Meeting The Challenge With Learning Visits

The good folks over at the University of Venus began a networking challenge this fall. I never got around to actually signing up for it, but I thought it was a great idea and I intended to participate. Their challenge consisted of doing one of the following:

  • Go interdisciplinary
  • Go international
  • Go outside your institution
  • Go to a neighboring institution
  • Go to your local community

What a great way to broaden my perspectives and learn new things, and bring back good ideas to my own institution; what a neat form of professional development; and except for “go international,” many of these things I would be able do with low impact on my to-do list and relatively low-cost to me or my institution.

But then I realized that I already do this kind of stuff all the time. These kinds of activities have been integral to my own scholarship for a long time now (if you subscribe to Boyer’s definition of scholarship, which I do). Perhaps these kinds of activities might be defined as networking activities (as University of Venus does) or could even be considered some funny form of academic tourism, but I prefer to think of them as I have experienced them: learning visits.

Learning Visits, Not Academic Tourism

Let me share some recent examples. I will begin, first, with an experience of being visited:

Several months ago, colleagues from an institution similar to mine (but way across the country) contacted me about coming to my campus for a learning visit. I had met a few of these good folks at a conference a year before; we had a healthy exchange of ideas then and had remained loosely in touch. Their institution was planning to take a team of folks to three universities in the Pacific Northwest, just to learn. They came and spent a day with us, learning from and sharing with several folks on my campus.  It turned into a learning exchange within a learning community. Indeed, we asked as many questions of them as they did us, and we learned as much from them as I hope they learned from us.

Since then, one of the members of that visiting team and I have had virtual coffee dates to continue to discuss shared challenges and opportunities (mostly about assessment, but also about implementing liberal arts programs as well as working with adult learners in higher education). To continue our shared learning, next week several of us are visiting again (though this time virtually) to talk about Prior Learning Assessment. And we are visiting with each other just to learn: What’s working and why? What’s not? What ideas might we come up with to improve our programs and our students’ experiences?

This past Friday I completed a learning visit of my own to a university in Southern California (and my university will host them in a learning visit this coming week). This was actually one of the assignments for the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy in which I am participating, but it was a great excuse to spend the good part of a day at another institution learning about what they are doing with assessment and how they are building their teaching/learning/assessment culture. I met with folks from a few academic areas, student services, and institutional research, and also learned how their cross-college assessment committee supports this important work at their institution. I learned about their progress, and their challenges. The visit gave me several ideas for strategies and tools I might bring back to my institution (with adaptations of course), and it also confirmed some of the work we are already doing. I learned.

I am learning so much from these learning visits that I am planning more. With colleagues from our Assessment Program, I am planning a learning visit to a local college to explore their experiential learning simulations lab and think about how such teaching/assessment systems might apply to other disciplines. With a colleague from our Service Program, I am planning to visit another local university to learn about their service-learning program.

I have taken the challenge to heart, and I intend to keep doing so.  I think learning visits might be unique opportunities to higher education (perhaps I am incorrect, but I can hardly imagine car or technology companies doing “learning visits” with other car or technology companies). I also think they just might help all of us get better. If higher education is about learning — our students’ learning and our own — then learning visits are one relatively simple way we can achieve great learning outcomes.


Because I Care

Read why, here: Assessment as an Act of Care

This guy (from the Comments) does too!

Care is a great reason for assessment

Posted by Alexander Freund , Prof./Hist. at UWinnipeg on August 27, 2011 at 12:15pm EDT

I like Ms Booth’s idea of care as a reason for assessment. The question is not only one of whether to assess, however, but also of how to assess. If we believe that learning is the product of mutual work between students and teachers and must be based on students’ choices about what and how they want to learn, and if we believe that learning comes through experience rather than instruction, then we need to involve our students in the process of assessment.

Get Yourself A Blind Spot Prevention Team

I posted yesterday’s blog post and then sadly and belatedly realized that it was all. about. me.  (I realized this after emerging from a fabulous meeting with two smart and dedicated assessment colleagues who are working on many aspects of the assessment projects I had listed, and then later another assessment project meeting that was equally generative and engaging with a small group of faculty from an academic department).

How’s that for a blind spot?!? (Ugh – how embarrassing!)

What I totally failed to represent in that post was the importance of doing this work with other people — and how they are a key source of my learning, and are also likely learning as well, and of course, we learn together (as represented so nicely in THIS article). One person engaging in the work of assessment learns only so much; a group of people engaging in the work of assessment together, thinking and reflecting together, planning together can learn so much more.  Wisdom of Crowds and all that. Duh, right?

But seriously, this speaks to why it’s so important for an entire campus community to be involved in assessment work — assessing student learning is no easy task and sometimes we don’t want to see (or we can’t see) what’s there to see! Cathy Davidson’s recent post “Why You May Be Blind to a Good Idea” in the Harvard Business Review nicely addresses the value of working with others as well:

…since we all see selectively but we don’t all select the same things, we can leverage the different ways we slice and dice the world. The trick, though, is we can only do this by first accepting that we each have limits: Everything we see means we’re missing something else. It’s that simple. And impossible to see.

When doing the hard but important work of academic assessment, it’s good to able to see as much as possible, as clearly as possible. I, for one, need others to help me avoid the blind spots and biases, and I am grateful I have such talented and caring blind spot prevention teams in my world.

She Had A Pleasant Elevation

She’s moving out in all directions …

Like this Talking Heads song, this is how my summer has been – moving out in all directions. Though to be clear –  I am NOT taking LSD in a field next to a Yoo-hoo beverage factory in Baltimore, Maryland (thanks for this information Wikipedia), nor am I lying in any grass. I have been working with my colleagues on lots and lots of assessment projects, all simultaneously. And it’s fun and exciting and draining and cool. (And busy.)

Let me do a brief inventory:

  • Assessment of Learning in the Academic Library
  • Student Affairs Assessment
  • Academic Department Assessment Reports – 2010-2011
  • Academic Department Assessment Plans – 2011-2012
  • Preparing for rolling out Department Review- Chapter 2: Student Learning
  • Liberal Arts Core Revision (and supporting myriad assessment projects associated with the current LAC outcomes)
  • NWCCU Accreditation – Standard One
  • Hiring and welcoming our new Assessment Research Coordinator
  • Hiring and welcoming our new Service Program Coordinator
  • Teaching LRN 305
  • And, and, and … let me just say it’s been a busy summer.

And oh yeah, I almost forgot! I have been working on  my own learning in the Assessment Leadership Academy — all in context of these various projects and my day-to-day work.

I have to say that in moving in all of these directions, I am, in fact,  having a pleasant elevation. Wanna know why? Because when I am engaged in this work, I am learning. And why? Because assessment is about learning. (Not to be redundant – but have I said that before? Like HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE?)

Megan Oakleaf, in a recent article about assessing value in academic libraries, said it too in regard to why assessment in libraries is important:

Value research means hard work: hard work conducting research, hard work reflecting on results, hard work fine-tuning existing services and resources, and hard work developing new ones. However, it is certain that not engaging in the value conversation puts academic libraries in  an untenable situation. It is also certain that investigating and demonstrating library value is the right thing to do. Why? Because as librarians explore the value of library services and resources they provide, they learn. When librarians learn, they proactively deliver top-notch services and resources where they’re needed—to students completing their academic work; to faculty preparing publications, grant proposals, or tenure packages; to administrators seeking decision-making evidence. And when librarians deliver excellent services and resources, they make a difference for their users—they are valuable.

This summer has been all about learning — student learning, my learning, my colleagues’ learning, my institution’s learning — and making a difference (or at least trying to). And learning and making a difference are valuable. And *that’s* been my pleasant elevation for this summer (which has got to be way better than taking LSD in a field next to a Yoo-hoo beverage factory any old day).

(Not that I would know.)

Yah, What They Said!

I can't find a way to credit this picture because I can't seem to find its original source! Research conundrum!

A few of my favorite selections from chapters in Field Guide to Academic Leadership (edited by Robert Diamond), one of our books for the Assessment Leadership Academy:

“The most appropriate solutions to the problems lie in shared commitment to and responsibility for good practice.” ~Michael Theall, Evaluation and Assessment – An Institutional Context

“The opportunity for critical reflection — a chance to put our strong academic values of systematic inquiry and questioning of assumptions to use — is lost in the desire to get the thing done.”   ~ John Wergin, Academic Program Review

“…change is a scholarly act (Ramaley, 2000) … Informed, respectful, thoughtful dialogue is the greatest learning tool of any organization today, and few of us know how to do it.” ~ Judith Ramaley, Moving Mountains – Institutional Culture and Transformational Change

Assessment of Learning in Academic Libraries – References

As part of my project for the Assessment Leadership Academy, I am writing a review of the relevant literature. My project is titled Developing an Academic Library Learning Assessment Plan, and these are some of the most helpful references I have come across so far. Megan Oakleaf’s work, specifically, is really great.


Allen, M.J. (2004). Assessing academic programs in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

American Association of Colleges and Universities VALUE Project. Information literacy rubric. Retrieved from

American Association for Higher Education. Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning. Retrieved from

Banta, T. & Associates. (2002). Building a scholarship of assessment. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Driscoll, Amy & Wood, S. (2007). Developing outcomes-based assessment for learner-centered education: A faculty introduction. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Dugan, R.E. & Hernon, P. (2002). Outcomes assessment: Not synonymous with inputs and outputs. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28, 376-380.

Hernon, P. (2002). Editorial: The practice of outcomes assessment. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28, 1-2.

Hernon, P. & Dugan, R.E. (2002). An action plan for outcomes assessment in your library. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Hurlbert, J. (2008). Defining relevancy: Managing the new academic library. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Nichols, K. W., & Nichols, J. O. (2000). The department head’s guide to assessment implementation in administrative and educational support units. New York: Agathon Press.

Nitecki, D.A. & Bach, C.N. (2011, March). Assessment and accreditation: Libraries enter stage left. Paper presented at the Association of College and Research Libraries conference. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved from

Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (2010). Standard 2 – Resources & Capacity. Retrieved from

Oakleaf, M. (2008). The information literacy instruction assessment cycle: A guide for increasing student learning and improving librarian instructional skills. Journal of Documentation, 65(4), 539-560.

Oakleaf, M. (2009). Writing information literacy assessment plans: A guide to best practice. Communications in Information Literacy, 3(2), 80-89.

Oakleaf, M. (2010). The value of academic libraries: A comprehensive research review and report. Association of College & Research Libraries. Chicago, IL: American Library Association. Retrieved from

Oakleaf, M. (2011). Are they learning? Are we? Learning outcomes and the academic library. The Library Quarterly, 81(1), 61-82.

Oakleaf, M. & Kaske, N. (2009). Guiding questions for assessing information literacy in higher education. Libraries in the Academy, 9(2), 273-286.

Portmann, C.A. & Roush A.J. (2004). Assessing the effects of library instruction. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 30, 461-465.

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A commonsense guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

White, L.N. (2008). From slide rules to scorecards: service environment factors affecting the future of assessment in academic libraries. In J.M. Hurlbert (Ed.), Defining relevancy: Managing the new academic library (pp. 178-185). Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

Wood, E.J., Miller, R., & Knapp, A. (2007). Beyond survival: Managing academic libraries in transition. Westport, CN: Libraries Unlimited.

Wright, S. & White, L. (2007). SPEC Kit 303: Library Assessment. Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from

Singing My Heart Out

You know that phrase, “Preaching to the choir?” As I read more and more of the literature about assessment in higher ed (theory, empirical research, best practices, models) assigned in the WASC Assessment Leadership Academy, that phrase keeps coming out of my mouth: preaching to the choir. I am in the choir! See – here I am, singing my loudest about teaching, learning, and assessment in higher education (bottom row / left side: white hair, glasses, beard):

Thanks to University of Rochester for allowing use of a picture of their choir.

(Ok, that’s really not me and I am really not in *that* choir. But it’s a great picture of a choir, from a university, so it seemed appropriate.)

For me the real question becomes:  Nice and all, but how do we reach the congregation? And even more so, how do we reach the greater community about the value of wondering if our students learn what we want them to learn?

Here’s a perfect example, a lovely little song in Marilee Bresciani’s Outcomes-Based Academic and Co-Curricular Review that I believe I, myself, have sung around these halls on more than one occasion:

In many good practice institutions, the expectation was made clear that assessment is not an “add on” — that program review is not a process that is set aside, to be thought of only once every five, seven, or ten years. It should be a process of reflection that is built into day-to-day work. In this model, time is not taken away from teaching, it is invested in improving teaching. Time is not taken away from providing services, it is invested in improving services. Time is not taken away from discipline research, the research informs the design and assessment of student learning. (p. 134)

Preaching to the choir! I know it; I get it. I’m sold!

Creating A Campus Culture That Values Assessment, an article that summarizes an online seminar led by Linda Suskie, speaks to my concern about engaging my campus in a way that helps us all value assessment. Suskie’s ideas as summarized in this article include: focus on teaching and learning, innovation and collaboration, campus culture and people, and promoting and rewarding good practices.  Check it out – these are good ideas. These will help me sing my song, and sing loudly and with confidence.

I also need to keep the idea of the universal change principle in mind: learning must precede change. (I am a teacher; I should know this!) In the chapter Leadership & Change by David Lick in the Field Guide to Academic Leadership, I am reminded to ask:

  • What learning must take place before this change effort can be successfully implemented?

When I can answer and address this, then the song I want to sing about teaching, learning, assessment — and the value of attending to all three in an integrated and meaningful way — might just become a choral masterpiece. I am working on that, but in the meantime, I will keep singing my heart out, one stanza at a time.