Value of Assessments in the College Experience
The goal of college and university instructors is of course to provide the materials, the context, and ultimately the motivating and stimulating environment in which students may learn. But there is a deeper component that should be pivotal and present within the college milieu. That vital component is a process of assessment as to how well students are learning, which indicates how effective the instruction has been. Assessments are fundamental when it comes to accurately measuring the success (or lack of success) vis-a-vis the quality of teaching. Thesis: The overriding purpose of attending a college or university is not merely to engage in the process of receiving a degree — but rather to learn and achieve a level of scholarship that prepares a student for the future; hence, without assessments the true value of that learning experience cannot be measured.
Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
The process and the system of assessing how much learning is taking place is referred to by author Linda S. Nilson as classroom assessment techniques (CATs). And while it is necessary that CATs should be centered on the learner and not exclusively on the material or the messages that the instructor presents, what aspects of classroom dynamics should be specifically assessed is the prerogative of the instructor (Nilson, 2010). And moreover, following the assessment the instructor must be open to making whatever changes might need to be made following a careful review of the assessment (Nilson, 2010).
Since their need for learning is key to the assessment process, students should be actively involved in the process; but Nilson notes that CATs do not necessarily involve students being tested or given quizzes. However, the process does involve students synthesizing, reviewing, analyzing and evaluating the quality of the lectures and the other components of the course work the instructor presents. Moreover, CATs should not be thought of as a one-time process; in an ideal classroom dynamic, the instructor and students collaborate in an ongoing course of action that involves feedback and it also paves the way for the instructor to make whatever adjustments are necessary to assure a quality learning experience for the students (Nilson, 2010). The author references Angelo and Cross (1993) in suggesting that instructors begin with a limited scope as they dip into the waters of assessment. By selecting one class that is going well — and by fully explaining and giving a clear, understandable rationale for the strategy — the instructor may test a CAT in which students anonymously provide a one-sentence critique that will aid the instructor in his or her presentation.
In other words, the instructor is asking: a) what are students getting out of this class? And b) how could the instruction be made more relevant or interesting? Following this simple exercise, and after a thorough review of what students submitted in their one-minute, one-sentence critiques, the instructor that uses this CAT should be totally transparent with his students and even explain how his or her teaching strategy will be adjusted based on the exercise (Nilson, 2010). The instructor might decide to be open and to read a few of the more poignant one-sentence critiques, and encourage comment; this could stimulate a meaningful dialogue between instructor and learners. But it could also serve to emphasize to the class that this instructor is going the extra mile (through assessment procedures) to make absolutely clear how important it is that learning is taking place, and that a profound level of understanding is ongoing.
How CATs assess and verify the learning process
Nilson offers instructors four categories of CATs to choose from, all of which should be given careful consideration prior to launching an assessment project. The first, declarative learning, relates to facts and principals that should be part of a student’s learning cycle — not necessarily assessing how effective students are at memorizing data, or remembering facts, but rather testing the level of comprehension of the material. The second category of CATs is procedural learning: this entails critical thinking, reasoning and the ability to write with clarity and discipline. And the third category to be assessed is conditional learning, which refers to how well students are learning to analyze and solve problems; it also involves role-playing (Nilson, 2010). The fourth category, reflective learning, tests the beliefs and the values of a student and challenges his or her motives for pursuing higher education.
Focused learning is usually thought of as a beginning assessment process in which students’ attention is aimed at a specific concept, or a name, or an historic event. In a two-or-three-minute exercise, students are asked to list as many impressions from that specific fact person they can possible think of. Memory matrix is an assessment method which shows an instructor how well students are able to put knowledge into organized form, and the muddiest point exercise asks students to write down what they consider the vaguest portions of what the instructor is presenting. Nilson admits that this is perhaps the most basic kind of assessment and that it can be given at any given moment as a kind of sidebar story to what is being presented at that moment; the muddiest point exercise gives students who may be struggling and are not skilled at asking questions an opportunity to be honest about their struggles (Nilson, 2010).
Another strategic CAT — designed for more advanced learning situations — is what is called concept maps. Students are asked to construct diagrams that include circles around important concepts in the class and lines leading to those circled concepts. This, Nilson explains, is a visual exercise and purportedly allows students to organize their grasp of the information that has been presented. The everyday ethical dilemmas assessment exercise is very much what it sounds like: students are presented with a case study of an ethical problem that has application to the material the instructor has presented. Once assured that their responses will be anonymous, students will likely open up candidly as to how a solution may be found to that dilemma. This is an ideal way for the instructor to assess opinions and values, which in turn will lead to the development of moral reasoning (Nilson, 2010). After students turn in a rough draft of a writing assignment, the instructor can make comments on the hard copy, or ask students to comment on each other’s work. This aids students in their need to always point towards improving their writing skills, and it provides an assessment tool for the instructor.
Other factors – assessments in a business school setting
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) echoes what Nilson and other scholars have suggested: colleges and universities should shift focus from what faculty members believe is most germane in terms of their teaching to what their students are actually learning in the process. Assessment must be systematic, and it must involve quality collaboration between students, staff, administration and faculty (Stivers, 2009). Faculty in a business school environment should be deeply involved in quality assessment programs, and in each degree program faculty leadership should identify the learning goals and objectives — and be competent to select the measures and identify the kind of feedback needed for any modification of the academic program once assessment has been conducted (Stivers, 2009).
As a firm indication that it is essential for business schools to get up to speed on student learning assessments, the AACSB has laid out specific assessment responsibilities for all business-related schools (and business departments) in the United States. Some of those duties are as follows: a) establish guidelines for assessment processes; b) revise the mission statement of the business school; c) adopt a map of student learning goals and expected outcomes; d) present a master timeline for when the assessment process should begin for all business courses; e) report all assessment results to administrators and faculty; f) make specific recommendations on curriculum adjustments that should be made to business faculty and administrators; and g) arrange for archiving assessment degree policies, data reports, curriculum revisions and samples of work students have completed (Stivers, 2009).
Faculty and learner-centered assessments
Traditionally, assessments of student learning have involved evaluating what a student comprehends vis-a-vis factual knowledge. But a newer, more adroitly created format entails assessment as an activity to cultivate student learning skills and strategies (Webber, 2012). And even though Webber admonishes readers to accept that learner-centered assessment is today a highly-valued strategy in colleges and universities, there is a question as to what extend faculty are embracing learner-centered assessments.
Webber references several academically inspired reports that reached the conclusion that institutions of higher learning should institute reforms and adopt learner-centered education (utilizing assessment tools). Learning should be a holistic process — but have the needed reforms actually taken place? (Webber, 2012).
The author reports that while a substantial number of faculty members embrace learner-centered assessments, non-tenured faculty members are using learner-centered assessments more consistently than tenured faculty. This could be…