Moving From Paperwork to Pedagogy
From the May 2002 AAHE Bulletin
Viewed as externally mandated, assessment of student learning typically ebbs and flows within an institution in relation to the timing of accreditation visits. Originating from an external force, namely accreditation, assessment is characterized as “burdensome,” “a chore,” or “an add-on” to faculty responsibilities, arousing resistance to compliance and resulting, oftentimes, in a short-lived commitment.
What if the origin of the commitment to assessing student learning were to come from within the institution? What if the origin of that commitment were to come from faculty members themselves, based on their intellectual curiosity about how students learn in disciplines, how students integrate their liberal learning into their majors, or how web-based technology, for example, develops or transforms thinking?
Consider why faculty members are attracted to their disciplines: A fascination with the kinds of problems or issues within their fields. An attraction to pursue new avenues of exploration. An interest in contributing new knowledge and perspective or in testing assumptions, claims, and hypotheses. A drive to discover or uncover new information that may well challenge theories or practice.
Consider why faculty members are drawn to teaching: A desire to develop critical thinkers and effective problem-solvers who ask questions, examine evidence, identify fallacies in underlying assumptions, integrate multiple perspectives, seek additional information, and challenge, or at least question existing practice or the status quo.
Finally, consider characteristic faculty member behavior during meetings: We look at issues from multiple perspectives, question colleagues’ underlying assumptions, seek clarity, or open up new lines of reasoning. Recall the number of times this behavior has manifested itself moments before a scheduled faculty meeting vote, as a faculty member asserts: “I think it would be perfunctory for us to vote on the proposal until we have had additional time to consider it in depth.” In departmental, faculty, and taskforce meetings, raising questions, seeking additional information, and challenging assumptions typify faculty behavior.
Making the Connection
Channeling faculty intellectual curiosity into exploring relationships between pedagogy and student learning extends curiosity into the focus of their teaching — into the ways in which students integrate, draw upon, and use the knowledge, abilities, habits of mind, and ways of knowing and problem solving that characterize those who work in a discipline. Rather than disconnected from content and teaching, assessment becomes the means of ascertaining what and how well students achieve what faculty members intend them to achieve.
Assessment as Scholarship
And in Knowing What Students Know: The Science and Design of Educational Assessment (National Academy Press, 2001, available free online at www.nap.edu/catalog/10019.html), the National Research Council challenges education to rethink current approaches to assessment: “Advances in the study of thinking and learning (cognitive science) and in the field of measurement have stimulated people to think in new ways about how students learn and what they know, what is therefore worth assessing, and how to obtain useful information about student competencies.”
From Curiosity to Inquiry
Developing Institutional Commitment
Creating an institutional environment that fosters inquiry into student learning means redesigning or creating new structures and processes to allow significant time for faculty and other educational professionals to conduct research on student learning, interpret results of assessment, and reflect on these interpretations to advance innovations in teaching and curricular design.
Institutions that claim assessment as their own will likely transform themselves to sustain a focus on student learning. The faculty will be supported by institutional structures, processes, and communication channels that symbolize the integration of assessment of student learning into the rhythms of institutional life. Time and space for discourse that focuses on the results of assessment — that builds in periods of self-reflection about students’ achievement of programmatic and institutional outcomes, as well as about innovations in pedagogy and curriculum — will mark institutional commitment to student learning.
These institutions will also create neutral zones to receive good news as well as not-so-good news about student learning to foster open inquiry about assessment results, institutional and programmatic self-reflection about those results, and development of innovations in teaching, curricular, and instructional design. These institutions will articulate the value of engaging in assessment as an avenue of research that advances pedagogy and broadens and deepens and challenges what we know about what and how students learn. These institutions will turn to faculty as the generators of significant questions and lines of inquiry about student learning, about the design of methods to assess learning over time, and about interpreting and using assessment results to inform pedagogy and curricular design.
Developing an institutional commitment to assessing student learning from the inside out requires that our colleges and universities establish principles of inquiry that emerge from and are sustained by faculty intellectual curiosity.
Peggy Maki is AAHE’s director of assessment. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Institutional Priorities Workshop Series
Teams develop individual plans, processes, and strategies to transition their institutions' cultures from having a sporadic institutional commitment to student outcomes assessment to having a shared understanding of the value of assessing student learning.
Applications are being accepted for the November 6-8 workshop in Santa Fe,
New Mexico, and planning is under way for several more regional workshops in
2003 at the invitation of other accrediting agencies across the United States.
For more information on these assessment workshops, see www.aahe.org/hlc or contact Kathleen Wert (202/293-6440 x770), assessment program manager, email@example.com;
or Peggy Maki (202/293-6440 x794), director of assessment, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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