National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment |

National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

NILOA In the Field

Select NILOA news reports listed below. For additional NILOA Newsletters, please see the NILOA Newsletters.


October 2017

It has been nearly a month since the Assessment Institute concluded in Indianapolis. We would like to share our observations from select sessions that were part of the NILOA Track and provide you with an opportunity to access presentations from the NILOA Team. This section features commentary on Transparency across the Curriculum: Assignments, Alignments, and Learning Outcomes, by Pat Hutchings, Building a Case for a Learning System, by Natasha Jankowski, A National View of the Field: 2017 NILOA Provost Survey Results by George Kuh and Jillian Kinzie, Assessment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, by Verna Orr and Using the Excellence in Assessment Designation to Advance Campus Assessment, by Gianina Baker. Please find exclusive commentary about this year’s Assessment Institute by Natasha Jankowski, George Kuh, Peter Ewell and Pat Hutchings in this section of October's NILOA in the Field.

NILOA Track presentations from 2017 Assessment Institute can be found here.

Reflecting on our observations from this year's Assessment Institute, NILOA director, Natasha Jankowski stated “When you meet higher education professionals during gatherings like the Assessment Institute, you often hear concern of assessment plans hindering creativity, responsiveness, and flexibility, and locking people into less than thoughtful processes and approaches to examining student learning”, said Dr. Jankowski. “I heard several sessions, where scholars related that concern to their own work”, she said.

According to George Kuh, NILOA founding director, senior scholar and co-principal investigator, “there was considerable enthusiasm for targeting and documenting dispositional learning outcomes (interpersonal competence, intrapersonal competence, neuro-cognitive skills) associated with HIPs that are essential for success during and after college, and capturing and deepening those outcomes via ePortfolio”, he says. NILOA will further elaborate on this topic in an occasional paper early in 2018.

Commentary by Dr. Peter Ewell

I found this, the biggest Assessment Institute ever, very affirming of assessment’s progress. Sessions were well attended and lively and my impression was that there were more people willing to share actual campus experiences and ask real practical questions than there have been in the past, when so many people were just getting started.

My own role was a talk at the Monday lunch session where I received the second “lifetime service award” for Assessment, succeeding Trudy Banta. In the talk that followed, I traced my engagement with assessment over more than 35 years, beginning in 1981. In doing so, I not only tried to remind participants that assessment now has a rich and engaging history but also tried to sketch out two tensions that have been with us from the beginning. The first is the tension between the role of assessment in institutional accountability (e.g. accreditation) and in the ongoing institutional improvement of teaching and learning—a topic which I wrote about in the first NILOA Occasional Paper in 2009. The second is the potential trap of regarding assessment as an exercise dominated largely by measurement concerns and therefore removed from the day-to-day activities of teaching and learning in the classroom. By falling into an “accountability” mindset and adopting an “exo-skeletal” methodology, the early practice of assessment in the 1980s and 1990s risked leaving faculty behind.

But I then tried to reassure folks that we have made a lot of progress in resolving these tensions in just the last ten years. On the methodological front, embedded rubrics designed around common learning outcomes statements like the AACU LEAP abilities and the Lumina Degree Qualifications Framework (DQP), and applied to actual student work are allowing “authentic” assessment to come to the fore. On the policy front, the arguments of our NILOA volume—Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education—are demonstrating that assessment pursued sincerely and proactively for purposes of institutional improvement gets you accountability as a byproduct anyway, whereas beginning with a “compliance” posture in response to external pressures is a dead end.

So I concluded with the hope that the next 35 years of assessment will be increasingly prolific and productive. I think this message was received well. Nobody threw anything.

Commentary by Dr. Pat Hutchings

I arrived in Indianapolis for the Assessment Institute having spent the previous week at conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL). I like to describe the scholarship of teaching and learning as "faculty bringing their skills and values as scholars to their work as teachers," and the ISSOTL conference (the 14th annual) was indeed a showcase for such work, with 700-some faculty from around the world sharing ideas and findings from their investigations of their students' learning.

I mention this because I was struck, more forcefully than ever, by the similarities between that work and the excellent presentations in Indianapolis this year, which had much less hand-wringing about faculty resistance than we have sometimes heard in the past and much more attention to successful strategies for bringing the campus community--especially faculty--together to ask good questions about students' learning, to gather useful, actionable evidence to illuminate those questions, and to make improvements suggested by that evidence.

Assessment, at its best, I would argue, is very much a cousin to the scholarship of teaching and learning, and two movements can learn from and benefit one each other. Indeed, I heard excellent sessions at ISSOTL about assessment, and quite a number of mentions of the scholarship of teaching and learning at the Assessment Institute. That feels like good news to me.

Pat Hutchings, NILOA senior scholar, Jillian Kinzie, NILOA senior scholar, and Mary-Ann Winkelmes, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, hosted a pre-conference workshop, Transparency across the Curriculum: Assignments, Alignments, and Learning Outcomes. This workshop explored the power of “transparency”–for students and among campus colleagues–about the purposes, tasks, and criteria for assessment that shape students' learning experiences as they move through the curriculum. We began with a focus on classroom assignments, and then moved to the course, program and institutional levels, looking at the meaning and importance of transparency in each of these contexts. “Many of the participants were working with, or planning to work with, faculty to design assignments that would in these ways be more powerful both for learning and for assessment”, said Dr. Hutchings. “But we also explored how this model, with its focus on alignment, could be used at other levels--course and program design, for instance. We're hoping to explore the latter more fully at next year's Institute”, she concluded.

Natasha A. Jankowski, NILOA director, delivered the NILOA Track Keynote, Building a Case for a Learning System. This keynote provided an overview of NILOA’s work, outlining the growing need for an integrated learning system built from demonstrations of student work. Offering an alternative to cultures of compliance, the learning systems paradigm is presented built from four elements– consensus-based, aligned, learner-centered, and communicated. “We are exhausted by the various initiatives focused on learning that are disconnected from each other. To reach scale, impact, and affect learning we need an approach that helps us bring all these disparate elements together. The learning systems paradigm offers such an approach.”, said Dr. Jankowski. Presentation from Dr. Jankowski’s keynote can be found here. Degrees That Matter: Moving Higher Education to a Learning Systems Paradigm, a book that introduces the Learning System Paradigm, can be found here.

Jillian Kinzie, NILOA senior scholar, and George D. Kuh, NILOA founding director, senior scholar and co-principal investigator, presented A National View of the Field: 2017 NILOA Provost Survey Results. Drawing on findings from the 2017 NILOA National Survey of Provosts, this presentation provided the first glimpse into the 2017 survey results. Involving the audience in making sense of the data, this presentation outlined the current landscape of institution-level assessment as well as ways in which colleges and universities have made changes in response to assessment results. This presentation can be found here. The full results will be released in a survey report in January 2018.

Verna Orr, NILOA research analyst, moderated a panel on Assessment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Panelists included Solomon Alao, Morgan State University; Saundra F. DeLauder, Delaware State University; Garrya Dunston, Howard University; Rebecca Ertel, Central State University; Mark Howse, Morehouse School of Medicine; Pamela Richardson-Wilks, Wilberforce University; Becky Verzinski, Bowie State University; Latasha Wade, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore; and Ereka Williams, North Carolina A&T State University. This panel drew together university presidents and assessment practitioners from various Historically Black College & University (HBCUs). Panelists discussed assessment approaches and practices, specific to their campus, used to improve student learning. In addition, we moderated a conversation on the relationship between equity and assessment, reflecting on NILOA’s Occasional Paper released in January, “Equity and Assessment: Moving towards Culturally Responsive Assessment.” According to Verna Orr "Our panel featuring HBCU leaders, the first of its kind at the Assessment Institute, was not meant to be a single event, but a starting point for the work that must be done to ensure culturally relevant assessment practices are available to diverse student populations. Conversely, we have already heard from the Institute’s organizers who have offered their support of a similar session at next year’s Institute.", she concluded. This presentation can be found here.

Gianina R. Baker, NILOA assistant director, moderated a presentation featuring Harriet Hobbs and Christine Robinson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Jessica Turos, Bowling Green State University, on Using the Excellence in Assessment Designation to Advance Campus Assessment. The Excellence in Assessment (EIA) Designation program recognizes institutions for their efforts in intentional integration of campus-level learning outcomes assessment. The 2017 EIA designees may be found here. This presentation shared information on the EIA Designation and application process, provided campus examples of using the evaluation rubric to further campus assessment practice, as well as shared promising practices and lessons learned from select 2017 EIA designees. "Audience members were impressed with the work of both campuses and asked thoughtful questions regarding the implementation of some of their efforts.", said Dr. Baker. "Many attendees left with practical ideas to integrate into their campus’ assessment efforts.", she concluded. This presentation can be found here.

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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