Tag Archives: Assessment

Demystifying the Assessment Boogey Man

Conducting assessment is a common and pervasive theme in contemporary higher education.  Based on my experience, this word can strike fear, apprehension, and sometimes outrage in the minds of many faculty.  A common question is “why should we engage in assessment?”

Unfortunately, many faculty believe assessment only is necessary because some external entity expects or demands it.  The outside entity could be an accreditation body, a state legislature, or central administration at the University.  While this tendency to blame assessment on outside forces exists and essentially makes assessment a “boogey man,” I believe it is important for faculty to demystify the process by embracing program assessment as an intellectual, empirical, and scholarly activity designed to provide us with feedback on what we are doing well as well as indicate areas we can become better at fostering student learning.  Assessment should be about our teaching and scholarly habits, and not about vulgar accountability.  The basic question really should be are our students learning what we think we are teaching them.  I believe this basic curiosity should be at the core of every faculty member who takes teaching seriously.

The assessment process should begin with program faculty having an honest discussion of what they believe students should learn in their program.  Then, the academic methodologist in us should come out as we derive techniques to gather data to determine how well our students are learning what we want them to know.  If analysis of these data shows students are indeed learning what we believe important, we have validation for current pedagogical techniques and curricular offerings.  On the other hand, if data demonstrate areas for improvement, we should use our knowledge of both the academic discipline and teaching approaches to improve the student experience, ultimately benefitting our students since they more effectively will be learning and doing what we value as a result of this principled inquiry and reflection.

Assessment should not be seen as an interrogation or threat.  It should not be framed as a “spotlight” intended to expose our weaknesses, cut our budgets, or otherwise be an enemy.   It should be kept fairly simple and straightforward where faculty in the program ask for answers to empirical questions about program outcomes using an intellectual and scholarly search for truth consistent with the manner we conduct our discipline-based inquiry.  We should avoid “assessment elitism,” understanding that almost all of us suffer from the “imposter syndrome” when it comes to leading and conducting assessment.  This is not about finding fault, it is about gaining traction by collectively striving for honest attempts to empirically evaluate the effectiveness of student learning in our programs.

If done correctly, assessment can be something owned by the faculty, conducted with a scholarly search for answers to interesting and important empirical questions, and involving the ultimate benefit of allowing us to become more effective at teaching our students what we deem important for them to know.  Let’s confront this boogey man and make the reflection process center on what we value while doing it for us and not for the external forces.

Karl Kunkel