Getting Involved: Campus Wide Assessment
NIU seeks the involvement of all community members to cultivate a culture of learning. This communal involvement can yield benefits for all community members.
Involvement of Faculty & Staff
Campus Wide Involvement
What assessment can do for you: Benefits for Faculty, Staff, Students, Administrators, and the NIU Community
Assessment processes can benefit everyone on NIU’s campus. Most benefits are relevant to all NIU faculty, staff, students, and administrators. Thus, the following benefits, although categorized in groups (e.g., benefits for faculty), may be beneficial to other groups as well.
Benefits of Assessment for Faculty:
Provides critical evidence for maintaining and/or improving teaching effectiveness
Facilitates valuable interdisciplinary and intercampus discussions
Allows faculty to tell their story to those outside their area (e.g. to administrators, politicians, employers, prospective students, transfer institutions)
Provides reassurance that high-demand courses address certain core content
Maintains focus on course, program, and institution-level goals and objectives
Promotes professional growth and introduces new teaching techniques
Reaffirms faculty rolls in the education of students in their contributions to learning within their academic unit
Benefits of Assessment for Staff:
Verifies major program accomplishments
Clarifies the dynamics of a process or program
Provides evidence for justifying resources that maintain and/or improve programs
Facilitates discussions among interdisciplinary and intercampus units
Provides clear expectations about what is important in the learning process
Benefits of Assessment for Students:
Empowers students to monitor and direct their learning processes
Improves student awareness and understanding of their learning
Provides clear expectations about what is important in a course or program
Improves student retention by better preparing students for courses
Informs students how their learning will be evaluated
Reassures students of common core content across all course sections
Provides for informed decisions about academic programs based on outcome results
Benefits of Assessment for Administrators:
Demonstrates institutional commitment to improving academic programs and services
Provides data to support requests for funds and additional resources
Demonstrates accountability to funding sources and accrediting bodies
Provides data for academic planning and decision-making
Provides evidence to parents, employers, legislators, and accrediting bodies that the University knows what students are learning, what they should be learning, and how well they are learning
Allows verification that the University is making a difference
Illustrates the quality of learning taking place within a specific degree program, course, or support unit
Illustrates the quality of learning taking place within our degree programs and courses
Benefits of Assessment for NIU Community:
Improved campus-wide communication
Evidence to celebrate successes
Better community relationship with employers of NIU graduates
Enhanced fundraising opportunities
Original content obtained from:
Paradis, T. (2005). Assessment as a core strategy at NAU: Lessons learned from a workshop sponsored by the Higher Learning Commission of NCA. Retrieved from http://www4.nau.edu/assessment/oaalibrary/documents/HLC_Workshop_April2005.pdf
Tobin, D. M. (2006). Creating a culture for assessment. CAS National Symposium on Standards, Self-Assessment and Student Learning Outcomes in Higher Education. Retrieved from www.montgomerycollege.edu/departments/outcomes/oa_mc.htm
In order for assessment to be effective, involvement of faculty & staff is essential.
Faculty & staff have long been involved in assessment, although it may not have been labeled as such. For example, department self-studies and program reviews are examples of assessment that faculty may have participated in.
Assessment provides an opportunity to discuss thoroughly the curriculum strengths and weaknesses of the program (not of individual faculty, staff, or students). It also can provide data to justify additional resources, such as additional equipment or assistance for faculty development.
Since the purpose of assessment is understanding and improving the educational outcomes of our teaching efforts, it is in the interest of faculty to assure quality instruction through professional development and responsible outcomes assessment of their actions. Outcomes assessment is first and foremost a faculty responsibility. Since part-time faculty share professional commitments with full-time faculty, many of the assessment activities are similar. However, in recognition of their limited availability, part-time faculty are generally not expected to be as active in planning and implementing assessment activities at discipline, program and institutional levels. Part-time faculty have the responsibility to support programs as needed. In support of the University’s assessment plan, NIU faculty are to be active in assessment through the following activities:
- Conduct classroom assessments in order to focus student learning and implement instructional strategies supportive of improving student learning outcomes.
- Report utilization of classroom assessment in order to share ideas and strategies with colleagues and support institutional documentation and accreditation efforts.
- Participate in planning and conducting discipline and/or program assessment and then work with colleagues to improve discipline and program outcomes.
- Cooperate with University-wide assessment efforts through active support of general education (e.g., ACT-CAAP) and other University-wide assessments.
- Reference department, college, and University’s strategic plans when creating course learning outcomes.
Original content from:
There are five stages through which faculty typically pass as they become involved in assessment: discovery, questioning, probing, appreciation, and commitment.
When the idea of assessment is first introduced to faculty, there will probably be some wary curiosity. Some questions faculty may ask are: What is assessment? What does this mean? How does this differ from course grades and evaluation? (see answers to these questions below)
What is assessment?
A method for analyzing and describing student learning outcomes or program achievement of objectives. Assessments do not have to be ‘tests.’ Example assessments techniques may be: observation of behavior, portfolios, writing samples, surveys, or employer feedback. To see what methods NIU departments are using, see the method’s matrix. Information gathered from assessments are used to make improvements within the University and assist student learning (e.g., in academic programs, support services, or campus climate).
What does this mean?
The implementation of assessment programs at NIU means that all University employees will have the opportunity to assist in the assessment process. Helping with University assessment can be a rewarding experience. Review the many benefits of assessment in the above section.
How does assessment differ from course grades?
Academic assessment is a broader evaluation of student learning than are course grades and tests scores. Assessment is concerned with student mastery of material, as well as outcomes and areas in need of improvement. Gaining this broad amount of information from course grades and test scores is not possible – particularly because faculty teaching one section of a course may base final grades on different material than do faculty teaching another section of the same course. Additionally, final course grades are often based on a students’ work for the entire semester (including attendance and participation), rather than only mastery of material. Creating assessment plans helps to identify core curriculum that all students should learn, as well as areas in need of improvement, for specific academic areas.
How does assessment differ from evaluation?
In general, assessment points towards the monitoring of student learning, while evaluation is the use of assessment data to evaluate teaching performance. Assessment does NOT infer evaluation. Here are some distinctions between what assessment is and is not:
- Assessment is diagnostic; it is not final.
- Assessment is non-judgmental; it is not evaluative.
- Assessment is suggestive; it is not conclusive.
- Assessment is partial; it is not integrative.
- Assessment is often anonymous; it is not identifiable.
- Assessment is ASESSMENT; it is not EVALUATION.
Original content from Douglas Eder & ASU, 2006 Powerpoints
The first stage, Discovery, may be followed by one in which faculty critically question assessment and the assessment/evaluation movement. Questions that may be asked are: Whose idea is this? Will it affect my raise? Is this some administrator's idea of creating more busy work for faculty?
Whose idea is this?
In order for NIU to maintain its accreditation, it is responsible to The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The Higher Learning Commission has made the process of assessment mandatory for accreditation.
The Spellings Commission is also responsible for improving student academic preparation by creating and sustaining a “robust culture of accountability and transparency” through the use of assessment. For more information, see the National Association of College and University Business Officers’s report called “Assessing the Impact of the Spellings Commission. Also see the full Spellings Commission Report.
Will it affect my raise?
No! Assessment is about assessing the effectiveness of programs, courses, and services, not individuals. Assessment results should never be used to evaluate or judge individual faculty performance; rather results are used to improve programs.
Is this some administrator's idea of creating more busy work for faculty?
No. Although assessment can be time consuming, it is not just busy work. Assessment has many benefits for faculty (to see benefits, click here) and can help improve their teaching effectiveness.
3. Deeper Probing
In this stage, questioning may continue and can sometimes evolve into resistance and suspicion. Questions that might arise in this stage could include: How will this information be used? How can we avoid assessment? Is assessment just a fad?
How will this information be used?
Assessment information is used to assess the effectiveness of programs, courses, and services. It is also used to improve University programs. It is never used to assess individual faculty performance.
How can we avoid assessment?
Since assessment is an integral part of University accreditation, it is not a process to be taken lightly, nor one that can be avoided. In order for NIU to maintain its accreditation, it must complete assessments and maintain accountability to The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Is assessment just a fad?
Not likely. The outcomes assessment movement has been increasing in momentum over the past decade. Every higher education accreditation agency now requires the assessment of learning outcomes as an accreditation criterion.
4. Appreciation, Involvement, and Participation
After the opportunity to discuss concerns, obtain accurate information about assessment, and discover the benefits assessment can provide, faculty generally reach a level of assessment appreciation. In most cases, faculty become involved in the assessment process. They actively participate in outlining goals, developing procedures, and interpreting results.
The final stage of Faculty Involvement is commitment to the idea of assessment. Although not all faculty become enthusiastic assessors, many hold positive attitudes about the assessment process and the value of assessment for their program and their students.
Does this process affect my academic freedom?
Nothing inherent in the NIU outcomes assessment process interferes or violates the academic freedom of the instructor. Assessing outcomes is simply about faculty determining whether students are learning those things they deem most important, and then using the information to make changes where appropriate. Nothing in the NIU process dictates in any way how faculty choose to deliver the course content or how they grade their students.
Will this be more work for us?
To some degree yes, but we are committed to not allowing the outcomes assessment process to become burdensome in a way that will interfere with a faculty member’s commitment to teaching. Ultimately, this process should enable you to better assess and improve upon your teaching effectiveness.
Isn’t program assessment time consuming and complex?
Effective program assessment will take some of your time and effort, but there are steps that you can follow that can help you to develop an assessment methods that will lead to improving student learning. This process can be simplified via course embedded assessment. Also, NIU’s Office of Assessment Services is available to provide you with assistance. If you need any help, contact the office at 815-753-8659 to make an appointment for a consultation.
Isn’t Assessment a waste of time since it does not benefit the students?
No. The primary purpose of assessment is to identify the important objectives and learning outcomes for your program with the purpose of improving student learning. Anything that enhances and improves the learning, knowledge and growth of your students cannot be considered a waste of time. In fact, assessment can be a great benefit to faculty and students. See the benefits of assessment.
Will assessment information be used to evaluate faculty?
Absolutely not. This process is about assessing the effectiveness of programs, courses, and services, not individuals. Faculty awareness, participation, and ownership are essential for successful program assessment, but assessment results should never be used to evaluate or judge individual faculty performance. The results of program assessment are used to improve programs.
Isn’t the primary purpose of outcomes assessment to find fault with things?
No, outcomes assessment is not about finding fault with programs, courses, or individuals; it is about agreeing on what is most important in our courses, communicating that to all stakeholders, and finding out what’s working and what’s not. Great assessment results can and should be used to trumpet success, market programs, motivate faculty and students, and justify increased resources. Less than satisfactory assessment results should lead to improvements in programs, courses, and services.
If our program is working well and our students are learning, why do we need bother with assessment?
The primary purpose of program assessment is to improve the quality of educational programs by improving student learning. Even if you feel that the quality of your program is good, there is always room for improvement. It is important to share results reflecting program strengths and weaknesses to make assessment a collaborative and transparent process for the benefit of our students’ learning. In addition, various accrediting bodies mandate conducting student outcomes assessment. For example, the Higher Learning Commission requires that every program assess its student outcomes and uses the results to improve programs. Ignoring assessment is not an option.
Can we assign a single faculty member to conduct the assessment, since too many opinions might delay and hinder the process?
While it is a good idea to have one or two faculty members coordinate the assessment process for the department, it is really important and beneficial to have all faculty members involved. Each person brings to the table different perspectives and ideas for improving the academic program. Also, it is important that all faculty members understand and agree to the mission (i.e., purpose) and goals of the academic program.
Will the results have complete statistical validity and will they be useful?
The short answers are no and yes. While the results may not have the rigor that most of us expect in our research practices, they will most certainly be useful in the way this process intends. The results will give faculty members meaningful information about how their courses are doing at achieving the goals they themselves defined.
Is this just another academic fad that will be gone in a couple of years?
Not likely. The outcomes assessment movement has been a serious one for at least a decade, and its momentum is growing. Higher education accreditation agencies across the country routinely include the assessment of learning outcomes as one of their highest priorities.
Original content from:
Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Handbook. Montgomery College. Accessed at www.montgomerycollege.edu/outcomes/documents/sloa_handbook.pdf
University of Central Florida. (2005). UCF Academic Program Assessment Handbook
Operational Excellence and Assessment Support.
Involvement of Academic Units in the Assessment Process
Many assessments are completed at the Academic Unit level. An example might be a department that is examining their mission with regard to student learning objectives, and how they want to measure their department’s success at accomplishing them so that appropriate interventions can be developed.
Academic programs looking to update their assessment plans or see the Academic Program Assessment Schedule can access that information here.
Student Affairs provides services and programs to students in support of their academic and career goals at NIU. Student Affairs is committed to identifying and implementing student learning outcomes achieved through students’ interactions with Student Affairs Services. To identify such out-of-classroom learning, Student Affairs utilizes a broad range of assessment strategies and a diverse array of assessment methods. Student Affairs also assesses student needs & satisfaction, student cultures & environments, and student outcomes and departmental effectiveness.
Campus Environment / Student Cultures Assessment is completed by NIU’s Department of Student Affairs. This assessment helps to identify elements of the college environment that affect students’ experiences. Essentially, this assessment seeks to determine and evaluate elements of the college milieu that affect student learning and growth. In turn, this helps University administration and staff provide the best possible environment for students to learn and grow. (NIU Department of Student Affairs, 2008; Upcraft and Schuh, 1996). See more on the Campus Environment / Student Cultures Assessment.
Example questions for Student Cultures and Campus Environment Assessment:
Who are our students? Where do they come from? Why do they choose NIU? What do they want from their university experience? What does the institution expect from its students?
How are students socialized into the culture of NIU? What subcultures exist? How are they treated?
What is the quality of life in the residence halls? For off-campus students? For commuters?
What is the academic environment, both inside and outside the classroom?
What are the history and traditions of the university?
Other academic support units run out of the Provost’s Office include the Academic Advising Center, the Office of Admissions, the Honors program and more. These units engage in ongoing assessment of student learning outcomes and report on findings to the University Assessment Panel on a five year cycle. View more information on these units.
Responsibility for assessment is an institution-wide process that is shared by faculty, administration, and staff. While the primary responsibility for classroom and academic outcomes assessment rests with faculty, administrators’ role in the management and delivery of resources makes them central to an effective assessment process. It is administrators’ role to:
- Encourage and support assessment processes at all levels within the University.
- Amplify and support curriculum changes in classrooms, disciplines, or programs where challenges have been identified through assessment activities.
- Encourage campus-wide dialogues and activities supporting assessment efforts. If you would like to get involved, read more about NIU’s Campus Assessment Network.
- Ensure alignment in outcomes and processes between course, program, and college assessments.
- Align organizational mission, values, structures, and systems to support behavior that is performance and learning focused (Lakos & Phipps, 2004).
Original content from:
Lakos, A., & Phipps, S. (2004). Creating a culture of assessment: A catalyst for organizational change. Libraries and the Academy, 4, 345-361.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
UALR holds a yearly Assessment Expo to recognize assessment projects around the university and across the state of Arkansas. The Expo originally began in 2000 and has since been a method for UALR to develop a campus-wide culture of assessment. To this end, the Expo has created a climate of conversation, rather than confrontation, around the topic of university-wide assessment. At each Expo, UALR has had participates from their university, as well as from colleges and universities across Arkansas. Expo goers share poster sessions and talks are presented all with the purpose of sharing information about assessment. One lesson UALR has learned is that it is important to make assessment fun! Their Expo includes food and a festive ambiance that has helped ease negative associations with assessment on their campus. Another lesson UALR has learned is that rewards and recognition matter. UALR gives Excellence rewards to university departments for their assessment achievements. Many departments proudly display their awards on their websites. Learn more about UALR’s Expo.
Learn about NIU’s Assessment Expo.
Alverno College is a small, independent, four-year liberal arts college for women, located in Milwaukee, and is widely recognized for its pioneering work in assessment. Alverno faculty have suggested (Alverno, 1998) that their assessment program began modestly, with a commitment to student learning as their common goal. This commitment was reinforced by their President who provided and enforced an action deadline for their new program. Over the last twenty-five years, Alverno College has developed a sophisticated system of student-assessment-as-learning and assessment-through-the-curriculum. Student assessment-as-learning is Alverno's term for a process that involves individual student demonstration of abilities required for graduation. Alverno has selected eight measurable ‘Abilities’ for a successful liberal arts education: Communication, Analysis, Problem Solving, Valuing in Decision-Making, Social Interaction, Global Perspectives, Effective Citizenship, and Aesthetic Responsiveness. Each of these abilities has been divided into eight developmental levels - ranging from fundamental identification at the first level to integrated application at the highest level. To pass a course, students must demonstrate not only appropriate mastery of course material, but also demonstrate mastery of these eight abilities. For example, a math course would not only have specific math skills students must demonstrate, but also specific levels of communication, analysis, and problem solving abilities the student must demonstrate. See student responses to these student-centered assessments.
Learn about NIU Student Focus Groups.
State University of New York
A motivational example of campus-wide assessment comes from The State University of New York (SUNY). SUNY is the largest comprehensive system of public higher education in the United States; comprised of 64 individual institutions and approximately 382,000 students. SUNY implemented a collegial system-wide assessment of general education and academic majors across its 64 campuses – an initiative of unprecedented size. Due to this enormous undertaking, campus-wide collaboration was of utmost importance. SUNY obtained superior collaboration from central stakeholders, the SUNY Board of Trustees, SUNY System Administration, as well as SUNY faculty and staff. According to SUNY (http://www.suny.edu/provost/Assessmentinit.cfm), completing this assessment of student learning would have been meaningless without such involvement.
Some helpful recommendations coming from SUNY’s assessment Task Force are as follows:
- A low-key and non-intrusive approach was helpful. This approach reflected a confidence that faculty university-wide were doing their jobs well and that they were in the best position to determine the effectiveness of their own teaching.
- Campuses need to recognize their responsibility in demonstrating the efficacy of their curriculum. This responsibility was encouraged by allowing system administration, campus faculty, and campus leaders some autonomy in the assessment process. Such autonomy was rewarded with campus’ willingness to participate and be accountable for their curriculum.
Learn about NIU’s General Education Assessment.
The Campus Assessment Network, established in July 2006, is a group of individuals across campus involved in assessment as part of their professional role at NIU. Included in this group is the director of assessment services, director of assessment and training for student affairs, assessment coordinator for teacher certification, several assessment coordinators for individual colleges, associate deans for several colleges, and other interested parties. The Campus Assessment Network was established for the purpose of bringing together assessment professionals and other interested parties across NIU to better enable these individuals to:
- Communicate and network with one another on assessment issues.
- Share information and assessment tools with one another to increase effectiveness in our assessment practices.
- Develop a shared culture of assessment and common messages of assessment to better engage and support the broader NIU community in their assessment needs.
Members of the network meet five times a year and discuss a variety of assessment topics such as technology assessments, web-based portfolio systems, design of standardized exit surveys for students, and the importance of building a culture of assessment.