Higher Education

Future of Assessment Lies in Transformation & Failure

A short video clip on how to make sure an institution’s assessment strategy is continuously improving and meeting the needs of students

Hear from an assessment expert on how to continue to evolve the assessment process, utilizing data and with an openness to failure, to improve student learning. Watch the Full Webinar


Catherine Wehlburg:

So I think the future of assessment is what the passive assessment has been, which is focused on learning even though we may do it in a different way, but that means we need to set aspirational learning goals and outcomes and we need to do that collegially so that faculty and staff and students are all part of that conversation.

We also need to remember that assessment is a process. It is not a report. And this kind of goes back to Yvonne’s question earlier about the confusion of the word. People talk about, “I’m done with assessment,” meaning they’ve done the report and we’re never done with assessments. That’s good and bad I guess. But it is a process and it’s something that takes a while to do. And if we use it right, we can use assessments to kind of guide what happens and the directions that we’re going in because it will help us know what’s working and to keep that and what’s not working and that we need to change that.

And that means that we have to be open to this idea of failure. And what I mean by that is not meeting goals or outcomes because when we ask an assessment question, has a student learn this? If the answer is no, that is a very valuable answer because that means we have to do something different. That means we have to rethink how we’re teaching it or we need to provide additional training or knowledge or skills or resources.

So when I look at assessment reports that have been done across a program or an institution and I see that, oh, everything’s fine, everybody’s meeting every outcome, then I don’t think that’s an aspirational enough goal because no institution or program is perfect. And we need to be able to be open to the idea of asking difficult questions about our students’ learning so that we know where we want to put our limited resources into improving or changing or modifying, whether that’s curriculum or the need for a new lab or a need for a new faculty position or whatever, we should be able to look at learning outcomes data to help guide those decisions.

So that means assessments about learning, but it’s also about transformation. And so assessing learning should be transformative. And I know that may sound really way out there because we don’t often think about assessment as being a transformative process, but it really can be because if we ask the right questions and make a cyclical process that is ongoing and [inaudible 00:42:55] dialogue that we have on campus about student learning, then it can be transformative because it’s something that really is going to be able to make a difference in how we operate as universities, we operate as a social change and economic mobility kind of question.

So it is about transformation, and when you look at the root of the word assessment, it actually means to sit beside. And I think that’s something for us to keep in mind that when we are assessing, whether that’s a student or a program or an institution, we’re using that as a way to sit aside the data we’re collecting and think about it and talk about it and determine what is the next best step in that overall process.

And so from that perspective, assessment is transformational. It is some of the most important work that I think we can do on any campus. And I think everyone is involved in assessment, not just people who have that in their titles, but we are all involved in improving and enhancing student learning. And we can do this by taking learning data and sitting beside it and looking at it and talking about it and letting it help to inform the next and the next steps that we’re taking.