The Student Role in Assessment

November 19, 2010

“I think students take [e]very initiative to be sure that they’re getting the strong education that they want, but I don’t see that much higher eyes looking down on us as to making sure that happens,” she said. “I think a lot of that happens because we take care of it ourselves. And I’m not sure if that’s the most effective way, but that’s how I see it working right now.”

That striking quotation from Earlham Student Government co-President Cory Mathieu is from this morning’s Earlham Word, our student newspaper.  The occasion for the story was our decision to join the President’s Alliance, an initiative of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability, a relatively new organization that will promote best practices in assessment of student learning.

At Earlham we have a substantial and varied approach to assessment of learning.  On our website, you can see some of what we do and some of what we know about student learning outcomes.  We regularly participate in the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Collegiate Learning Assessment and post all the results of these for public perusal.  On our website we post the full text of our most recent accreditation self study and the full report of our visiting committee.  We also know there is a good deal more we should be doing, particulartly at the levl of assessing learning outcomes in general education, and from our various programs of study.

What I find striking in Cory’s statement, however, is a student perspective that it is principally the efforts of individual students that ensure they get a good education, and not (or not much) the efforts of “higher eyes,” by which I imagines she means the President, the Academic Dean, and perhaps our Assessment Committee and the Faculty as a whole. I’m not sure whether she thinks we are falling down on the job or whether she thinks this should be mostly something for students to do.

Quality assurance as a student responsibility: on the one hand I like the sense that students should feel an obligation to take charge of their own education, and should actively put forth high expectations in their courses and programs.  On the other hand, I do think that the College, its leadership, its Faculty should all be playing a (the?) major role in assessing learning to understand how well we are doing in promoting student learning and in seeking ways to improve what we are doing.

Are we keeping the College’s assessment efforts too much to ourselves?  Are we failing to involve students enough in these activities, not encouraging them to understand our approach to assessment and not asking them enough to participate?  What do we hope is the students’ role in assessment, and how does it join and strengthen the faculty’s role?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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