Assessment as Learning

NOTE: This was originally posted on here.

About 16 months ago our institution started an institutional assessment steering committee (IASC) as a vehicle to improve assessment on campus. Composed of representatives from administrative and academic units across campus, we have been engaging in a number of activities to help increase confidence and capacity in assessment and also begin to build a culture of assessment.

While we are providing training activities including a successful regional assessment conference in May 2017 and fun assessment games during an all campus meeting, building assessment processes and systems, and even investing in technology to help support this work, a culture of assessment is not emerging. Assessment still seems to be ad hoc and isolated. There appears to be some resistance to integrating assessment into practice. I believe this is due three things. First, assessment faculty and staff perceive assessment as a burden enacted by others, either the college administration or NEASC, our regional accrediting body. Assessment is s something we MUST do, not something we WANT to do. Another reason for resistance is the lack of understanding of the concept. Many believe that assessment is all about numbers and statistics, not about stories regarding how effective activities are. A final reason is an aversion to the term assessment, which likely relates to the feeling that assessment is being imposed.

To address these issues, the IASC has stopped using the term “assessment” and begun using “learning” in its place. We’ve realized that assessment really is just learning – learning if goals and outcomes are achieved and if the strategies being used are working.

Assessment isn’t rocket science. It is an inquiry process, beginning with a question. Questions could cover topics such as, are students learning how mitosis in my class, what are students learning by being a resident assistant, are the retention strategies working to increase 1st year to 2nd year retention. Once the question is asked, data can be gathered and analyzed to answer the question. Once the question is answered, then further action steps can be developed and implemented to address any shortcomings.

Thinking about assessment as learning helps demystify the concept, lessens aversion to the word, and decreases resistance paving the way for assessment to be activity freely engaged in on a daily basis as it is embedded into everyday practice.

Reframing the concept can make all of the difference.

About Gavin Henning

Gavin is a college student educator with a reputation as an organizer, collaborator, and catalyst for educational change. His professional mission is to generate applied scholarship, bridge theory to practice, create systems and processes, and edify higher education professionals to foster college student learning, development, and success. Gavin has advanced this mission during his 20+ years in higher education in positions including professor, assessment practitioner, and student affairs educator. In his current position as Master of Higher Education Administration and Doctorate of Education Program Director at New England College, Gavin helps prepare the next generation of professionals to improve educational organizations. As president of ACPA – College Student Educators International he leads the premiere higher education association centered on fostering college student learning and development. As founder of Student Affairs Assessment Leaders (SAAL) and member of the executive committee of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) Gavin helps further a national agenda of accountability and continuous improvement of higher education programs and services. Gavin has been recognized by for his contributions to student affairs and higher education by receiving ACPA’s Annuit Coeptis award and Diamond Honoree awards. Gavin holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Education Leadership and Policy Studies and a Master of Arts degree in Sociology both from the University of New Hampshire as well as a Master of Arts degree in College and University Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and Sociology from Michigan State University. In his free time Gavin enjoys reading, biking, kayaking, and losing to Facebook Friends in Scrabble.
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