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Making Assessment Matter: Changing Cultures, Improving Teaching, and Transforming Departments
Unformatted Document Text:  Deardorff and Folger 4 recent hires used to assessment and more cynical faculty members who have been through multiple university strategic planning cycles, and whether or not the university has a culture of assessment should inform the strategies developed by the chair in developing assessment plans. For example, if a university or college does not have a culture of assessment—forms are filled out, reports are filed, but decisions still appear to be arbitrary and not based on the assessment findings—a chair cannot pressure the department to comply with assessment on the grounds that they will receive external benefits. That approach, on the other hand, would be very effective in a university with a culture of assessment where well-implemented assessment plans result in additional faculty lines and departmental resources. The key to establishing buy-in is leadership from the departmental chair. The chair must see the potential of assessment in improving quality teaching, research outcomes, student engagement, as well as departmental quality—regardless of the administrative response. If the chair does not see the transformative potential of assessment, it will be very difficult to convince the faculty. Identifying the Appropriate Assessment Model As many departments have discovered, a careful assessment plan can generate significant benefits for a department. It can expand our understanding of student learning, connect our departmental objectives to the larger institutional goals, intersect our students’ co-curricular engagement to the major, improve departmental advising, enhance our appeal to external audiences through a more focused presentation, and allow ourselves to adapt rapidly to a changing environment (Smoller 2004). While the results of effective assessment may be universal, the paths departments walk in developing and implementing these plans vary dramatically. The key is to find an approach that best exploits a department’s unique situation and opportunities. This chapter demonstrates two distinct strategies toward departmental assessment. The Structural Implementation or “Mission-Based” approach begins with the establishment of a mission, learning objectives, and the implementation of a subsequent curriculum. This approach is most effective in newer programs, smaller departments, departments where the chair possesses more authority (e.g., younger faculty, a higher percentage of adjuncts), undergraduate and liberal arts institutions, and in programs where assessment is part of the larger institutional culture. The second approach, Grassroots Implementation or “Question-Based” assessment creates an assessment program from the “bottom-up,” focusing on concerns and questions emanating from the faculty and utilizes internal means of evaluation

Authors: Deardorff, Michelle. and Folger, Paul.
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Deardorff and Folger 4
recent hires used to assessment and more cynical faculty members who have been through multiple
university strategic planning cycles, and whether or not the university has a culture of assessment should
inform the strategies developed by the chair in developing assessment plans. For example, if a university
or college does not have a culture of assessment—forms are filled out, reports are filed, but decisions still
appear to be arbitrary and not based on the assessment findings—a chair cannot pressure the department
to comply with assessment on the grounds that they will receive external benefits. That approach, on the
other hand, would be very effective in a university with a culture of assessment where well-implemented
assessment plans result in additional faculty lines and departmental resources. The key to establishing
buy-in is leadership from the departmental chair. The chair must see the potential of assessment in
improving quality teaching, research outcomes, student engagement, as well as departmental quality—
regardless of the administrative response. If the chair does not see the transformative potential of
assessment, it will be very difficult to convince the faculty.
Identifying the Appropriate Assessment Model
As many departments have discovered, a careful assessment plan can generate significant benefits for
a department. It can expand our understanding of student learning, connect our departmental objectives
to the larger institutional goals, intersect our students’ co-curricular engagement to the major, improve
departmental advising, enhance our appeal to external audiences through a more focused presentation,
and allow ourselves to adapt rapidly to a changing environment (Smoller 2004). While the results of
effective assessment may be universal, the paths departments walk in developing and implementing these
plans vary dramatically. The key is to find an approach that best exploits a department’s unique situation
and opportunities.
This chapter demonstrates two distinct strategies toward departmental assessment. The Structural
Implementation or “Mission-Based” approach begins with the establishment of a mission, learning
objectives, and the implementation of a subsequent curriculum. This approach is most effective in newer
programs, smaller departments, departments where the chair possesses more authority (e.g., younger
faculty, a higher percentage of adjuncts), undergraduate and liberal arts institutions, and in programs
where assessment is part of the larger institutional culture. The second approach, Grassroots
Implementation or “Question-Based” assessment creates an assessment program from the “bottom-up,”
focusing on concerns and questions emanating from the faculty and utilizes internal means of evaluation


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