AAC&U News, December 2017
Perspectives

VALUE-ing Quality Learning for All Students

In the post-factual, post-truth, post-evidentiary era in which we live, the need for higher education to hew to its foundational compass is more critical than ever. Central to that foundation is the value of open inquiry that draws upon what we have learned from the past, that embraces diverse perspectives, and that actively seeks evidence and reliable information to discover and articulate solutions and conclusions to guide thinking and action. Hence, AAC&U’s continuing emphasis on the importance of providing all students a liberal education embodies an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. We work to ensure that all students have access to a liberal education that helps them develop strong and transferable intellectual and practical skills as well as the ability to apply these skills in real-world settings. It is ironic that, in our current time, advocating for liberal education is a truly conservative position to embrace.

In the pursuit of this vision of undergraduate learning, we must collectively ask—and answer—some fundamental questions: How can higher education reveal the value of a liberal education for students and society? How can evidence be found about the quality of student learning? How can we know that the benefits of higher education are equitably experienced by the diverse learners across higher education today? How can we show that educators are acting to enhance student learning through their expertise and professional judgment?

AAC&U has worked with partner organizations, states, and campuses to answer these questions through the creation of the VALUE Institute. Building on more than a decade of research and experience with VALUE rubrics, the VALUE Institute is a new resource for higher education institutions that places student work at the center of discourse about quality learning. The quality of student learning has been missing from virtually all of the recent nationwide conversations about higher education within and outside the academy while attention has focused on completion and credential attainment. Instrumentally, the VALUE Institute enables any higher education institution, department, program, state, consortium, or provider to use the VALUE approach to assessment by collecting and uploading samples of student work to a digital repository and having the work scored by certified VALUE Institute faculty and other educator scorers for external validation of institutional learning assessment.

Conceptually and practically, the VALUE Institute offers a mechanism for higher education to take the lead in addressing two pervasive challenges: (1) demonstrating the quality of student learning across higher education and (2) applying that evidence to improve pedagogical practice. The VALUE Institute brings together two aspects of assessment that are too often viewed as quite separate: namely, assessment of learning proficiency that is summative and expected for accountability reporting, and assessment for learning that is designed to help students and educators improve and extend learning that relies on higher-order abilities and skills to address complex, unscripted, and “wicked” problems and issues. The VALUE Institute places faculty expertise and judgment at the center of assessing the quality of student learning, with student voice and agency as the centerpieces of assessment, by examining the actual work students complete to demonstrate student progress and proficiency throughout the curriculum and cocurriculum.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of AAC&U's VALUE work to date is that the initial scoring results over the past three years have surfaced patterns of evidence suggesting that equity in the quality of learning for historically under-served populations of students (e.g., students from specific racial groups, Pell recipients, etc.) can indeed be accomplished through faculty and institutional attention to the fundamental and foundational work of excellent teaching and learning—by revising assignments, focusing on expectations for learning, and challenging students by intentionally scaffolding higher-order skills and abilities across courses and programs of study.

The purpose of the VALUE Institute is not to rank students, institutions, programs, or states, but rather to reveal a landscape of learning across the multitude of types of higher education, putting stakes in the ground around what constitutes evidence of excellence in student learning. What we have found from our collaboration with SHEEO’s (State Higher Education Executive Officers) Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Quality Student Learning (MSC), the ten-institution Minnesota Collaborative, the nine-institution Great Lakes Colleges Association Collaborative, and nearly one hundred two- and four-year colleges and universities across thirteen states is that VALUE scoring results have engendered meaningful conversations among disparate faculty and other educators focused on quality student learning. Indeed, faculty have been actively engaged because the assessment findings provide information that they can use in their own classrooms and programs to improve pedagogy and learning. Campuses have reported their faculty are actually expressing enthusiasm for engaging in assessment.

In short, the VALUE Institute will help us keep our compass on a true heading!

About AAC&U News

AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.

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