In 2006, the State Board for Community Colleges, the governing body of the Virginia Community College System, approved seven general education competency areas: communication (oral and written), information literacy, critical thinking, cultural and social understanding, personal development, quantitative reasoning, and scientific reasoning. General education competencies apply to all graduates in both transfer and career and technical degree programs. As a result of being selected by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) as a participant in its Developing a Community College Student Roadmap project, Tidewater Community College (TCC) has made it a priority to assess student learning across the seven general education competency areas.
Historically, the assessment process has neither adequately engaged TCC faculty nor yielded sufficient results to improve student learning. As a result, faculty have not taken ownership of the assessment process and student success has not been fully realized. Despite minimal engagement in previous years, the majority of TCC’s faculty would likely agree that developing student competencies is a goal of their curricula and disciplines. The faculty of institutions where our students transfer and employers should expect that our students will arrive at their classrooms competent in these areas.
TCC’s assessment initiative took significant shape in fall 2012 when a five-year assessment plan was drafted, with the first year planned as a pilot. The college has learned many lessons during this short period and is pleased to be making tangible progress. Involvement from key stakeholders, particularly teaching faculty, has grown significantly and general education assessment is gaining momentum in terms of perceived importance.
Assessment Plan and Methods
The following outlines the college’s activities and steps in the assessment planning and implementation process.
- Faculty developed an official course outline for each credit course offered by the college that included elements such as the course description, prerequisites and corequisites, the general education core competencies supported by the course, measurable learning outcomes, and methods of assessment.
- A web-based curriculum portal was developed and implemented. The portal houses all official curriculum materials for review and use by faculty, staff, administrators, students, and the public, including course outlines, curriculum guides that outline all certificate and degree curriculum requirements, syllabus templates that populate required course outline elements, and general education assessment information (e.g., TCC-adapted VALUE rubrics, the assessment plan, and timeline).
- At TCC’s 2012 Learning Institute, faculty were encouraged to engage in conversations about the general education requirements and intended learning outcomes. They were reminded that the learning outcomes had to be incorporated in all curricula and disciplines college-wide. At this day-long event, the AAC&U VALUE rubrics were introduced to nearly 200 faculty in attendance. Faculty also adapted VALUE rubrics for written communication, information literacy, and quantitative reasoning for use during the pilot.
- Fifteen faculty members were recruited to serve as assessment coaches. Assessment coaches are charged with educating faculty in their disciplines and those of related disciplines about the college’s assessment initiative, getting faculty involved in the process, sharing assessment findings, and helping faculty develop classroom assignments and projects that promote student learning.
- In fall 2012, a five-year assessment plan was drafted, shared with faculty at convocation, reviewed by existing governance committees under the leadership of the Instruction Committee, and approved. At a follow-up Learning Institute in October, faculty were provided the opportunity to shape the college’s plans for assessment of three additional general education requirements: critical thinking, cultural and social understanding, and scientific reasoning.
- About forty faculty volunteers completed training to assess student learning using the TCC adapted AAC&U VALUE rubrics.
- According to a recently developed five-year plan and through a predetermined rotation, one to three of the seven learning outcomes are scored each semester by faculty volunteers (faculty assessors) who have received training in using the TCC adapted VALUE rubrics. Assignments used for assessment come from students who are representative of TCC’s degree-seeking population in terms of such things as course format (traditional, hybrid, online) and degree type (career/technical and transfer), and who have earned thirty or more academic credits. Students are identified for participation by the college’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness through a stratified random sample process.
- In the first assessment semester, fall 2012, the college launched the plan as a pilot project to assess written communication and information literacy. For each general education competency area, fifty students were randomly selected for inclusion.
- Approximately twenty-five faculty assessors scored the student work products submitted for written communication and information literacy. Each work product was reviewed by two faculty assessors who assigned a score between zero (no display of learning) and four (capstone-level learning) for each dimension constituting a general education competency area. When the score differential was one or less, the two scores were averaged so that the student had a final score for the dimension. If scores differed by more than one on any dimension, a third faculty assessor scored the work product to determine a final score for the dimension.
- The college has initiated the second phase of the assessment plan by identifying courses for a spring 2013 assessment of quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and scientific reasoning. As done previously, students were selected for inclusion from the identified courses for each general education competency under study. The college recently started recruiting additional faculty assessors, and training will again be provided.
- The college recently shared the fall 2012 findings with the assessment coaches and faculty assessors, and is working with both groups to determine how to disseminate the findings with all faculty to promote advancement in the competencies under study. The goal is for faculty across disciplines to apply the findings through informed pedagogical changes. Further, the college has plans to conduct a focus group session with faculty assessors to obtain their feedback on several issues including the scoring process, assessor training, appropriateness of assignments in measuring the intended learning outcome, and recruitment and retention of faculty assessors.
The college anticipates learning a great deal more about the faculty assessors’ experiences and their perceptions of the assigned work products in relation to the VALUE rubrics during the scheduled focus group session. Preliminary findings indicate that some assignments yielded better results in terms of assessing student learning than others. There is much more to learn in this area as the college begins sharing the data with faculty.
Lessons Learned and Next Steps
College officials responsible for collecting and preparing student work products and notifying and reminding faculty of their responsibilities learned early on that these processes were arduous and could be accomplished more easily through automation. A program has been developed that will send notices and reminders when faculty have not submitted the required work products for selected students. This tool, which automates much of the process and also allows faculty to assess student work products at any time and from any computer, will be available fall 2013.
Another lesson the college has learned is that piloting the process was the right thing to do. Having a larger sample size would have only compounded the arduous nature of this initiative. Once each general education competency has been pilot tested and improvements made based on the first round, the college plans to select a larger sample of students for participation. While the college has only recently begun this journey, it is apparent that we are on the right path to understanding more fully whether our students are learning what we think is important.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. 2007. College Learning for the New Global Century. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.