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Program Assessment

Assessment is a kind of ‘action research,’ intended not so much to generate broad theories as to inform local action.
Barbara Walvoord

Learning community programs are complex interventions on campus, with specific aims for improving the quality of student learning and students’ connections with resources on campus. They also explicitly encourage widespread sharing of good practices among faculty and increased collaboration between faculty and staff members. Thus, learning community program goals include and transcend the goals for individual learning community classes.

Most learning community programs assess their class offerings, but far fewer engage in regular program assessment. More work needs to be done in this area; one especially useful resouce is Barbara Walvoord's Assessment Clear and Simple, which helps faculty translate the knowledge they develop in the classroom about assessing student learning to a program level. Another resource is Marilee Bresciani’s Outcomes-Based Academic and Co-Curricular Program Review, which describes the work of nineteen “good practice” institutions selected by assessment scholars. It offers a wealth of examples and resources campuses can use to design their own program review processes.

The critical place to start—whether assessing a learning community program or strengthening its institutional impact—is with the program mission and goals. At the 2012 National Summer Institute on Learning Communities, Century College defined their learning community program in this way:

Learning communities at Century College focus on the concept of integrative learning as a means to inspire, prepare, and empower students to see complex connections that will help them succeed in their education, community and the world. Learning communities use a variety of curricular approaches that intentionally link or cluster two or more courses, include specific integrated assignments, and incorporate student services in course design, all of which are often delivered around an interdisciplinary theme or problem.

Based on that definition, they listed these four broad learning community program goals:

  • Foster connections among students, faculty and resources
  • Cultivate a better understanding of the purpose of education by making connections to personal, social and civic responsibilities
  • Cultivate analysis and synthesis of concepts within analytical frameworks from multiple perspectives
  • Demonstrate multi-causal and often contradictory explanations of complex issues through an interdisciplinary approach

The Century College team also listed the student learning outcomes related to these goals. To prepare for a program assessment, these colleagues may extend the conversation about student learning to determine strategies for assessing those outcomes. They may also develop outcomes for faculty and student services collaboration and integrated assignment design in support of their program mission and goals.

A key factor in effective and periodic program reviews is the opportunity for faculty and staff to have regular, thoughtful conversations about the purpose of the program, the outcomes that matter, the strategies for assessing those outcomes, and what ongoing implementation of those strategies reveals.


Using Assessment Results: Promising Practices of Institutions That Do It Well
Gianina R. Baker, Natasha A. Jankowski, Staci Provezis, and Jillian Kinzie. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). 2012.

Assessing College Student Learning: Evaluating Alternative Models, Using Multiple Methods
Robert J. Sternberg, Jeremy Penn, and Christie Hawkins, with Case Studies by Sally Reed. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). 2011.

Down and In: Assessment Practices at the Program Level
Peter Ewell, Karen Paulson, and Jillian Kinzie.
Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA). June 2011.

Assessing for Learning: Building a Sustainable Commitment Across the Institution
Peggy L. Maki. Second edition. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. 2010.

Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education
Barbara E. Walvoord. Second edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2010.

Promoting Integrated and Transformative Assessment: A Deeper Focus on Student Learning
Catherine H. Wehlburg. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2008.

Outcomes-Based Academic and Co-Curricular Program Review: A Compilation of Institutional Good Practices
Marilee J. Bresciani. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing. 2006.

Learning That Lasts: Integrating Learning, Development, and Performance in College and Beyond

Marcia Mentkowski. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2000.