Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

Assessment Expo spurs conversation on rubrics,
multiple measurements, technology, closing loop

February 23, 2009

by Mark McGowan

What can good assessment practices produce? What does good assessment require?

Brianno Coller

The 65 NIU faculty and staff who gathered Friday morning for NIU’s second Assessment Expo, which this year featured four roundtable discussions on various ways to measure desired outcomes, have plenty of answers.

Direction. Validation. Proof. Continuous improvement. Careful development, frequent examination and informed refinement of measurement tools.

“Assessment helps you to validate – to be confident – that your program is delivering what it’s designed to deliver,” said Omar Ghrayeb, chair of NIU’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and one of a dozen presenters who also conducted poster sessions. “Assessment rubrics grow, and we grow with them.”

Sandi Carlisle and Cyndi Chao

Presented by the Office of Assessment Services to spotlight good ideas at the university and to enable the sharing of experiences and wisdom. Friday’s roundtable topics were “Use of Rubrics,” “Use of Multiple Measurements,” “Innovative Technology” and “Closing the Loop.”

“With the backdrop of increasing accountability pressures from the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the federal government and our own regional accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, it is important, now more than ever, that we discuss our assessment methods more broadly and share our best practices,” said Carolinda Douglass, director of Assessment Services.

“Such collaboration not only makes us accountable to external parties,” Douglass added, “but helps us to provide the best teaching and learning environments.”

Greg Conderman, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, offered “advantages and issues” of rubrics.


  • Provide consistency in scoring.
  • Reduce scoring errors.
  • Make scoring easier and faster.
  • Offer specific feedback to students.
  • Guide student efforts as they plan their projects.


  • Time-consuming to develop.
  • Not appropriate for all learning tasks.
  • Do not capture every aspect of a good project.
  • May reduce student creativity.
  • Often difficult to translate into a grade.

Participants heard about the use of “clickers” from David Ballantine, an associate professor in chemistry who incorporates three or four clicker-response questions into each of his lectures.

The instant feedback allows Ballantine to know what percentage of students understands his lessons as he presents them. Since putting the clickers to use, he has seen improved test scores to prove their effectiveness as a teaching tool.

Margie Cook, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, uses multiple measurements to improve the students who volunteer for the “Straight Talk Speakers Bureau.”

Students complete self-reflection surveys after each public address; those results are compared with the perceptions of Cook, the audience and the speech sponsor. Backed with the four sets of data for each student, she holds individual meetings with her “speakers” to sharpen their presentations.

Cook also learned that students want ongoing development of their public speaking rather than a one-time seminar at the start of the semester.

“These students are volunteers,” she said. “They’re very committed, interested and highly motivated. They’re critical of themselves. They want to do a better job.”

Michelle Bringas, director of the Asian American Resource Center, explained how ongoing assessment of the “OHANA!” peer mentor training program has enhanced that service for students.

Peer mentors are surveyed on how the training helped them personally, how it developed their mentor skills, how it advanced their leadership abilities and how they expect it will benefit their professional careers after college.

Spurred by additional feedback from peer mentors, the program now is based on a small group model, holds a joint training retreat with other NIU peer mentor programs and includes an annual recognition ceremony for all participants.

Students who operate Ellington’s, the College of Health and Human Sciences dining room in the Holmes Student Center, use comment cards to improve their learning and performance in the required course as well as the restaurant’s service.

Diners are asked to rate their experiences on the quality of the food, the promptness and friendliness of the service, the atmosphere and the cleanliness, said Josephine Umoren, coordinator of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Administration in the School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences. Students and their instructor review the comments and make adjustments for the next time that menu is served.

Ellington’s itself, where customers are served meals at their tables, it itself partially the result of assessment.

Members of an advisory board made up of employers provided feedback to the school’s faculty that students should learn more about running a restaurant like Ellington’s, Umoren said. The Chandelier Room, which Ellington’s replaced, was a buffet.

Other presenters Friday were Betty Birner, Department of English; Susan Callahan, Department of English; Sandi Carlisle, director, Recreation Services; Brianno Coller, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Susan Marsh, chair, Department of Management; Chris Thomas, Department of Management.

Appropriately enough, all of Friday’s participants were encouraged to complete evaluation forms about the expo.

For more information about the Office of Assessment Services and other upcoming events, call (815) 753-8659.