Assessfest is the name given to the two-day collaborative assessment and faculty development endeavor that takes place each May, on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Commencement. Although different parts of the core inevitably engage in different activities, there are some commonalities. Beginning in 2018, we moved to a two-year cycle of assessment for the entire core, alternating between a discovery phase and a development phase. The discovery phase entails working with samples of student work (henceforth “artifacts”) at Assessfest in May, to evaluate if the program (not individual students or faculty members) is meeting its objectives, and identifying areas where there is room for improvement. The development phase involves reporting out on the results of the discovery phase and, where appropriate, undertaking faculty development activities aimed at improving in indicated areas. These reporting and faculty development endeavors usually occur throughout the academic year rather than at Assessfest in May, although sometimes concentrated workshops or sessions have been scheduled.

One reason for doing all of this is accreditation. The Higher Learning Commission requires that we be engaged in a continual process of assessment. But it is important to note that the focus is not on us achieving a certain standard, but that we are setting goals for ourselves and have clear outcomes for our programs, that we take steps to evaluate how we are doing, and that we are consistently aiming to improve. And so the main focus is the faculty development piece. And that happens not only in the phase designated as focused on development. Those who have participated in Assessfest will tell you that the discovery phase is also beneficial to participants. It provides an opportunity to see what is happening across different courses in a particular part of the core, the kinds of assignments and projects that are being used. It also provides an opportunity to think about how assignments relate to our specified outcomes and aims. And it gives a rare chance to compare our evaluation of student work with that of another colleague, since faculty participants work in pairs using a rubric to evaluate a subset of the artifacts collected at random throughout the academic year prior.

We normally convene on the Tuesday morning for an orientation and introduction session, lasting no more than an hour. We then move to breakout session for individual parts of the core. In those sessions there is usually some discussion of the SLO(s) that are the focus for that year’s assessment, a discussion of the rubric to be used, and a norming exercise in which all faculty participants for that part of the core look at the same artifacts. Rubrics for most if not all SLOs related to the core have already been developed, and when possible it makes sense to continue to use the same one, as it allows for more meaningful comparison over time. However, during this Tuesday morning breakout session, if there are reasons to adjust, clarify, or otherwise alter the rubric then this can of course be done. After the norming session, there is usually a break for coffee, after which faculty usually move to their offices or other locations to work through artifacts on their own. If the artifacts are essays, this can take most of the rest of Tuesday and a significant part of Wednesday. If the artifacts are math exams, it may only take half of Tuesday. In most cases, faculty will work on the same subset of artifacts in pairs. An Excel spreadsheet will be provided to allow entry of your evaluation of individual artifacts. There are two crucially important procedural points related to this. One is that, if an artifact does not address the SLO you are evaluating, you indicate that as such, rather than marking it as falling short of the set standard. In the one case, trying new pedagogical approaches may be the answer. In the other, gathering different types of sample assignments may be the solution. It is important to be able to tell which. The second crucial point is that faculty pairs discuss instances in which their evaluation differs significantly, but that in the end they report each evaluator’s ranking separately. This provides more useful data to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment than if the rankings are not recorded in this manner.

A tab at Starbucks will be available for all participants at AssessFest, and lunch is provided as well at noon.  This will be a good break in an intensive day and offers the opportunity to meet faculty teaching in Core areas less familiar to you. Participants who are on a 9-month or semesterly contract also receive a stipend of $100/day ($50 for a half day) for this work outside of the 9-month/semester faculty schedule.

Depending on faculty availability and whether groups have finished their work and are available to do so, we try to hold a final debrief session on Wednesday afternoon to share immediate reflections and insights on the process and things we may have already learned, whatever those may be. The data produced will go to OIRA, who will collate it and provide it to the core directors and coordinators, so that they can report on the outcome. As already mentioned, this is used for accreditation purposes, but even from the HLC’s perspective, the main point is faculty development, that we do something useful with the data in an effort to do what we do, to carry out our educational mission, even more effectively.

Thank you for your interest in participating in this important work for the faculty and the University’s core curriculum! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me and/or the person organizing the Assessfest session for the part of the core you have volunteered to work on this year. Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you the Tuesday after Commencement at Assessfest!