Assessment of student learning is not new to the academic environment. The process of evaluating a learning experience by studying what students can demonstrate they have learned is a basic tool for improvement as a teacher. The change which has confronted the faculty (in the past 20 years or so) is a demand for a more systematic assessment process. Today, assessment refers to a process of formal data collection and regular reporting to the administration. And, although faculty members recognize the value of studying student learning, many are put off by the perceived “top down” nature of current assessment processes.
Despite the obvious external pressures that drive assessment, there is also compelling intrinsic value in developing a systematic program assessment process. Starting from the premise that the quality of student learning is relevant to decisions regarding curriculum and pedagogy, it follows that the development of a comprehensive (and methodologically sound) evidence base would be a better tool for academic decision-making than would other, less systematic approaches.
The resulting experience for many faculty members is, at best, an ambivalent tension between the inconvenience of administrative assessment requirements, and the recognition that the study of student learning is a central responsibility for educators. For that reason, it is essential for assessment programs to be constructed in ways that make them both: 1) Manageable –the collection and evaluation of evidence of student learning should not be overly burdensome with respect to faculty workloads; and 2) Meaningful –the evidence collected should be of direct value in helping to improve academic programs.
When an assessment program is constructed in this way, it becomes a useful tool created by the faculty, for the use of the faculty. In that case, the program is valued less as a means to meet the expectations of accreditors and the public, and valued more as a means to build quality programs and improve student learning.