It is very easy for institutions of higher learning to become consumed by the requirements of our accrediting bodies. Whether they are regional or specialized, the requirements to maintain compliance are complex and heavy on outcomes assessment. In some cases, the requirements appear to be constantly evolving, making it difficult to keep-up with current accreditation needs. This constant hustle to maintain compliance can make it hectic for administration and faculty alike, making outcomes assessment seem like an arduous task that never ends.
This thought made me take a step back and question, what is this about? What are accreditors really looking for? After taking a step back and changing my vision from myopic to holistic, the picture became clear to me: accreditors, for the most part, are looking to see if our students are learning.
You may have a similar reaction to this as I did – of course, students are learning! They are passing exams, proceeding to the next course in their program, graduating, etc. All this information is great and gives part of the picture of student achievement. Part of the larger picture focuses on student learning outcomes. Are your students learning what they are supposed to learn and accomplishing their outcomes by the time they graduate?
When I was working on a campus as Associate Director of Student Learning, this was a huge question for me to answer. And to me, it seemed rather ambiguous in nature and a constantly moving target. It wasn’t until I had a systematic way of demonstrating student performance and analyzing results that I could really say yes, our students were learning. Using the Learning Achievement Tools (LAT) by Taskstream really provided an organized way for me to look at rubric evaluated data in varying ways that prior, would have been very difficult. For instance, prior to utilizing Taskstream, I thought student performance results at the aggregate level provided a sufficient indication of student success. And yes, holistic results and data are definitely a good starting place at determining student performance. But it wasn’t until I was able to drill down and see how students were performing at the criterion level that I could really determine where students were excelling, where they were falling short, and how to move forward based on this information (please see the screenshot below):
Being able to drill-down within student performance data and make data-driven decisions was huge for me! The ability to drill-down on student performance helped determine areas where our courses and programs were excelling and where they needed improvement. This information helped guide my next steps and determine where advancements should be made. For me, this was the first half of closing the loop.
The second part of closing the loop for me was being able to document areas necessitating change within our programs based on how students were performing on their learning outcomes. Actually with the Accountability Management System (AMS) by Taskstream, I was able to link to direct measures of student performance and reports based on student performance right within my program review workspaces templates. This was golden for me! Being able to link to student performance results within our workspaces templates clearly demonstrated the reason for changes within our programs. Then, I was also able to show the findings and actions we took based on the changes we made to our programs. This, for me, closed the assessment loop through data-driven decisions (see the screen shot below):
Once I was able to document student performance and learning in a systematic way, I was able to show students were learning, leading to continuous improvement. For this reason, I no longer feared accreditation. I knew, within Taskstream, I had the results I needed at any given moment. So for me, a successful accreditation journey began with the first (correct) step – being able to measure student learning in a systematic way. The rest fell into place once I knew that I had what I needed to successfully document our student learning success.
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