Building a culture of assessment in support of continual improvement is no easy task. It involves the continuous review of student performance on expected program outcomes, reflection on teaching and learning and accountability for making program level improvements. It is as difficult in Massachusetts or Idaho as it is in Amman, Jordan or Istanbul, Turkey.

In my work as an education consultant, I have noticed that four common themes almost invariably arise in my consulting with clients around the globe.

  1. The Need for an Institutional Assessment Framework for Academic Effectiveness

Nearly all institutions struggle with this critical issue. For sustainable institutional assessment of student performance, programs and institutions need a framework for assessment—a framework that is overtly supported and promoted by institutional leadership. Leaders’ support of this framework—which includes an assessment position; assessment committees at the institutional, school and department levels; and campus events on assessment—demonstrates to campus constituents that assessment of student learning is not merely an item to check off for an accreditation report every assessment cycle. Rather it is part of the institution’s fabric, mission, and commitment to support learners through quality curricular design and delivery.

  1. Evidence Gathering for Educational Insight

Even for those institutions and programs with well-developed assessment initiatives, too often their evidence gathering processes are time and labor intensive. They involve asking individual faculty to provide paper or digital documents of student work that then must be sampled and given to a committee of faculty who must be scheduled (a nightmare in itself!) on a particular day to score paper rubrics that someone must collate for results. Or course instructors are asked to provide their paper rubric scores for student performance or the results of exam questions blueprinted to learning outcomes that again someone needs to collate for results. Worse yet, someone must be given access to instructor course sites, so he/she can download rubric and exam results from each individual course and spend hours merging these individual reports to get usable results on student learning outcomes!

While gathering direct evidence of learning can be tedious and time-consuming, it is complicated in the absence of a clearly articulated assessment plan or roadmap. Timelines, cycles, and roadmaps bring structure to the process of assessment and show commitment to a long-range vision of assessment. They identify for each institutional and program learning outcome

  • which specific courses and activities will serve as key “assessment” points,
  • when the evaluation will be conducted,
  • how it will be measured (rubrics and/or exam questions), and
  • the assessment approach (juried or primary).
  1. Faculty Hesitancy and Educational Insight and Academic Effectiveness

No matter the type, academic focus, or geographic location of the institution I speak to or work with, the topic of faculty compliance with assessment practices in general and to technology-facilitated assessment in particular is always a concern. I usually ask, “why are your faculty hesitant, resistant, or unwilling to participate in the assessment process?” I readily acknowledge that, from my 25 years in higher education, there is no one reason or easy solution to this question. The issue is complicated and often touches upon perceptions of the role administration is playing in the practice of teaching and can therefore be a sensitive topic.

Faculty involvement in assessment and their ownership of the curriculum and its design and delivery are essential to institutionalizing assessment practices. They are the subject matter experts who give credibility to the outcomes, measurements, and results of student performance assessment. They are the collective group that must use the insights from reports to make needed changes to improve student learning. They are the ones who need to celebrate the areas in which their program has been successful.

However, institutions cannot wait for all to be on-board. They must forge ahead. Assessment professionals should locate their champions by finding those most ready with their assessment plans and work collaboratively with to build a foundation for expanding a culture of assessment. They can show others the efficiencies technology can add to evidence gathering, evaluation, and reporting of student performance on learning outcomes.

  1. Closing the Assessment Loop – Academic Effectiveness and Learner Engagement

Currently, this area is the most challenging for institutions around the world. Most institutions and programs are still building their periodic and systemic assessment framework of practices and processes. What accreditors want today from institutions is evidence of how assessment practices (evidence selection, collection, measurement and results) are being used to drive improvements in the design and delivery of programs for student learning success.

Any initiative that touches all academic units at an institution as well as student affairs will take time. It starts in specific areas and then needs to grow. Finding those “champions” and giving them the tools to streamline their processes is critical because they then have more time to dive deep into report analysis, to define their “improvements” and to implement them. By adding technology to the assessment process, programs and institutions can keep assessment practices manageable rather than burdensome.

Because every institution is at a different place in its assessment approach and practices, at Blackboard, we understand that a “one size fits all approach” is not effective. Blackboard’s goal with its Assessment and Accreditation Solution is to work with an institution to understand its current assessment practices and processes and help to develop a strategy for achieving its longer term vision for quality in curriculum design, delivery and continuous improvement.

I’m very excited about how we at Blackboard can help programs, institutions, and assessment professionals around the globe meet their assessment vision by bringing efficiencies to their assessment processes and practices. While some significant and shared challenges remain, the state of Assessment currently reminds me of the trajectory of online education, which as a teaching modality was not welcomed with open arms initially. Remember the skepticism, resistance and disparagement?  It took time to demonstrate the value of the online modality, to make a space for it alongside the campus classroom, to establish best practices, to professionalize its practitioners. The field of Assessment is similarly going through its growing pains.  It is in its teen years! It is still growing, learning, evolving… but I am confident, optimistic, and excited to be a part of another educational initiative that will lead to improvement in both teaching and learning.

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