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The VALUE of Being Prepared

In 2007, when AAC&U was leading the development of the VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) rubrics, we hadn’t anticipated a pandemic sweeping across higher education or that so many accepted expectations and patterns of behavior would be disrupted. Faculty and staff, as well as students, have had to adapt and change quickly—not only in their academic worlds, but in almost every aspect of their daily lives. They weren’t psychologically prepared.

Yet, I have been impressed with how well higher education has responded to the challenges of shifting to a distance learning environment for teaching, testing and evaluating, recognizing student accomplishments, and ensuring that students continue to make progress and succeed academically. Given the rapidity and the magnitude of the challenges, faculty, staff, and students have done well.

Now, those of us working in higher education need to take a breath and think about what we can do next given the remaining uncertainty about the future. The good news is that several resources, discussed below, are already available to help faculty and staff rethink teaching and learning—especially as they focus on affirming the quality of student learning. We need to seize the opportunity to act!

  • VALUE rubrics are reliable and viable tools for assessing the quality of learning. VALUE offers sixteen faculty- and educator-driven rubrics for essential learning outcomes (e.g., critical thinking, written communication, problem solving, intercultural knowledge and understanding, civic engagement, teamwork, integrative learning) that faculty and employers are expecting students to acquire during their undergraduate education. VALUE rubrics have high levels of validity and reliability across courses, disciplinary boundaries, types of institutions, types of educators, and modes of demonstrating student learning (e.g., video, graphics, text, oral, visual).
  • ePortfolio platforms are widely available on campuses. The majority of campuses have ePortfolios and portfolio-like technologies (e.g., wikis, new Google sites) available for students and faculty. VALUE rubrics were developed with the idea that they would be used with a portfolio of student work over time, as well as individual assignments, to capture students’ development of higher-order abilities. ePortfolios focus on showing what students can do, using a variety of representational modes, and they require students to reflect and explain their learning and how what they have done illustrates that learning. ePortfolios engage students in their learning, and faculty can use them to access and evaluate the learning in more intentional and robust ways by viewing and examining real student work.
  • Technology keeps improving. Not only have technology companies raced to meet the immediate needs of educators during the pandemic, but they have also worked hard to overcome obstacles for using technology to better deliver high-quality results. Inequities still exist in the availability of high-quality technology, but campuses can work to help students access tools such as smartphones or tablets, the internet and WiFi hotspots, or apps for translation or other activities.
  • High-impact practices (HIPs) can keep students engaged. Our curricula are already filled with a variety of engaged practices that have been shown to improve student learning in and out of the formal classroom, especially for students who come to college less well-prepared on traditional measures used in higher education, such as grade point averages, standardized test scores, or Advanced Placement results. Technology enables educators to integrate HIPs such as learning communities and undergraduate research so that they are still easily continued remotely. Writing-intensive experiences designed around current critical issues (e.g., racism, police practices, epidemiology of COVID-19 deaths) can create shared intellectual learning. Even in distance learning environments, our courses and programs can engage safely in community forums and service-learning opportunities through churches and local organizations that are responding to community needs of vulnerable or unemployed individuals and groups.
  • Campuses and organizations offer assignment alignment tools. Staff on campuses and at higher education organizations offer useful support through centers for teaching and learning, national research evidence, and reliable models to help faculty better align existing assignments with learning outcomes that encompass both content and the ways students can demonstrate their proficiency in using and applying the content.

The wholesale movement to a distance learning environment has provided faculty and students alike the opportunity and time to rethink what they do and how they do it; to evaluate the tools that are available; and to build on the evidence of how these tools are being used and how they improve student learning. We would love to hear from you about what you are doing to enhance the evidence of quality and equity in the student learning experience. You can send ideas to Ben Dedman at dedman@aacu.org.

Video Discussion on "The Value of Being Prepared: Rubrics and Validity"

Terrel L. Rhodes is vice president for quality, curriculum, and assessment and executive director of VALUE at AAC&U.

This multimedia series is coordinated by M. David Miller (University of Florida), Tammie Cumming (Brooklyn College, CUNY), Gladys Palma de Schrynemaker (CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies), and Terrel Rhodes (AAC&U).

Have an idea for a blog post? Write to dedman@aacu.org.

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