Sitting at the table of assessment: The role of a teaching center on campus.

Reflecting on my work as an assessment consultant at the Schreyer Institute of Teaching Excellence when the program assessment initiative was put forward, I realize how much uncertainty and concern was shared among the faculty about what each party’s role was in the process, why they had to get involved in the process, and how the results were going to be used. In this post I discuss some initiatives teaching centers on campus can take to facilitate programmatic assessment and explain what roles instructional consultants can take during the process.

At the beginning stages of programmatic assessment, Penn State required that undergraduate degree programs prepare an assessment plan for their academic programs in which they would identify the learning objectives of the program, select a single objective to focus, and gather data to examine the extent to which the students in the program have reached the objective. The support that our teaching center provided to the cohorts of faculty who were involved in the process was basically facilitation of the discussions about programmatic assessments and review of the submitted plans. During the meetings, the instructional consultant would typically answer questions about the format of the learning objectives, questions about the type of data that would be considered viable, methodological questions about how to design procedures to collect valid data, how to report the data, and inquiries about who would have access to the results. I think that given the initial stages of the assessment process at Penn State, our role as consultants was sufficient but as the procedure moved on the Schreyer Institute would need to expand its involvement in programmatic assessment.

The role of a teaching center
The University of Michigan Center for Research in Teaching and Learning, in a publication titled “The role of a teaching center in curricular reform and assessment” (Cook, Meizlish, & Wright, 2011) discuss their approaches and initiatives for getting involved in curricular change and assessment, and explain the services that CRTL offers to advance a culture of assessment and curriculum reform. Given that CRTL is one of the largest teaching centers in the US it is possible that not all centers/faculty development programs can offer the range of services this center does or take up the various roles that consultants at CRTL are able to perform. However, since many teaching centers have recently took up the challenge of becoming involved in the programmatic assessment initiatives, I would like to share with other instructional/assessment consultants as well as faculty and administrators some of the strategies, approaches and services stemming from their experience at the University of Michigan. Here is a concise summary of different activities that consultants can be involved to facilitate programmatic assessment:

Planning, implementing, and facilitating meetings, retreats, workshops, and discussions: Consultants take responsibility for designing the events, summarizing the results and data, and coordinating follow-up activities.

Developing research methodology: Consultants design research studies including action research studies to examine the effectiveness of: educational technologies, innovative teaching approaches and assessment techniques, interdisciplinary initiatives, and modified learning spaces.

Assisting with measure development, data collection, and analysis: Consultants design or collaboratively develop measures and instruments for data collection, facilitate or are directly involved in collecting and analyzing data.

Supporting curriculum and pedagogical change: Consultants support the interpretation of the data gathered for programmatic assessment and the decision making process so that departments can revise the curriculum, and faculty can modify their courses, and improve their pedagogical practices through consultations, department discussions, workshops and teaching clinics. Enabling the dissemination of the results is also an activity taken by teaching centers, which organize panel discussions, poster sessions, and conduct consultations on how to publish the results in scholarship of teaching and other higher education journals.

As it is evident above teaching centers have an important role to play in the assessment of student learning and the promotion of curricular reform and they can become involved in different aspects and phases of the assessment process. Larger centers which can secure funds to finance assessment initiatives and scholarship of teaching projects through grants are able to provide an additional motivation to faculty, programs, and departments that seek some financial support for their projects. Finally, regardless of the size and the finances of a teaching center all instructional consultants can be involved in developing and sharing web resources to disseminate information, examples, best practices, disciplinary approaches, and literature on programmatic assessment of student learning outcomes.

Cook, C. E., Meizlish, D. S., & Wright M. C. (2011). The role of a teaching center in curricular reform and assessment. In C. E. Cook & M. Kaplan (Eds.) Advancing the Culture of Teaching on Campus: How a teaching center can make a difference,(pp.121-136). Sterling, VA: Stylus.




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