Why is assessment and a "culture of assessment" Important for academic programs in the College of Arts and Sciences?
In order to understand the importance of assessment to academic departments, it is crucial to understand what assessment is and is not. Assessment is more than data collection; it is more than writing reports or filling forms. Assessment is an essential part of good academic program planning and design. As academics, we certainly want the students who complete our programs to be well prepared for work or further study in terms of the knowledge they gain, the skills they acquire, and the attitudes they display. Collectively, teaching faculty decide what this knowledge, skills, and attitudes should be, and then design the programs to achieve those ends. Assessment is the process of determining the degree of success in achieving these aims and to suggest possible means of improvement. Once academics understand the real purpose of assessment, it is no longer perceived as intimidating or threatening. Rather, all who desire the best outcomes for their students—and that should be everyone—should encourage the process. Accrediting bodies see the business of assessment of strategically planned programs as vital, and encourage all institutions of higher education to develop a "culture of assessment." This desired element of academic culture is vital if well-conceived assessment programs are to be undertaken. Good comprehensive assessment cannot be achieved by one person or a small committee of dedicated professionals; rather, it is the business of all who teach.
How may we achieve a culture of assessment?
Knowledge is power, and, assessment provides knowledge.
Wendy Weiner, writing for the American Association of University Professors newsletter (July 2009), says that there are fifteen important elements that show that an institution is dedicated to assessment. Most institutions cannot achieve all, but some elements are vital. How do we stand?
- First, it is important to establish a common vocabulary for assessment terms.
- Highlight those elements of assessment that are in place, and be able to show an effort to acquire those that are not.
- Understand assessment does not diminish the role of the individual faculty or administrator; in fact, assessment, wisely used, empowers both programs and individuals.
- Aim to conceive, develop, and implement assessment plans as part of the overall strategic plan.
- Administrative support for these activities is vital to successful assessment.
- Faculty should take ownership of their assessment programs, and participate in strategic design for their programs. A well-designed program is easy to assess.
- Know that outcomes-based assessment shows to what extent we succeed in conveying those things that we want our students to know (knowledge), to be able to do (skills), and the dispositions (attitudes) that they should acquire.
- Assessment also demonstrates how we can improve the process of student learning in our programs, in our activities, and through our service.
- It is important to remember also that it is not only the academic departments that assess their work, but all units of the institution, as well as co-curricular activities, should participate in this vital activity. Assessment and the reflective, planning culture that it creates is the business of everyone.