‘Un-dirtying’ the word Assessment

Pencil-eraser-erasingI watched a presentation recently given by a college administrator, who advised audience members to consider changing vocabulary on campus. Wouldn’t it be better if we said that we worked to develop a culture of ‘innovation’ rather than ‘assessment’?

Makes sense…innovation sounds much more positive and has less baggage. It’s fair to say that historically faculty often have associated assessment with the idea of more work, and chances are, if someone on campus mentions the word ‘assessment,’ you’ll see at the least some eye-rolling or someone will suddenly need to be somewhere very important. In a quick search, you’ll even find some articles as to why the word assessment has been called a “dirty” word.

Now, let me just say, I’ve heard my fair share of dirty words, and this one hardly compares – but that’s neither here nor there. The focus of this article in on how we as a higher education community can work together to change our thinking and ‘clean’ up the word assessment…

  1. Refocus on Meaning…According to the National Academy for Academic Leadership, assessment is a process that describes the current situation of a person, program or unit providing evidence of this analysis. Assessment involves goals or outcomes, processes and inputs. Some assessment methods can include surveys, focus groups, portfolios, rubric evaluation, and direct observation with multiple assessment methods being the preferred way to demonstrate meeting goals or outcomes. Goals or outcomes are the desired end results. Processes are the things a person or program does to reach the goals or outcomes, and inputs are the resources needed to accomplish the goals or outcomes. This sounds a lot like the process of LEARNING in its most pragmatic form. I need to know where I am and where I have been in order to figure out how to get to where I want to be…assessment!
  1. Sharing is Caring… I’ve read countless concerns over the years on assessment listervs or even heard in meetings that faculty may be concerned that assessment results are used (inappropriately) for the purposes of evaluating faculty for renewal, tenure or promotion, or that departments might somehow be punished for negative results in their assessment of student learning. For many years, these concerns simply bubbled under the surface without being dealt with, and were expressed most broadly by the faculty’s resistance to having assessment results shared openly. Hence, the ‘dirt.’ I don’t have any surprising suggestions about what to do about this. But here are some thoughts on how to flip the script. Program administrators can take the responsibility to help set a tone that improving teaching through assessment is actually research, and that we all know that this is something faculty do best, especially as a community. They might organize events, symposiums, etc. to legitimate the sharing and interpretation of the data (or research) with a general theme of creating a culture of inquiry into teaching.
  1. Make Assessment Fun! … It’s not impossible. People ARE doing it, and finding success on their campuses. How? Create a culture based on feedback, one that rewards, one that promotes the development of academic and self identity through cycles of formal feedback and improvement. View the webinar, Building an Effective and Fun Culture of Assessment presented by Dr. Peter Jonas. This presentation is loaded with doable tips for building a positive culture of assessment across the campus.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I for one feel cleaner already!