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Unit 1

Why is Assessment Important?

Topic 1: Changing Perspectives on Assessment

How does the assessment of student learning outcomes relate to your role as a graduate student and future faculty member? That’s the key question addressed in the video you just watched. By working through the material in these four modules you’ll begin to gain a firm understanding of the purposes of assessment of student learning, its role in promoting continuous improvement of the teaching and learning process, and how to carry out effective assessment of student learning at both the course and program level. This first module provides an overview of the assessment process, with the remaining modules “digging deeper” into specific components of this process.

Ask seasoned college professors about their experience with “assessment” and you’re likely to be met with a grimace, followed by a tirade about how “useless and time-consuming all of this assessment stuff is.” Why such a visceral response?

In many cases faculty members’ last experience with “assessment” was participating in a once-every-five-or-ten-years program-level assessment required by external accrediting agencies. The outcome of these assessment activities? A book-length written report summarizing the department’s compliance with a prescribed set of “principles” mandated by the accrediting agency. Once completed, such reports often go unnoticed as faculty members and administrators get back to core activities: researching and publishing, teaching courses, and advising/mentoring students. Given this experience, a jaded perspective on assessment is understandable; assessment is seen as externally-driven, time-consuming, meddlesome, and disconnected from the day-to-day work of faculty members.

As assessment expert Linda Suskie notes in Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide (2009), this “traditional” view of assessment is rapidly being replaced by a more forward-looking view of assessment as a valuable, department-driven, evidence-based tool for continuously improving teaching and learning. Seen in this light, assessment simply becomes a part of the institutional culture, an integral part of “what we do” as faculty members and administrators, as natural as the traditional “teaching, research, and service” triad of responsibilities familiar to those entering higher education.

As you might expect, given this relatively recent transition, not all faculty members, department chairs and deans have yet fully adopted this contemporary view of assessment as an evidence-based guide to action and continuous self-improvement.

These modules are aimed at helping you better understand why assessment of student learning outcomes has become such an explicit and important part of the responsibilities of faculty members, what constitutes good assessment practice, and how assessment, done well, can improve teaching and learning at the personal, department, and institution level.

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