National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

NILOA In the Field

For NILOA Newsletters, please see the NILOA Newsletters.


February 2017

AAC&U General Education and Assessment

NILOA also participated in the conference organized by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), themed “General Education and Assessment: Design Thinking for Student Learning”. NILOA’s director, Dr. Natasha Jankowski, traveled to Phoenix between February 23 – February 25 to meet fellow scholars and engage in assessment conversations. Interestingly, this is also an event where NILOA’s most precious audience’s voice can be heard: the students. We were fortunate enough to meet Ms. Aurora Berger, who traveled to Phoenix with one mission: to raise the awareness of arts and creativity as a means to elevate divergent thinking. Her presentation “Creativity and Divergent Thinking” was very well received and NILOA took this opportunity to ask Ms. Berger for her perspective on assessment.

It comes with no surprise that being a student, Ms. Berger faces firsthand the very issues NILOA addresses. “Every student learns differently, which means that standardized and high-stakes testing won’t work for everyone”, she said. She believes that using a singular grading technique to assess student’s knowledge is inherently flawed. In her view, tests often do not account for variances in learning style or for behaviors like risk taking or embracing inherent contradictions within the subject matter. While these behaviors can often result in superior work, they are penalized under stricter forms of assessment. Ms. Berger took another punch at feedback. “A letter grade does nothing for a student other than tell them how successfully they have met the teacher’s expectations”, she said. Even though written evaluations are a lot more effective way of assessing student’s performance and lead to improvement of student behavior, letter grades are still perceived as necessary by most programs.

Criticism, however, is not the only contribution Aurora Berger had to offer. Interested in arts, she wanted to explore methods in assessing creativity, that were broad enough to work in many situations, while still being specific enough to be of use in a classroom setting. “While art does elevate discourse in other areas, creativity does not require art”, Aurora said. She is a firm believer that arts are a critical part of educational curricula, leading to improvement of creativity, through exercise. In sociocultural context, they are just as important as the rest of the humanities.

Although her presentation was well received, one question stuck out. A medical educator approached Aurora, asking whether her work would apply to a post-professional medical school environment. “It was a challenge: could I take this liberal arts concept and make it fit into the world of STEM? I could,” Ms. Berger said.

Aurora’s work is an example of how diverse, flexible and applicable creative assessment can be. Inspired first by AAC&U VALUE’s rubric for creativity, Ms. Berger wanted to explore the concept of assessing art. She struggled to find guidance and applicability in the rubric in its current form. After critical analysis, it has led her to adapt the rubric and create her own. In her words, “As a result, my own rubric is accompanied by a set of assessment protocols to guide the educator through the assessment process.”

In conclusion, through her journey as an artist within education and assessment, Aurora Berger realized she was not up for an easy task. “The arts require dedication, meticulous practice, and a foundation in theory, social studies, and literature," Aurora noticed. She battled with constant doubt about her choice of study, so deeply embedded in society, where arts are inferior to STEM studies or a financially stable career. “No other discipline is asked so constantly to defend itself as a cognitive domain”, she said. Ms. Berger, however, is not just an artist. Like many students, she takes inspiration from her education to improving her skills and critical thinking. In her own words, “…I have persisted, and it has made me a more well-rounded individual as well as an academic, and I do not regret my choice at all.”

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"The complex, diverse learning goals, of postsecondary education do not justify a passive approach to student achievement. It is heartening to see state policy and institutional leaders working together to collect evidence of student learning and pursue continuous improvement."

Paul Lingenfelter

Paul E. Lingenfelter
President Emeritus
State Higher Education Executive Officers