ASSESSMENT AND INSTITUTIONAL CULTURE
Emporia State University's mission is to prepare students for lifelong learning, rewarding careers, and adaptive leadership. The 2015-2025 strategic plan The Adaptive University includes four goals 1) Pursue distinctive initiatives in curricula and programs that will foster vibrant communities; 2) Enrich the student experience with opportunities for leadership development and practice; 3) Enhance the competitive role of Kansas by achieving the State's goals for public higher education; and 4) Create a culture of adaptive change as the foundation for innovation and growth. Employing the mechanisms to measure the effectiveness of fulfilling these goals and assessing the quality of these learning experiences provides the decision-making data necessary to achieving success.
Assessing student learning outcomes is essential in effecting an institution-wide culture of adaptive change. And, it is essential to strive to continuously improve the quality of students' learning experiences. These learning experiences occur systematically in integrative learning environments. Intentionally adapting students' learning experiences is necessary to adequately prepare students for success in an innovative and dynamic world. This requires strategic decision-making informed by quality assessment of student learning effectiveness. The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment uses the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) Transparency Framework as its guide for evaluating the extent to which Emporia State University makes evidence of student learning readily accessible and potentially useful and meaningful to various audiences.
NILOA Student Learning Outcomes Transparency Framework
National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. (2011). Transparency Framework. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). Retrieved from: http://www.learningoutcomesassessment.org/TransparencyFramework.htm
TRANSPARENCY AND ASSESSMENT INFRASTRUCTURE
Adaptability: Assessment and Emporia State University’s ability to excel and adapt in the 21st century.
It is recognized that future success and sustainability is reliant upon the ability to monitor the external environment and make institutional adaptations to meet the needs of the state in providing higher education opportunities for its citizens and others. An educated citizenry is key to the economic strength and success of the state and staying abreast of these educational needs and providing a means to achieve them is paramount to the success of the institution as well. The Adaptive University strategic plan embodies a culture that is nimble and values the ability to make keen decisions about future directions. Using assessment as a tool to inform these decisions is the necessary change driver for adaptability.
Inclusive Assessment: Individual ownership of roles and responsibilities in institution-wide mission fulfillment.
Members of the university community share a collaborative role in assessing the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution in meeting its mission. Although these roles differ, it is the accumulation of information resulting from assessment activities that informs the decision-making process and confirms mission execution. Every operational unit exists for a purpose and employing assessment practices to measure the efficacy of the unit and contributions to student success is a shared responsibility.
Accountability versus Sustainability: Who benefits, why, and how?
Accountability in higher education is not a new concept, however how it manifests as a function of institutional operations has evolved over time. Stakeholders want assurances that their resource commitments are substantiated. Providing evidence of student learning effectiveness and fiduciary responsibility with funds are key elements to accountability. Graduate employability and matching career pathways with economic needs and job markets are important to states and the country. Institutions are consistently balancing variable revenue streams with economic volatility and changing population demographics. Families are funding higher education endeavors in different ways mainly through federal student loans. In many instances, this shifts the conversation from accountability to sustainability and the use of data to support the notion of institutional sustainability has become a significant change driver. The need to remain current in curricula, programs, services, and operations continues to influence institutions day-to-day operations. Technology, by far has been one of the most influential factors that has morphed education and the fiscal support of these processes and capital investments continue to increase significantly. Creating a viable sustainability plan in the current higher education environment requires continuous use of data to understand the complexity of decisions needing to be made. A case can be made that both accountability and sustainability serve unique yet coupled roles in confirming an institution is fulfilling its mission.
Assessment and Adaptability: The change agent that drives purposeful decision-making.
The ability to adapt to an ever changing environment is two-fold. First, an infrastructure must exist that enables the functional unit to know specifically how it is currently operating and what its goals are. Second, there must be a process in place where the unit consistently scans both internal and external environments to insure that its operations remain current. For academic units this means that student learning objectives at the program level are defined and mapped to course level student learning outcomes and that a measurement system is in place to determine the levels at which students are achieving success. Faculty have a designated pathway and expectations to remain current in their disciplines through scholarship, service, and professional development. Colleges and Schools have their resources allocated appropriately to provide the instructional settings and necessary equipment and amenities to insure integrative learning environments. And specialized accreditation is encouraged where applicable. Service units are structured to accommodate those student needs that are directly attributable to successful persistence and completion. All units have a systemic process for gathering both direct and indirect assessment data to inform effectiveness. Finally, the expectation for urgency in decision-making and implementation of change should be emphasized. Remaining as nimble as possible will serve the institution well.
Assessment and Affiliated Costs: Commitments for the common good.
There is always an opportunity cost exchanged any time that resources are expended, whether those are human, fiscal, material, or time on task. Expending resources to assess the quality and efficacy of the functions of the institution is necessary for sustainability in the 21st century. Perhaps one of the key mistakes institutions make is not recognizing assessment as a necessary part of the overall processes of doing business. Furthermore, the value placed on assessment as a part of faculty and staff roles has been a key predictor of the committal buy-in that must exist in order for assessment practices to merit meaning.
Communicating the rationale for engaging in assessment practices and the expectations that are affiliated with these practices must be built into the cultural fabric of institutional operations. Faculty must confirm the utility of engaging in practices that are conducive to continuous improvements in student learning. Likewise units providing student support services and auxiliary units have roles in assessing the successes of their efforts. Some of these operational units directly affect student learning experiences (co-curricular involvement) while others assist students directly in learning (tutoring services), and all provide those connections to the educational process (financial aid, registration, residential life) vital for the overall experience to be positive. Formalizing the connections between assessment, accountability, and sustainability are crucial for cultural shifts to occur. This process is wholeheartedly an adaptive challenge. In order for Emporia State University to maximize its utility and effectiveness, thus creating an environment that provides the most common good, continuous improvements in all that we do must be valued.
Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) Statements exist in all learning environments.
Those SLO's relevant to Academic degree programs are designed for each separate degree program. The curriculum map lists student learning outcomes and the required courses that contribute to students competently learning the content knowledge, skills, competencies, and practices specific to the degree program. Course level student learning outcomes are listed on the course syllabus. The syllabus serves to inform students of the course expectations and identifies how each course serves to educate the student towards having the knowledge and skills required for their degree program of study. Each academic unit uses this mapping structure to ensure that students are prepared in their degree programs and use this system to continuously confirm that academic programs are current. Faculty are available to visit about program specific student learning outcomes and students are encouraged to proactively engage in their knowing and understanding of how academic programming is designed and improved upon.
Student Affairs Learning Outcomes are integrated into all Student Affairs co-curricular programming and consistent with academic programs are aligned with institution-wide learning goals. Co-curricular learning experiences are powerful and often provide students with the ability to hone and practice knowledge learned within the classroom. Keen on integrating learning experiences to engage students in making those connections between the world in which they live and how they can provide leadership for the common good is a by-product of co-curricular and academic programming. Student Affairs assesses the effectiveness of these student learning experiences and collaborates with academic leaders to make these learning experiences seamless.
The General Education program learning goals are mapped to those courses contributing to student learning of foundations, core, transition, and transformation skills. The General Education assessment program is grounded in looking at student successes through multiple lenses. Using both direct and indirect data gathering provides measurement of actual learning, meanwhile gaining understanding of students perspectives on their educational experiences.
Assessment Plans are integrated into the university's operations at multiple levels.
The Adaptive University consists of four goals with twelve supporting objectives and represents a ten-year timeline ranging from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2025. The plan also incorporates the Kansas Board of Regents Foresight 2020 Strategic Plan and the ESU Campus Master Plan. Plan accountability is structured through the three functional tiers of the institution (Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Administration and Finance). The plan is operationalized through objective strategies and measured by performance indicators illustrated and reported through the Campus Labs Platform.
Assessment is used as a tool to measure strategic plan goal achievement. Broad conceptual plan goals are succinctly defined by each operational unit and assessed related to the quality and effectiveness of the student learning experience, student services and support, and the learning environment. Assessment is designed and implemented based upon the function of the unit owning the goal and the level within the organization where the goal is operationalized. Assessment outcomes are used to confirm institutional effectiveness, inform decision-making, and to verify strategic planning successes and mission fulfillment. Mission fulfillment is substantiated through the measurement of and accountability for goal achievement.
Assessment informs decision-making at all operational levels. In Academic Affairs the structure is comprised of five colleges/schools and five supporting units. The colleges/schools are The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The School of Business, The Teachers College, The School of Library and Information Management, and the Honors College. The units are Academic Success, Graduate Studies and Distance Education, Information Technologies, Institutional Research and Assessment, and University Libraries and Archives. Student Affairs includes operational units (International Education, Center for Student Involvement, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and TRIO), auxiliaries (Memorial Union, Residential Life, Student Wellness, Recreation Services), and support units (Financial Aid, Admissions, Registration, Career Services, and Veterans Services) which all contribute to co-curricular learning enhancing the educational experience while also providing services necessary for student success. This multiple-faceted consortium of professionals are tasked with measuring student learning outcomes, and also analyzing the quality of complex support systems where quality customer service is a key success ingredient. Administration and Finance provides the vital fiscal structures required for coordinating operations and make significant contributions to insuring that university functions are continuous and stable. Its operational units consisting of Human Resources, University Facilities, and Police and Safety are vital providers in a safe and effective integrative learning environment. All functional units use assessment strategies and practices to gather data to inform decisions that directly affect the student learning experience and the institution’s learning environments.
Academic Affairs integrates institution-wide assessment into its operations with the Student Learning Improvement Plan (SLIP). The SLIP is designed to provide academic units with an electronic interface and evidence repository to plan, implement, capture data, upload evidence files, and report assessment activities measuring the quality of student learning. The SLIP includes assessment at the department and program levels and includes unit assessments for the Honors College, the General Education Program, and the Intensive English Program. The Student Learning Assessment Council (SLAC) is the group charged with facilitating the SLIP. This group consists of both academic and student affairs appointments and meets monthly while reporting to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. In addition to the leadership provided by the SLAC various other committees (Council on Teacher Education, General Education Council, CAEP Committee) on campus are charged with ensuring coordinated assessment activities meet accountability standards for external accreditations, and state and federal requirements.
The Student Learning Assessment Council (SLAC) in collaborative leadership with the Assistant Provost for Institutional Research and Assessment is charged with articulating the student learning assessment plan while building assessment capacity and best practices within the campus community. The Council shares responsibilities for keeping the campus community informed of assessment best practices, and both internal and external accountability requirements. The Council provides the leadership to implement the student learning assessment plan for each representative campus entity. The Council also promotes an institution-wide culture of assessing student learning and makes assessment plan change recommendations to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Student Affairs uses a thematic based assessment plan matching up student learning outcomes with learning experiences and using the information to confirm and inform co-curricular learning experiences and programming. Embracing the Kansas Leadership Center’s competencies and principles to frame learning experiences for the common good is integrated into strategic planning and student learning experiences include participation in high impact practices such as study abroad, service learning, volunteerism, student government and student organizations. These cross-curricular experiences often contain an academic research based experience as well. One of the strengths of the SLAC structure is to enable leaders from both Academic and Student Affairs to work collaboratively to bring together a truly integrative student learning experience. Assessing the effectiveness of services is dependent on the individual unit’s goals and strategies and utilize survey tools to gain student, faculty, and staff perspectives on program and service quality.
Assessment Resources are available in many different contexts and locations.
The Office of Institutional Research and Assessment shares and distributes assessment information across the institution through the operations of the Student Learning Assessment Council. The representative members of the council share information with their representative faculty and staff. This network serves well for data shares and to coordinate learning opportunities across faculty and staff constituencies. It is common for workshops and council meetings to serve as assessment shares and provide individual and group assessment training opportunities.