The Project: Phase One – Brainstorm!

!! Warning – You Are Entering A Brainstorm Zone !!

I found this perfect image on Breakaway Digital but I cannot figure out its permissions. Please let me know if I should not use it and I will remove it.

One of the assignments that we have for the Assessment Leadership Academy I am participating in is to create and enact a project at our institution that deals with an assessment issue. Some projects that the last group of ALA participants did include:

  • Developing pilot capstone assessment courses at a community college
  • Conducting an assessment of the quality and impact of program review and revise the process based on findings
  • Developing a course-embedded assessment system at two institutions (collaborative project for two participants)

Though I have lots of projects that I am responsible for in my position (the Dean of Assessment one, that is) and thus work on every day, I’m excited about the opportunity to try something new, to integrate and apply my new learning about teaching/learning/assessment (and leadership), and to help my institution move forward with something important.

So what is this something? There are so many things … but one stands out to me based on many conversations with my colleagues and my own interest for our PLA program: ePortfolios.

We don’t have one. Many of our academic departments say they want one, for many reasons (and, frankly, for no clear reasons, depending on the department). Most of us (myself included) don’t know much if anything about them (though I’ve done a lot of reading on ePortfolios as well as product demos and conference workshops in the last 6-9 months, I still feel like I only understand the tip of the ePortfolio iceberg). Thus, we have a lot of learnin’ to do before we just go out and get one and plug it in and start using it (the latter is how we’ve often done things in the past; I seek to change this practice where assessment is concerned).

So my idea is to create a Faculty Learning Community (in the same vein as FLCs discussed by Driscoll and Wood, 2007) to learn about ePortfolios.

Here’s a brain dump of my initial thoughts for what this could look like:

  • Invite all faculty to participate, including adjuncts
  • This would not be a committee or task group — it would be a learning community
  • Thus, as a community, we would co-develop our desired learning outcomes, learning processes, as well as establish our own guidelines for working with each other in a learning community
  • Per the fabulous suggestion of one of my colleagues, it would be beneficial to spend the first session or two just learning about faculty learning communities before we jump into learning about ePortfolios
  • I would request a commitment of no more than 4 hours per month — 2 hours for reading or other projects; 2 hours to community conversation once a month — to honor people’s time and other commitments
  • I would facilitate the process (per the community’s determined outcomes and actions) to take the time burden off other participants; I would be a co-learner, but could focus some of my time on facilitating the process, gathering materials, doing research, etc.
  • We could use a blog / website / wiki / MyMarylhurst / Google site / Moodle site or web page as a group ePortfolio (of sorts) (oh – or maybe a Mahara test site) to help us with our work so that we can make our own learning visible and so that we can organize our work and materials
  • We could use some funds in my department budget to bring some ePortfolio experts to us; to resource our learning (books, for example); or to go to a conference. I might also see if there’s grant funding for this somewhere.

I am excited about this idea, and I would hope for good participation from several of my colleagues (the main factor may be time). I’d also like it to be a model of a process — the learning community part, that is — for other teaching/learning/assessment topics we’d want to learn about here as a faculty.

I’d love feedback on this idea as this is really only my initial thinking about it and open to lots of revision. Please feel free to share your thoughts. Specifically, I’d like to know: What would make this interesting or meaningful for participants? What would motivate engagement and participation?

Onward to Phase Two! (Ummm….what was that again?)

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Let’s Get Meta

In their book Developing Outcomes-based Assessment for Learner-centered Education, which we are reading for the Assessment Leadership Academy, Amy Driscoll and Swarup Wood share stories about their work with faculty developing their practices in teaching, learning, and assessment at CSU Monterey Bay. For one thing, they make CSUMB sound like Higher Education Utopia On Steroids. And in many ways it might be: it’s relatively new, it was designed from the ground up to be learner-centered and outcomes-based, and, well, Amy and Swarup work there (I just have a feeling, having attended a session with both of them a few years ago at a conference, that they’d be amazing to work with). Oh – and CSU Monterey Bay is in a lovely area of the world, too. So yeah . . . in a nutshell, Higher Ed Utopia On Steroids.

Monterey Bay view from CSUMB website. Pretty!

There are lots of good assessment ideas in their book and I’m taking it all in (I especially love the Faculty Learning Community model they have in place). For example, they share CSUMB’s philosophy of assessment:

Assessment is a dynamic pedagogy that enhances, extends, supports, and expands student learning.

That’s right: Assessment IS a pedagogy. Not separate from pedagogy, but IS pedagogy. And it also has an important purpose: to foster learning! How about that?!? How great is this philosophy?!?

They also share a set of questions from Huba and Freed (2000) intended as an inquiry framework for use in assessing assessment. Here they are – let’s get meta:

  1. Does assessment lead to improvement so that faculty can fulfill their responsibilities to students and to the public?
  2. Does assessment focus on using data to address questions that people in the program and at the institution really care about?
  3. Is assessment based on a conceptual relationship among teaching, curriculum, learning, and assessment at the institution?
  4. Do faculty feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for assessment?
  5. Do faculty focus on experiences leading to outcomes as well as the outcomes themselves?

I need to take these questions to our Assessment Committee — to our faculty as a whole — and use them to think about what we’re doing well and where we could make improvements in becoming a learning-centered institution. For example, an answer to #4 might be: Yes, but also a sense of burden. It’s time consuming; it’s hard; it’s a lot of work … and that’s all true. And I also know there are great rewards and it is best if it’s part of the teaching-learning process, since it IS pedagogy.

One more nugget to share is this seemingly simple question that Swarup asks at the very end of Chapter 5, about the relationship of content to learning:

Shall we teach to deliver content or use content to help students answer meaningful questions?

This is a much better question than the one I have asked of faculty in helping them think about learning and assessment: Do you teach content, or do you teach students? Because clearly the answer is both and one can greatly serve the other.

Huba, M.E. & Freed, J.E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.