming information, archive information on a regular basis, and expand as new information becomes available.
But she also found that with these benefits come
some disadvantages. Because of the dynamic nature of the Web,
information seems outdated much more quickly than would published
material; thus, a Web page must be revised on a regular basis.
Because a Web page is a public display, it can attract unwanted
or undesirable attention or feedback. Some faculty,
administrators, or other stakeholders may be uncomfortable or
unfamiliar with the Web, or they may lack access to it. And
finally, to create and maintain a Web page, someone must know or
be willing to learn the programming language HTML and other
aspects of Web technology.
Tracy Tyree is a doctoral candidate in college student personnel at the University of Maryland, 2118 Mitchell Building, College Park, MD 20742-5221, firstname.lastname@example.org. During spring 1997, she was a graduate intern with AAHE's Assessment Forum.
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