How Assessment Guarantees Return on Investment

Carol doing an assessmentHow do you know that the online courses that you are taking are high-quality and appropriately rigorous? What does Assessment have to do with anything?

In an attempt to understand some of the higher-level happenings within the College of Graduate and Professional Studies (CGPS) I recently 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 determine whether or not a school or program delivers on the promise of a high-quality education.

How does Assessment translate to a quality education?

Assessment is a guarantee. At CGPS we have a fine-tuned Assessment process that enables us to make good on the promise of a quality education. When a student looks at one of our programs and sees what program competencies are, they know that by the time they successfully complete the program, they will be able to do meet and exceed those competencies.

That’s our promise.

We have a lot of elements purposefully woven into the fabric of CGPS that are specifically designed to assist and support students along their academic journey. Right from the beginning, our enrollment counselors do their best to make sure that applicants are a good fit for the program to which they are applying. Student Support Specialists help accepted students navigate their academic journey to make sure they make it through the program in an efficient way for them.

The CGPS student journey is designed in such a way that removes the extraneous so that our students can focus on the essential – the business of learning and mastering their subject area.

From my standpoint as Director of Assessment, and also from the curriculum standpoint, Assessment ensures that the curriculum that we design and deliver gives our students the skills and the knowledge that they will need to succeed in their field.

So, what does a Director of Assessment do?

My job is to help all of the people who are doing anything attached to student performance. So that’s the Program administrators and staff, the Faculty, the Instructional Design team, and in some ways, it’s our Student Support team as well. My role is to understand the “big picture” in order to help guide the college. I take a look at well each program is doing by itself, and then I look program by program across the College to see who is really doing well. Who has some success stories to share? And who could learn from those stories to replicate their successes?

I also identify stories around faculty development, so if one program has a group of faculty who are really good at helping students master a particular concept, I look at how can they help teach their colleagues how to do that – because the best teachers are your colleagues. You listen to your peers a lot more frequently, and a lot more closely than you listen to other folks. Who knows the intricacies of online teaching better than an excellent online instructor?

Each of our programs has its own areas of particular strength, so identifying each program’s area of strength allows everybody to step forward as somebody who is an expert in something, who is getting it right. But unless we have the data to show where and who that is, a lot of it could go unnoticed. We are hardwired to notice problems more than we notice successes. The successes are celebrated in the moment, but nothing really happens. So another part of my job is to identify those successes and elevate them so that we can learn from them and replicate them.

How does a strong sense of community translate to a better education?

When we make connections that allow our faculty to network with each other, and to start to share ideas and questions and research topics, it starts a community of engagement in a way that for a lot of on-ground programs, doesn’t happen. In many on-the-ground colleges, faculty technically know faculty in other departments, well enough to say hello in the hallway, for example. But it’s still rare for faculty from different departments sit down and interact meaningfully around improving teaching and learning. We’re working to change that.

As an online college, we’re being intentional about breaking down those departmental silos to facilitate interprofessional partnerships – because we’re all stronger together than we are individually.

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