Up the Ladder: From Course to Program Assessment

As a new academic year is beginning in several HE institutions instructors strategically plan the assessment methods that they will use in their courses. As instructors we strive to develop formative and summative assessments that range from traditional to performance/product assessments that optimally are authentic by targeting essential knowledge and skills. Essentially instructors implement a range of assessment strategies so then how is  course assessment different from program assessment.

I decided to write this post at the beginning of the semester to share some food for thought with those instructors and administrators who are puzzled about how they can use the information about student learning that they collect regularly in their classrooms to serve a different level of assessment: the program assessment of student learning outcomes.

Course-embedded assessment is a process that relies on a review of student work that students generate as part of their regular coursework, based on which instructors in a program determine whether students have attained the expected learning outcomes (Borin, Metcalf & Tietje, 2008). Besides the fact that course-embedded assessment yields direct evidence of student learning it has several other advantages:

  • Utilizes more authentic & valid assessment methods.
  • Capitalizes on faculty’s interest and motivation to develop the measures and tasks.
  • Promotes systematic and effective grading when the tools are well designed.
  • Builds on student effort, time and motivation put into completing the assignments.
  • Reduces costs as copyrights are not required which is the case when commercial tests are used.
  • Can take the form of collaborative inquiry when a group of instructors want to explore questions about teaching and learning,design and test measures, scoring guides or other grading tools (e.g., rubrics).
  • Contributes to decision making on programmatic changes in curriculum and pedagogy.

Course-embedded assessment can be a very informative approach in collecting evidence of student learning in order to improve an academic program. Departments which have implemented course-embedded assessments have made curricular and pedagogical changes such as modified or introduced new courses,designed or changed existing units, revised course assessment policies, experimented with more student-centered pedagogies such as problem-based learning and field work, and put more emphasis on specific challenging topics and concepts.

Despite the fact that course-embedded assessment poses some challenges to faculty that decide to implement this approach to collect evidence for program assessment purposes (Ewell, 2009), some faculty have begun disseminating their work in course-embedded assessment. In scholarly journals faculty share their experiences of implementing this approach, document how they designed innovative measures and tasks, and developed scoring guides to assess student learning. Thus, even if the results of course-embedded assessment are used primarily to improve an academic program and secondary to document student learning for accountability purposes they can also be used to expand disciplinary knowledge via the various SOTL journals.

If you would like more information about course-embedded assessment: the process, examples, advantages and challenges as well as examples, please, browse this prezi presentation and have a look at the attached bibliography document.

Bibliography on Course-Embedded Assessment

What are your experiences with course-embedded assessment?

What procedures did you follow to implement course-embedded assessment?

What are some of the challenges that you faced in the process?


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