by Pat Hutchings and Mary Deane Sorcinelli
The 2019 Annual Meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U)—held January 23-26th in Atlanta, Georgia–focused on the need to create more compelling narratives about the value of higher education. Two critical elements in doing so are the assessment of student learning outcomes and faculty development. The idea that these two activities might be “better together,” working in partnership with each other, was the theme of a session we presented along with two colleagues, Jillian Kinzie, from Indiana University Bloomington, and Kathleen Landy, from Kingsborough Community College, CUNY. Given the BVA’s goals, and especially the work on outcomes and assessment, the session’s main argument and themes may be of interest.
When assessment emerged on the higher education scene in the 1980s, many teaching centers were understandably wary. Assessment was identified with top down mandates, accountability, and evaluation, while faculty development typically relied on creating a welcoming space, attractive to faculty seeking to explore, reflect on, and improve their teaching practice. The two ventures kept their distance. But that is changing as they have found common ground around the imperative to improve student learning and success.
This sense of common ground comes from both directions. A recent study of the field of faculty development found that faculty development leaders identified the assessment of student learning outcomes as the top issue the field should prioritize in the next ten years, and a fruitful area for collaboration (Beach, Sorcinelli, Austin, & Rivard, 2016). On the assessment side, a national survey of campus practice (Jankowski, Timmer, Kinzie, & Kuh, 2018) revealed a shift toward approaches to assessment that are much more integral to teaching and learning—capstone courses, for instance, and the use of rubrics to assess classroom assignments–and therefore more likely to lead to improved pedagogy, curriculum, and student learning outcomes.
Accordingly, we argued, the time is right for these two important institutional activities to join forces, working with faculty and institutional leaders to respond to the need to improve student learning with creative solutions. These shared goals are critical to reinforcing the value of higher education to individuals and to the social good.
The session began with a review of recent trends in faculty development and assessment and then featured several campus examples of how leaders of the two efforts are working together—including one from the University of Kansas where assessment, referred to as “documenting student learning, operates under the auspices of the Center for Teaching Excellence. A final segment engaged participants in discussion of how to build a culture of evidence and improvement that supports and deepens student learning.