January 09, 2012

Students are important, too!

I continue to be surprised when I visit colleges and universities who are investing hundreds if not thousands of hours of faculty time in learning outcomes data collection but do not provide the students with feedback on their performance. That is, they have mapped courses to outcomes, they have (in some cases) developed well written analytic scoring rubrics for the outcomes, faculty are scoring student performance in multiple classes, and results are being aggregated and reported as evidence of student learning for the program/institution to satisfy accreditors and/or state agencies.  When I ask faculty if students are provided with the rubrics before the scoring so they understand how they are going to be evaluated, I am generally told, "No." I then ask if the students are provided with the scoring results along with the rubric so they can see what they need to do to improve their performance, I am again told, "No." It seems that, in our anxiety over collecting data for accreditation and/or program review,  students are not even an afterthought. We know that student performance is cumulative over time and what they learn in one class, they use, practice, and develop in other classes. This is especially true for the core curriculum competencies as well as the discipline outcomes. Without being intentional, there is no reason to believe that learning will be enhanced in this data collection process.

For example, several years ago I was at a comprehensive university and was speaking before a large group of faculty about student outcomes assessment and their accreditation process. While talking about core competencies, one of the faculty members from the School of Business stood up and said, "Our students cannot write! They are terrible writers and I am embarrassed to think that they will represent our institution in the workplace." Then one of the faculty members from the English Department stood up and said, "Well, I can tell you one thing! They could write when they left our courses!" I then asked the Business faculty member if, when students turned in these terrible papers, did he return the papers to the students and ask them to rewrite them? "No." Did you mark their grade down for bad writing? "No." Do you give them any feedback at all on their writing? "No." When this happens, what is the message that we send our students when we don't give them feedback on their writing? "Writing doesn't matter!"

Why should we expect student performance to improve if we don't give them feedback on their performance on program outcomes over multiple courses? Providing students with well defined rubrics written to describe levels of performance can provide students with information they need to not only understand what their current performance level is related to a given program outcome, but also what they need to do to improve their performance.  The outcomes at the end of the program cannot be put at the feet of one department or course.  We have a collective responsibility for student learning when scoring program or institutional level outcomes.  Let's bring students back into the process.


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