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New learning outcomes strengthen curricular ties to mission

Revised learning outcomes ensure performance matches expectations 

We live in an age of accountability, which can at times feel uncomfortable and constraining. But assistant professor Kristen Chamberlain embraces assessment. Augsburg is a community of reflective individuals striving for meaningful work, Chamberlain says, and evaluation is crucial to articulating our values and determining whether performance matches expectations. 

As director of assessment, Chamberlain is leading a team of 12 faculty and staff charged with strengthening the college’s methods for gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to ensure Augsburg is living out its mission to cultivate informed citizens, thoughtful stewards, critical thinkers, and responsible leaders.

“Outcomes provide ways for us to concretely assess if Augsburg’s educational experience is fulfilling the mission,” says Chamberlain, assistant professor of communication studies. “Each student learning outcome is connected to one of the educational goals listed in our mission statement.”

More emphasis on evaluations, timelines

The Assessment Committee’s work builds upon Augsburg’s past work in the area. This most recent evolution began in September 2013, after a team of faculty participated in a Higher Learning Commission Assessment Workshop to refine the existing system to place more weight on faculty evaluations of students and to specify timelines for review, recommendations, and change implementation.

During the 2013-14 academic year, the campus collected faculty evaluations of students’ critical thinking and writing skills. Faculty also engaged in conversations that resulted in the development of the Undergraduate Student Learning Outcomes, which Augsburg faculty approved in December 2014.

The following year, the campus collected faculty evaluations of students’ oral communication and quantitative reasoning skills. On a three-year assessment cycle, the 2015-16 academic year will focus on data analysis followed by recommendations for change. Any improvements will be discussed and set into motion the following year.

Clear, actionable directives

Assessment committee member Amy Gort, dean of arts and sciences, says the revised co-curricular learning outcomes—with clear, actionable directives—have been well received throughout campus. The outcomes are divided into seven categories:  

  • Cognitive complexity
  • Knowledge, acquisition, integration and application
  • Humanism
  • Civic engagement
  • Interpersonal and intrapersonal competence
  • Practical competence
  • Persistence and academic achievement

“We are always looking for ways to improve, even within the assessment process,” Gort says. “One example is that in the first two years we asked faculty to score the work of students in their own courses. Starting this year, we are asking faculty to submit student work for scoring by a team of faculty who will be specially trained.  We think this will encourage faculty engagement in this work and make the scores more reliable.

Responding to data, strengthening the future 

Throughout each stage of the process, the assessment committee works to inform the campus community about their work—from detailed reports to recommendations. This year, faculty and staff are collaborating to respond to themes that emerged from the critical thinking and writing data collected in 2013-14. Chamberlain shares two outcomes from these interdepartmental collaborations:

  • To strengthen writing across the curriculum, the Center for Teaching and Learning is working with Jacqui deVries, director of general education, to create professional development workshops for faculty.
  • deVries is also working with department chairs to develop signature assignments or projects to better assess critical thinking and writing skills across the board.

“The Assessment Committee is continually engaged in discussions about how to improve our assessment process,” Chamberlain says. “We are excited about bringing concrete, relevant data back to the faculty community. In many ways, this data validates the excellent work of our faculty and students. The assessment work will also help us further strengthen our curriculum and ensure that every Augsburg student receives a Mission-driven education.”

Dimension 1, Goal 3, Strategy 3: Strengthen our assessment practices across all programs. 

—by Kate Elliott