Hi – my name is Neil Allison and this is my first post to the Blackboard Educate Innovate blog. I joined Blackboard a few months ago as a Director in the Product Marketing Group focused on the upcoming Blackboard Outcomes System.

If you haven’t heard about the Blackboard Outcomes System, you’ll be hearing a lot more over the next few months as we prepare to launch this exciting new solution.

For now, I wanted to pop in on the blog to introduce myself as a new poster and give a quick summary about a thought-provoking seminar Seton Hall University hosted with Blackboard last week on a topic of key concern to our clients – outcomes assessment.

The session took place in the Chancellor’s Suite at the University Center on Seton Hall’s South Orange campus – just 14 miles from New York City in northern New Jersey.  Leaders from a dozen colleges and universities in New Jersey and New York joined executives from Blackboard on campus for the discussion.

Dr. Bob Mundhenk, the former Director of Assessment and Senior Scholar at the American Association of Higher Education, started the seminar with an overview of regional accreditation requirements for outcomes assessment.  Bob reviewed the Middle States requirements for outcomes assessment, and emphasized that assessment is a “process of transformative inquiry” that leads to improved effectiveness.  You can review his presentation and read a provocative recent article in the March 2006 issue of American Academic, “Embracing Accountability.” 

I was struck by his observation that this inquiry does not “close the loop” to bring us back to where we started, but brings us to new understanding and, through informed action, to new courses, programs, and institutions.  It takes us into entirely new territory.  It reinforced for me the “transformative” power of the process of inquiry and research that is at the heart of higher education.

Meaghan Duff, Ph.D., Blackboard’s Senior Director of Global Services, then shared the Blackboard perspective on outcomes assessment and the development of the Blackboard Outcomes System.  She noted that the product grew out of multi-year process of engagement with our clients to better understand how we could support their effectiveness, a process which included interviews with presidents and provosts as well as faculty, focus groups, and surveys.

Some of our findings won’t be surprising to you.  Institutions were looking for ways to meet accreditation requirements for student learning outcomes, communicate their institutional effectiveness to parents, businesses, government and other stakeholders, and comply with accountability requirements.  However, institutions were ultimately seeking greater visibility into their effectiveness for all stakeholders and looking for ways to improve their effectiveness at each level of the institution – from the course to the program to the institution.  The Blackboard Outcomes System developed out of our efforts to meet these fundamental needs.

Participants split into small groups to address the challenges of “getting to there from here,” how to engage in an effective cycle of assessment that informs practice and guides improvement.  I was struck by the move at the institution level to the outcomes assessment already required by specialized accrediting bodies of schools of business, engineering and education.  Leaders of these programs have often played leadership roles in helping their institutions to help carry out best practices that their programs have already implemented over the past decade. 

It reminded me that expertise and knowledge in one part of an institution does not automatically travel to those who need it or would benefit from it.  It needs some help to find its way.  As we continue these seminars with our partner institutions around the country, I look forward to learning more about your challenges in outcomes assessment and more broadly as you look for ways to improve your effectiveness.

Dr. Fred Travis, the Provost of Seton Hall University, thanked the participants for meeting to discuss this topic on campus and closed the seminar with the important reminder that if we confuse assessment with accreditation requirements instead of ongoing improvement, we miss the point. 

We’ll check in again later this month when Blackboard continues the discussion on outcomes assessment with the next Executive Seminar on Outcomes Assessment at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.

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