Emory Report
March 16, 2009
Volume 61, Number 23



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March 16
, 2009

Assessing student learning

From Staff Reports

In the March 2 Emory Report article, we discussed the reasons for Emory’s new student learning outcomes initiative. Here we lay out how this initiative will proceed.

How is Emory going to develop assessment processes for student learning?

“By listening carefully to and working closely with faculty,” says Provost Earl Lewis. “Beginning with our undergraduate programs, we will work with department chairs and faculty to identify learning goals for their students; determine how best to assess the achievement of these goals; and then implement and evaluate a learning outcomes plan in fall 2009. From there we will eventually extend the assessment initiative to the graduate and professional programs and schools.”

The timeline for developing the assessment processes will dovetail with Emory’s reports due to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting institutions of higher education in the United States. Since Emory’s last reaffirmation of accreditation in 2003, SACS — reflecting the national interest — has added new emphasis on assessing educational outcomes.

To prepare for Emory’s fifth year interim SACS report, due in March 2010, the University will focus initially on establishing assessment plans for all undergraduate degree programs. Over the next four years Emory will develop assessment processes throughout the University — including graduate and professional programs, administrative, and educational support services — so that these will be ready for full accreditation review in 2014.

Lewis has assembled a committee to oversee the development of the SACS report. Committee members Makeba Morgan Hill, Tom Jenkins, Heather Mugg, Santa Ono, Daniel Teodorescu and Daniel Walls have worked with faculty and administrators across the University to prepare Emory for the accreditation process. To get a sense of the magnitude of their task, the SACS interim report alone includes 14 category items, only one of which is assessment.

In addition, an assessment team has been assembled to tackle the assessment requirement. Team members are Hill, Jenkins, Ono, Teodorescu and Laurie Patton. Within this team, Jenkins, Ono and Teodorescu will work closely with department chairs and faculty to develop the learning assessment procedures that reflect their pedagogical goals and are consonant with the SACS reporting standards.

The next steps in developing the assessment program for 2009–10 begin this month.

On March 17–18, Emory will host Barbara Walvoord, professor emerita of English at University of Notre Dame, an expert on assessment practices. She will offer workshops on student learning outcomes for undergraduate program directors, chairs and faculty as well as for graduate and professional school representatives.

The assessment team will follow up with chairs and directors to develop a student learning assessment plan for implementation in the fall. This team will serve as a resource for programs as they develop learning goals and objectives, write assessment plans and report assessment results.

Through this process, Lewis emphasizes the opportunity to think creatively about teaching.

“This new initiative,” he says, “offers us an intellectually exciting opportunity to advance what is at the core of our mission and what we all care very deeply about — our students and their education. Moreover, establishing student learning outcome processes that reflect authentic faculty goals in teaching will position us to improve public understanding of what makes for excellence in higher education.”