Building & Sustaining a Culture of Assessment
The University of Findlay was faced with the challenge of revitalizing General Education assessment, implementing assessment initiatives campus-wide, and documenting achievement of student learning outcomes. The project was driven by the need for HLC accreditation, on which federal aid to students depends.
When HLC accreditors visited The University of Findlay, they recommended a more cohesive approach to university-wide assessment. The HLC visit also gave impetus to a planned reform of Findlay’s General Education program.
Throughout the following three years, the University defined student learning outcomes at the program level and began a curriculum assessment initiative. Associate Professor Christine Denecker, Ph.D., advocated handling assessment data through Findlay’s learning management system, but much of the data was still submitted on paper.
In addition, “The College of Education was eager for a new tool,” said Denecker. The college tried two leading assessment software packages but found them cumbersome. After ranking various tools against a “wish list,” Findlay narrowed the list to Taskstream by Watermark and a competitor—and chose the competitor.
According to Denecker, “We had expectations that [the competitor] was going to make some upgrades. They told us these things were on the horizon, but when we came back nine months later, the upgrades hadn’t happened. And that made us very uneasy, because we wanted to work with a company that was going to upgrade, improve, listen to its customers’ needs and support those needs. Taskstream by Watermark had made the changes they said were on their road map. That was a pretty big factor in making the decision between the two.”
The University of Findlay changed its original decision and implemented Taskstream by Watermark.
Cheryl Cape, Center for Teaching Excellence faculty liaison, and Scott Trimmer, Academic Technology Services Manager and Blackboard Administrator, took on the challenge of spearheading the implementation. Cape’s classroom experience proved to be an effective complement to Trimmer’s technical expertise. “I didn’t know a thing about assessment when I started this,” Trimmer admitted.
Findlay piloted the use of Taskstream by Watermark, beginning with larger and stronger programs, such as Education and Physical Therapy, which were already dealing with the demands of accreditation. They decided not to attempt loading old assessment data in the system, but to start fresh with new data.
The University of Findlay’s standing committees responsible for assessment, such as General Education and Program Assessment, were contacted to provide a point person to work with Taskstream by Watermark’s implementation team. New committees also were established for non-instructional and global assessment. “Taskstream Thursdays” were scheduled to provide a consistent day and time every week for template design, collaboration, training sessions, and hands-on work.
“I was overwhelmed with how quickly we moved forward,” said Denecker. Speaking of the faculty, Cape said, “Once they went through the process, they were big fans. They did not find it difficult at all.”
A Culture of Assessment
By the end of the academic year, Taskstream by Watermark was fully implemented for the institution’s General Education Assessment and across more than 75 percent of the University’s academic programs.
Understanding and support for Taskstream by Watermark spread rapidly from early adopters to those who were initially reluctant. One business professor who had never used rubrics before now uses them for all his courses. Findlay’s Nuclear Medicine Institute, where 15 boxes were being used to store assessment data, was quick to see the advantage of using Taskstream by Watermark.
Along with curricular and Gen Ed assessment, the University now has assessment of non-instructional areas such as the business office, financial aid, health center, food service, security, and buildings and grounds.
“In the past, much of our assessment work was archived in paper form. With the implementation of Taskstream by Watermark, our assessment process has become more transparent, archival of data has become more stable, and the review of assessment documents is now more efficient and flexible.”