Assessment at CSB/SJU is bursting out all over!

Prepared by Ken Jones,CSB/SJU professor of history, director, common curriculum

Recent scholarly inquiries at CSB and SJU that measure educational goals associated with a liberal education, cultural competence and departmental learning objectives share one thing in common. They represent the creative ways in which our faculty have taken it upon themselves to design assessment tools that get at difficult issues of student learning that are central to our liberal arts enterprise. Something remarkable is happening here.

In 2008, CSB/SJU received a $149,000 grant to increase our assessment capacity by training faculty and staff in a year-long seminar called "Assessment 101."   In its first two years, that program has been very successful, with 28 faculty and staff from 21 areas completing the course under the tutelage of Phil Kramer, director of academic review and curricular advancement.  The graduates have continued to use their knowledge on the Academic Policies, Standards, and Assessment Committee (APSAC), and as assessment coordinators in their departments and programs. Even more exciting, some CSB/SJU faculty have become so interested in assessment that they have created pioneering projects.

Kathy Twohy (nursing) and Amy Olson (nutrition) have focused on student perceptions of what it means to be a liberally educated person, and how particular parts of the CSB/SJU experience contribute to the acquisition of those attributes.  To do so, they developed an instrument that asks students about the importance, possession, frequency of use, and CSB/SJU contribution to nine qualities of a liberally educated person.  Those qualities range from being open to other perspectives to writing clearly and solving a variety of problems. Data from over 330 seniors shows much for which we can take pride.  For example, our students see "acting with respect and open-mindedness" as the most important liberally educated trait, and they say their experience in large and small group discussion and in Study Abroad played a critical role in developing this ability.

Rachelle Larson (nursing) and LuAnn Reif (nursing) were moved by a faculty development study trip to El Paso and Juarez to think about what kind of experience was most effective in enhancing cultural competence in our students.  When they discovered that the literature didn't offer much guidance on what worked best, they began to develop their own assessment tools so that they could move from an anecdotal understanding to a more refined answer.  The survey they created measures knowledge, attitudes and skills in cultural interaction. At this point, they are gathering data and beginning the analysis, with the goal of measuring the relative impact of on-campus courses, alternative break experiences, short study abroad courses, and our regular full semester programs. 

Chuck Wright (philosophy) has taken on the daunting task of studying whether students are developing the kind of philosophical dispositions the philosophy department hopes to cultivate.  Imagine trying to assess whether or not students have developed a tolerance for ambiguity!  Working with Pat Barlow (SJU '10), a Teagle Grant student intern, Chuck has developed a sophisticated set of questions to measure the extent to which students have acquired the four different dispositions the department sees as essential for the study of philosophy.  The first results were very promising, revealing that students with two or more philosophy classes scored much higher than students with less training in the field.  Chuck is now in the process of refining the instrument and trying to figure out how to apply the results to tweak pedagogy and curriculum.

Chuck, Rachelle, LuAnn, Amy and Kathy have shown that assessing student learning can turn into the kind of exciting professional research often known as the scholarship of teaching and learning. More broadly, their efforts, plus the excellent work being done to evaluate student achievement in departments and First-Year Seminar, show that we are moving into a culture of assessment, where studying student learning is an integral part of what we do.  We all care about whether or not our students are learning; effective and appropriate assessment can help us understand how much they are learning, what approaches work best, and how we can be even more successful.

(Posted April 16, 2010)