As a Blackboard strategic consultant, I work with 2- and 4-year institutions around the globe in designing manageable and sustainable assessment processes that produce actionable knowledge – knowledge that leads to action – action that increases the quality of educational and administrative programs and services. While I love my work, I often find myself wishing for a magic wand. My magic wand would wave and the potential of outcomes assessment would become evident to everyone around. Institutions would see that “accountability” is not about metrics but about having a means of evaluating the impact of their work and taking action to increase the quality of that impact. Assessment would be seen not as a burden, but as a powerful gift. This power would be understood as making the work of higher education visible – to students, faculty, programs, institutions, and oh, yes, to those pesky entities demanding accountability. What do I mean by visibility?
For students this means a learning target. Instead of being regimentally conscripted into required general education courses, students understand that their general education courses are designed to develop a breadth of disciplinary knowledge and those enduring trans-disciplinary skills and competencies they need to be successful in college and beyond. Students can tick off the skills – writing, oral communication, information literacy, analytic thinking, quantitative reasoning, scientific reasoning, artistic awareness, problem solving, etc. So when a student sees an information literacy rubric, he/she immediately understands the specific skills of good research. When the student receives a scored rubric on a research paper, he/she understands where they stand and what they need to do to improve (and get a better grade).
For faculty, this means a teaching target. Before sending students off to the library to research a topic, faculty have designed their courses with specific opportunities: to understand when information is needed, to locate information, evaluate its usefulness, and to effectively and ethically use the information in their work. On applying a rubric to student work, two pieces of actionable knowledge result: the student understands how to improve their own work, and by aggregating rubric scores, faculty have visibility into which elements of the design and/or delivery of the curriculum need to change to improve students’ construction of knowledge.
Most importantly, for institutions, three powerful gifts result from outcomes assessment. First, institutions have a means of engaging faculty in the design and delivery of the curriculum – and to do this on an ongoing basis. Secondly, the institution can now provide evidence to substantiate bold claims such as “our graduates have a deep awareness of their professional work on society.” Thirdly, the most powerful gift is adaptivity – the ability to change direction to meet a desired end state. Faculty engagement, continuous improvement, institutional identity, adaptation and change – a powerful gift indeed.
To read more about assessment, check out this article from Pat Hutchings in Change magazine: The New Guys in Assessment Town.
Guest post by Karen Yoshino, PhD, Director, Global Services, Blackboard