Assess It! | March 30, 2015

Changing the question

question-29350_640One of the things that higher ed accreditors most often critique when it comes to student learning assessment is our ability to “close the loop.” Simply said, we don’t tend to make use of what we find at the end of an assessment. So we might say, “70% of our students are able to analyze their own and others’ assumptions in the process of writing a research paper? Well, that’s good enough for now, right? Let’s get back to class and check again at the end of next semester to see if it’s changed.”

Because what we’re interested in is our classes, not filling out reports and tables and sending them off to the ether (unless, of course, you have a special place in your heart for administrative work). But that’s where the disconnect is – our classes are the whole purpose of student learning assessment. So if you’re not interested in what your assessment findings tell you – if you’re not interested in the answer – then maybe it’s time to change the question.

The best advice I got in in graduate school was to pick a research question that interested me personally. Not one that I thought would be best suited to my advisory relationship, or one that would be easy to publish, but one that moved me so much that I would be able to withstand hours of reading, interviews, transcriptions, analyses, and endless cups of tea to get the thing written. And I remember in my final year feeling buoyed by that investment – lifted by each discovery, excited to share what I was finding with anyone who would let me bend their ear.

If we’re not feeling that with the process of exploring student learning, we must not be asking the right questions. What about your students’ learning do you, personally, care about? Maybe you don’t care about their ability to analyze assumptions as described above. What question does interest you?

  • How well are they able to identify multiple approaches for solving a problem?
  • How well are they able to take risks?
  • How well are they able to create new ideas?
  • How well are they able to articulate insights into their own cultural rules and biases?
  • How well are they able to take informed and responsible action to address societal challenges?

These are all assessment questions, too. In fact, they show up in a set of standard rubrics some colleges have decided to use to assess their institutional level goals. In the end, in order to us to truly be invested in the whole shebang of assessment, to make it really work for us, we must take some time to learn about ourselves and our interests as they relate to our students.

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