Monday, April 25, 2011

"Why Are We Assessing?"

By: Linda Suskie
AEFIS Response:
When approaching the tasks associated with outcomes-based assessment in higher education, we tend to skip the why and jump right into the how. And to take that jump yet another leap further, we begin to facilitate the how without defined goals that can be communicated to the stakeholders involved. Linda Suskie, Vice President of the Middle State Commission on Higher Education, captures these sentiments in her "Why Are We Assessing?" view. She urges those involved in the assessment of learning in higher education to recognize the succinct goals for assessment. "Assessment is simply a vital tool to help us make sure we fulfill the crucial promises we make to our students and society."

The promises that Suskie remarks on are in question by government policymakers, investors, accrediting agencies, and students and their parents, the consumers of higher education. So, how do we (a) define expectations and (b) demonstrate that we are delivering the expected outcomes for any given student to society?

AEFIS uses the Course Section Dashboard as the platform for faculty to develop effective contracts with students and other stakeholders. This document presents the what and why that is expected of students as form of course outcomes and professional contribution. These contractual documents are more commonly known as course syllabi. They aim to answer to more than what students are getting for their money, but also how they will be able to understand concepts and apply skills as they enter the workforce.

Telling students and stakeholders about the expected outcomes is one thing, but following through is another. This is where direct and indirect assessment come into play. The AEFIS Solution hosts mechanisms for entering and archiving student assessment data. With an end result of student outcomes transcripts -- students walk away from degree programs with more than diplomas, but documented evidence of their performance on outcomes.

This data is most valuable to students, but is invaluable to employers, government policymakers, accrediting agencies and the like. With this information we can start to explain the means for achieving effective personalized learning. Suskie challenges that "…we haven't figured out a way to tell the story of our effectiveness in 25 words or less, which is what busy people want and need…Today people want and need to know not about our star math students but how successful we are with our run of the mill students who struggle with math." We accept the challenge!

Effective learning starts with an understanding of expectations and progresses with continuous communication, evaluation, and revision of those expectations.

Interactive archival systems such as AEFIS serve as vehicles for effective instruction, by connecting assessment to teaching and learning.

Becky Joyce, AEFIS Team

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