In my role as a vice president for institutional effectiveness, I was fortunate to lead “Think in Ink,” an institution-wide program to foster students’ analysis, argumentation, and synthesis skills demonstrated through effective writing within various majors.
Even though academic assessment in higher education often has a program focus, assessment’s critical role of advancing our students’ learning and enabling the transfer of this learning in multiple contexts can best be accomplished when it is focused on the classroom where the teaching-learning process actually occurs. Although the centrality of the curriculum is essential, without understanding this integration of instruction and assessment in the classroom—the fundamental application site—the broader integration with a program’s curriculum may remain unrealized.
Throughout the evolution of the Think in Ink program, I witnessed how internal partnerships and collaboration among faculty and support staff across campus contributed to deep, meaningful integration of teaching, assessment, and learning. This integration not only resulted in deeper student learning, but also provided valuable benefits to faculty, including professional development opportunities; pedagogical resources (such as time, space, and tools); greater satisfaction in teaching; and mechanisms to document and evaluate teaching and receive credit for teaching and scholarship in formal tenure and review processes.
Enabling the Integration through Collaboration and Faculty Development
Because participation was voluntary for individual academic programs, the Think in Ink program structure allowed flexibility in delivery but required each participating major to include three courses (at least two of which were sequential). Examples of participating programs include public health, history, mechanical engineering, and psychology.
Because one of the program’s goals was helping students transfer writing and critical thinking skills to the workplace, at least one of the three Think in Ink courses in each major included assignments that simulated projects graduates might encounter in their careers. This goal provided an opportunity for departments without employer advisory groups to collaborate with alumni, employers, and the university’s career and professional development center. Through these partnerships, the university responded to concerns expressed in employer advisory groups to better prepare students with the skills they would need to be successful in their new professional roles.
Faculty development opportunities such as workshops, reflections, and “kick off meetings”—facilitated by external consultants and internal partnerships of faculty, staff in the Center for Teaching Excellence, and the director of the writing center—were critical for empowering and encouraging faculty to integrate their pedagogy and assessment practices. Rather than emphasizing specific assessment tools, this approach enabled faculty members to include both less formal measures that are integral to instruction and more formal, carefully constructed rubrics that reflected all components of student learning outcomes for each academic program.
Faculty who participated in these professional development events were given the time, space, and tools to examine their learning outcomes and align them with assignments, instructional practices, and assessments measures in progressively more complex ways to build students’ skills. When faculty members realize the value of integrating instruction and assessment, attention to the curriculum often follows organically.
Faculty who participated in professional development were empowered as leaders and became essential members of the Think in Ink team, often going on to lead their own faculty development workshops and discussions among their peers. Faculty members also initiated conversations in departmental meetings to evaluate the curricula within the majors.
Faculty Reflection for Assessment, Tenure, and Promotion
As faculty used the results from their assessment tools to more intentionally plan and implement teaching strategies, they reported more growth in student learning, and I saw their joy in teaching rekindled. To document the effectiveness of their methods, Think in Ink faculty were encouraged to complete reflections during the course and after its completion. These reflections, modeled after processes used for academic assessment (but without as much of the assessment jargon), provided a structure for faculty to systematically articulate their teaching-learning process, plan for future courses, and align teaching strategies with results from formal and informal assessment tools. The reflection structure included a section for aligning teaching strategies and tools with results from faculty members’ formal and informal assessment tools, some of which were program-based.
Voluntarily, many faculty members submitted reflections of their teaching and assessment processes as evidence of effective teaching in their annual reviews and their tenure and promotion portfolios. To ensure that department chairs understood the purpose and structure of the reflections, a member of the Think in Ink leadership team met individually with each chair to discuss the reflections. Because these reflections supply credible evidence of effective teaching, departmental chairs welcomed their inclusion in these evaluation processes.
Think in Ink faculty members also worked in interdisciplinary teams to conduct teaching and learning research that studied the use of teaching strategies to augment students’ critical thinking and writing skills in courses. One project examined earlier literature on the benefits of student peer review and investigated processes to enhance the benefits for student reviewers in different majors. These studies provided faculty with a mechanism to receive credit for scholarship in their annual reviews and their tenure and promotion portfolios, providing another subtle opportunity to develop a deeper integration of assessment with instruction.
Of course, the Think in Ink program came about in a pre-coronavirus environment, before the chaos and disruption caused by the pandemic. But, in today’s uncertainty, departments and universities could benefit from a similar approach. By providing time, space, instructional tools, and tenure and promotion rewards, the integration of assessment with curricula and instruction can evolve organically.
Video Discussion on an Integrated Approach to Assessment
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).