Using Evidence to Improve Learning

At this final step in the process, you want to be asking: what have I learned from the process to improve both the program and student learning?* At this stage, you’re essentially “closing the loop,” determining what your analysis indicates and capitalizing on the investment that your program has made in its assessment activities. A critical factor in this step is the often overlooked issue of sustainability. When determining how well your department/program’s assessment process can be continued in the future, consider the following questions:

  • Have the program faculty developed a process that is useful and beneficial to all involved—faculty members as well as students?
  • Can and will the process be replicated as time and circumstance require?
  • Has the process produced the kind of data necessary for critical decisions to be made?
  • How will assessment lead to program improvement?

During this stage, you’ll probably find that you’ve collected more data than you can realistically work with. If that’s the case, focus on the learning goal(s) most important to your department/program and extract the relevant data. Narrowing your focus during the beginning of the assessment process is also helpful in securing the most useful data. Keep in mind that the process is an iterative one. Data that seem irrelevant to your current focus might be useful in the future. Your findings will continue to build off one another; the key is to develop a sustainable, ongoing process that leads to informed decision-making about curriculum, budget, and staffing concerns.

*The above text is adapted from Cornell University’s work on program-level assessment.

2 Responses to Using Evidence to Improve Learning

  1. Leanne McWatters says:

    At this stage, it’s important to recognize that you may have collected more data than you can realistically work with. If this is indeed the case, consider which learning goals you wish to focus on and extract that particular data set. Also keep in mind that as you begin your program assessment, you’re starting an observation process about your entire program. It might be best to limit what you want to examine in the beginning of the process so that you produce something useful and aren’t overwhelmed. Additionally, you don’t have to do all your analysis nor use all your data at once; the process can be an iterative one in which your findings build off one another. You might want to start with a single question, such as: What is the one concern that all faculty share about our students’ learning? A possible outcome could be an improved understanding of how to align program-level goals with the curriculum and knowing how to identify them in student work–with the underlying goal of addressing the one identified concern. The key is to develop a sustainable, ongoing process that leads to to a more informed decision-making process about the curriculum and the potential staff needs of the program/department.
    *this text is adapted from Cornell University’s work on program-level assessment.

    “Closing the loop”: What have I learned from this process that can improve the program?

    Closing the loop is the justification for all the investment of thought and time spent in the assessment process: how can the program be improved by what has been found through the analysis? As one faculty member has said, “Assessment helps us figure out whether our students are learning what we think they’re learning.” A very important factor in this final phase of assessment is that of sustainability:

    * Have the program faculty developed a process that is useful and beneficial to all
    involved—faculty members as well as students?
    * Can and will the process be replicated as time and circumstance require?
    * Has the process produced the kind of data necessary for critical decisions to be made?
    * How will assessment lead to program improvement?

    At the program level, it’s most effective to view the entire process and the results it produces in terms of the stakeholders: the program faculty and department. It’s also suggested to limit the agenda of the response in this step: don’t try to do too much at once. Look at the data gathered as observations about the program, rather than just abstract measurements of its effectiveness. Thus, the task in this phase of the assessment process is to summarize the student learning information rather than abstractly quantify something more holistic. What practical questions and concerns do the faculty have and want to resolve? Possible outcomes at this stage include more clearly understanding and articulating program learning goals and knowing how to recognize them in student work. The results can also be used to make decisions about curriculum changes, staffing needs, and budgetary issues.

  2. Mindy McWilliams says:

    sounds good!

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