I’m happily working my way through the reading assignments for the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy that I am participating in (and finding all sorts of goodies to share with my colleagues), and this paragraph from Mary J. Allen’s book Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education (2004) reminded me why I care so much about assessment — because it’s (once again) about informing teaching and learning:
Earlier teaching models, primarily based on delivering content through textbooks and lecturing, assumed that students learn through listening, reading, and independent work. Typical grading practices, based on grading on a curve, frequently put students into competition with each other, discouraging student collaboration. More recent conceptions of learning stress that students construct knowledge by integrating new learning into what they already know. Learning is viewed as a cognitive and social process in which students construct meaning through reflection and through their interactions with faculty, fellow students, and others. This approach involves expanded use of active learning pedagogies, such as collaborative and cooperative learning, problem-based learning, and community service learning. Our ability to meet the educational needs of our diverse student body depends on developing an expanded repertoire of pedagogical strategies with demonstrated effectiveness, and assessment helps us identify these strategies. (p. 3)
And then (as if that wasn’t enough of a Rah! Rah! for educators), Allen identifies the bottom line:
The bottom line for assessment is student learning (p. 6) . . . . Just as the bottom line in business is the generation of profit, the bottom line in higher education is the generation of learning. (p.19)
Generating learning. That’s a really great bottom line.