Revising or creating a program learning assessment plan module 1: Understanding the context
Part of a series of modules supporting UD faculty who are developing a program assessment plan.
After successfully completing this module, you will be able to:
- Understand and explain the institutional context for program-level assessment at UD
- Help colleagues determine how to begin revising or developing a program assessment plan
- Develop and implement a plan to collect resources and materials to inform this process e.g., academic catalog program description, program educational goals, accreditation standards, examples of program assessment plans from other institutions, scholarly materials
Steps and recommended actions
1. Review the background and context for the revision or creation of a program learning assessment plan
Recommended action: Ensure you are clear on the institutional context and expectations for program learning assessment at UD.
At the University of Delaware, as at most U.S. colleges and universities, faculty are charged with control of the curriculum. This includes understanding student learning: how well students learn in courses and other curricular experiences, how much they learn, how well aligned their learning is with the intended curriculum, etc. Of course, faculty regularly assess student learning in formal and informal ways, including informal feedback provided to students through comments, suggestions, and observations and formal feedback through grades. However, as we began working on what would become our 2021 Middle States Self-Study, we realized that program-level assessments are not being systematically documented across the university. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education specifically requires that accredited institutions have “organized and systematic assessments, conducted by faculty and/or appropriate professionals, evaluating the extent of student achievement of institutional and degree/program goals. Institutions should…define meaningful curricular goals with defensible standards for evaluating whether students are achieving those goals [and] support and sustain assessment of student achievement and communicate the results of this assessment to stakeholders.”
To help the university figure out a reasonable and responsible way to better comply with this standard, the Provost charged a Task Force on Learning Goals & Assessment to examine these issues and make recommendations. The task force published a final report in January of 2020 that made several recommendations. One recommendation was that “the faculty of each educational program [should] develop (where no plan is currently in place) and maintain an annual cycle of program educational goal assessment.” This annual process should “be embedded within regular strategic/curricular planning conversations amongst faculty, directors, chairs, deans, and the provost.” Further, the task force recommended that this information be collected using a simple and flexible Webform with the information maintained by the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness.
The Provost approved these recommendations and the university has been moving to implement this collection of annual assessment information in the fall of 2023. These modules and other support provided by CTAL are a core component of this work.
It is also critical to mention the prior and ongoing work to collect and publish in the academic catalog the unique educational goals of each degree-granting program. This separate process, approved and managed by the Faculty Senate, directly connects with this assessment work: those program educational goals are what should be assessed.
2. Review the recommended approach to refining or developing a program learning assessment plan and collect supporting resources
Recommended actions: Fill out the “Program Learning Assessment Resources for …” template and ensure that it is available to all members of your team.
The University of Delaware supports an assessment approach that is practical and meaningful for the constituents of an academic program, particularly its faculty and students. Whenever possible, faculty are encouraged to incorporate their ongoing, existing assessment practices instead of creating new practices. You are also strongly recommended to follow the norms and practices of your discipline in determining what questions are most meaningful and what kinds of evidence are most convincing to answer those questions. Although we are required by our institutional accreditor to collect evidence that assessment occurs across the university, we are not required to collect any specific kinds of evidence of student learning so you should do what is most meaningful and impactful for you and your colleagues.
There are many resources that can inform the development or revision of your plan. We have created a “Program Learning Assessment Resources for …” template where you can gather many of those resources. You can also view an example of a completed version of this document. The elements of this template include:
1. UD resources: This section will provide you with a review of information that already exists in and about your program. Your program’s educational goals should be a central focus of your assessment efforts; it’s fair to summarize a coherent assessment plan as a set of activities that document how well your students are meeting your program’s educational goals. Additionally, your program’s curriculum plays a central role in our recommended approach to creating or revising as assessment plan as we recommend using the activities already being carried out – assignments, presentations, papers, etc. – in the curriculum.
In the next module, we will place even more focus on your curriculum and what is already occuring in terms of assessment by creating a curriculum map. We will then build on that curricular map by creating an inventory of student artifacts, the evidence of student learning that already exists.
2. Disciplinary resources: In addition to information provided at UD, we also recommended that you take time to gather discipline-specific resources such as relevant accreditation standards for your program (if any exist), reports from your scholarly organizations who have explored and documented assessment and evidence of student learning, and relevant documents (articles, chapters, books, etc.) published by others in or near your discipline. These materials can inform the decisions that you and your colleagues will need to make by providing you with examples, tools, and options.
Here are some tips that we’ve learned in our experience looking for these disciplinary resources:
- Begin by looking for appropriate resources from your scholarly and professional organizations. They may have charged committees, sponsored workshops, or commissioned reports that explicitly describe how the knowledge and skills that those in the discipline should be assessed or measured.
- Search scholarly databases – Google Scholar is often a reasonable place to start – for keywords such as “<discipline> assessment” and “<program name> assessment” combined with your specific discipline or the name of your program. Try using synonyms, too, e.g., “evaluation,” “measurement.”
- In some cases, there may be little or no relevant literature in your specific discipline, particularly if it is a relatively young discipline. In those cases, it may be helpful to look for materials in related disciplines.
3. Examples from other colleges and universities: Specific examples from other institutions can provide you with ideas to emulate or copy. In some cases, they may also provide you with examples that you do not want to follow. In addition to the links included in the template, we have additional resources and examples in our Discipline-specific assessment resources and example assessment plans document.
3. Use the available planning materials to develop a practical plan for successfully developing and submitting PEGs for your program
Recommended action: Complete the Timeline for developing a program learning assessment plan worksheet.
The Timeline for developing a program learning assessment plan worksheet is an excellent tool for helping you develop a practical plan for revising or creating your program educational goals. This includes many of the common, major steps involved in this process with space available for you to document who will work on it and when you plan to have it completed. These steps include:
|Create plan for drafting & submitting assessment plan (this activity)||Plan for who will do what and when regarding drafting, revision, and submission of PEGs|
|Create/update curriculum map||Curriculum map|
|Create inventory of student artifacts||Inventory of student artifacts|
|Identify other sources of evidence||Other sources of direct and indirect evidence which can be used to assess PEGs|
|Draft assessment plan||Assessment plan draft|
– Using the assessment plan rubric
– Inviting feedback from key partner units and collaborators
|Feedback on plan|
– Using assessment plan rubric
– Reaching out to CTAL if additional support is needed
|Updated assessment plan incorporating feedback|
|Final approval (program-level)||Final approval from program stakeholders e.g., program faculty, chair/director|
|Submit assessment information||Assessment information will begin being collected in Fall 2023 (via a Webform)|
- Discipline-specific assessment resources and example assessment plans: The final section of this document, “College and university websites,” is a listing of publicly available college and university websites that publish details about program learning assessment plans for all of their programs; this is particularly helpful in trying to find examples of goals for specific programs.
- Report of the Task Force for Learning Goals & Assessment: This is the final report, published in January of 2020, of the task force whose recommendations are spurring the collection of program learning assessment information by the university. Additional information about the task force, including notes from meetings and its original charge, can be found on the task force website.
- University of Delaware academic catalog: Descriptions and curriculum for every degree-granting program is available in the catalog. If a program has approved educational goals, those are also included. You can view all of relevant materials for each program by selecting the specific program (you can view all available programs by selecting the “Programs” link on the left in the table of contents; the link to the catalog defaults to the undergraduate catalog so be sure to change to the graduate catalog using the dropdown menu in the top right if you’re looking for a graduate program).
- Worksheet: Timeline for developing a program learning assessment plan <program>: This Google Doc lists the common steps involved in developing a plan to assess learning in a program with spaces to indicate who will be responsible for carrying out each task and the proposed date of completion for each task.