Assessing Students to Guarantee a High-Quality Education

Richard Parent, Director of Assessment, UNE Online

Dr. Richard Parent, Director of Assessment, UNE Online

Recently I spoke with Dr. Richard Parent, UNE Online’s Director of Assessment, about the role of Assessment as an integral part of instruction, and how assessment helps ensure that a school or program delivers on its promise of delivering a high-quality education.

In short, assessment deals with three core issues:

  • Learning outcomes: “Are we teaching what we think we are teaching?”
  • Skill acquisition: “Are students learning what they are supposed to be learning?”
  • Improvement: “Is there a way to teach the subject better, thereby promoting better learning and application?”

Dr. Parent weighs in with his perspective on assessment in higher education.

Why is assessment is important in choosing a graduate school?

Historically, higher education institutions have followed what I like to call a “faith-based” model. In the past, universities just had to have faith that if they put smart instructors in front of a group of students, and had them teach for a while, that the students would learn something. The hope was that the students would come out better, smarter, people, and better citizens. And what we have learned is – sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

As the cost of college increases, making it harder for more people to be able to afford college and graduate school, we as a higher education learning institution need to be able to actually deliver on our promise of a quality education. Ambiguous learning outcomes are not something that you can afford to take a gamble on.

Smart consumers want to know about a school beyond its reputation. They want to know – quantifiably – if some schools are better than others.  And they want the assurance that they will complete their degree with skills that are applicable to their field of interest.

That’s where assessment comes in.

Assessment is a guarantee of quality

At the heart of it, assessment is a simple concept: It is about being able to measure the results of student learning to make sure that we are delivering on our promises of educational excellence.

Assessment is simple in theory but complicated in real life.  We need to be able to prove that students are graduating from our programs having gained the skills that are required in order to perform as professionals. That’s the complicated part. And as they leave the program, it’s challenging to figure out how to be able to measure what students have absorbed.

Delivering on promises in higher education

The complexity of accurate assessment is another reason that historically, higher education has gotten away with being sort of “faith-based” – because figuring out how to measure what students have actually acquired, is not easy.

In the United States, we have an educational system that not-so-subtly encourages students to binge and purge knowledge.  So you binge something, cramming it all into your head, then you purge it on the test, and you move on. Then you binge the next topic for your next test, and on and on.  Whether you finish the year able to remember the topics that you covered at the beginning of the year or not, is the big question.

And that’s a problem.

Proving knowledge mastery

Our graduate student population are is a group of people preparing to either enter their professional careers or advance in their careers by earning their Master’s degrees or Doctorates.  At the end of their academic journey with us, they need to not only be able to demonstrate their knowledge of their subject area but their mastery of that area. What they have to be able to do at the end, is bring all of it together.

From the perspective of Assessment, we are both looking at knowledge mastery – do you get the concepts? Do you know what the field is all about? And also skill mastery – can you reliably execute the skills you’ve learned over the years?

Once knowledge and skill mastery are assessed, the final step to Assessment is Transfer.

Transfer is the key to a superior education

Transfer is the ability to take one concept or skill and apply it in a different area. What we strive for is that by the end of our program, our students are able to use their knowledge and skills to assemble the different pieces of a problem and fit them together in a way that allows them to solve new and exciting problems.

No matter how completely we teach our students, our fields are evolving fast.  There are new discoveries, new issues, new events, and new technologies that inevitably need to be considered. That holds true in every field, and that’s why Transfer is so crucial.

Transfer is a critical thinking skill, but it’s also a way of approaching what education is, in a slightly different way. It’s not just about demonstrating knowledge by testing. It’s about making the skills and knowledge you’ve gained a central part of your life.

Assessing Transfer

We measure Transfer by looking at both long and short-term assessments. Each course at UNE Online has learning outcomes and competencies tied to the course’s content. The course itself, in turn, has a meaning and a purpose within the program’s overall curriculum.

Assessments are designed to measure and track student mastery over time, as well. We know that, for instance, a student demonstrated that they picked up a particular competency in their first or second course. So we circle back and make sure the student can still display that skill mastery in their fourth class. And in their eighth. And so on.

By the time our students have finished their program and are immersed in their internship, doing their field experience, or are in the middle of their capstone, they are able to bring all of their learned skills together in a comprehensive way.

At the end of the process we know – though Assessment – that our students are the complete package.

 

 


If you are interested in pursuing an online graduate degree or if you’re simply interested in discussing your options, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (855) 325-0896 or via email at owladmissions@une.edu.

Or, fill out an online application today at go.une.edu/apply – we look forward to hearing from you!

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