Submitted Fall, 2005
This constitutes the assessment report for the Department of History for the 2004-2005 academic year. This year the plan consisted of three parts administered twice during the year: an assessment exam given to both one or more General Studies survey classes and all Senior Seminar classes, an evaluation of all senior seminar papers, and focus group discussions held in senior seminar classes. Because we received no assessment surveys last year, we decided to use that assessment tool only once every five years in connection with program review.
Methods and Data
Our assessment plans evaluated designated student learning objectives in the areas of knowledge, skills, and values.
Ultimately 84 students in several GS classes and 40 students from the four History 496 Senior Seminar sections completed an assessment exam for which they were given no specific preparation or warning. The exam asked them to “Describe the historical context of any current event.” Teams of history faculty then evaluated the anonymous exams using the below rubric.
Senior Seminar paper:
37 students completed original research papers in the four History 496 sections. Those papers were then evaluated by teams of history faculty (not including the instructors) according to the below check sheet.
Focus Group Discussions.
Members of the History Department’s Undergraduate Studies Committee met with 11 students in Dr. Carol Lilly’s senior seminar on December 6, 2004, 11 students in Dr. Vernon Volpe’s senior seminar on December 3, 2004, 11 students in Dr. Mary Beth Ailes’ senior seminar on April 18, 2005, and with 5 students in Dr. Roger Davis’ senior seminar on April 21, 2005.
The assessment tools and data above were used to evaluate the following learning objectives established by the Department of History in its Assessment Plan.
- Students will be able to write historical papers that demonstrate a working knowledge of past events, people, ideas, and values. (Mission Statement #1)
This learning objective was evaluated by both the assessment exam and the senior seminar research paper.
On the assessment exam rubric, this question was addressed in question 2, “Knowledge of historical data.” General Studies students fared rather poorly on this section—only 20% were rated Good or above in this category. Students in our Senior Seminars, however, did much better, with 71% of them being rated Good or better. Similarly, on the senior seminar check list, question 1 evaluated the students “breadth of knowledge” and “working knowledge of past events, people, ideas and values.” In that category, this year 27% of the papers were rated as superior, 35% very good, and 32% good—altogether 94%. Overall, then we conclude that a clear majority of our history and social science majors have achieved this learning objective. As was true in the past, we note that our Senior Seminar students perform much better on their papers than on an unscheduled short essay for which they had no specific preparation.
- Students will be able to describe the historical context of a recent event. (Mission Statement #1 and 6)
This learning objective was evaluated by the assessment exam which asked students explain the historical context of any current event. On the assessment exam rubric question 1 evaluated the students’ “awareness of the historical dimensions of contemporary society.” On that question, only 27% of GS students received a ranking of Good or above, but among our SS students 73% received a Good or higher ranking, once again suggesting than they have achieved this learning objective.
1) Students will demonstrate an ability to locate, gather, and organize a variety of historical information in formal research papers. (Mission Statement #2)
This learning objective evaluated by question 2 on the senior seminar paper check list which concerned “sufficiency of source material.” On that question, 19% of the 37 papers were evaluated as superior, 32% as very good, and 24% good—hence we can conclude that an majority of them (75%) have demonstrated this ability.
2) Students will create historical narratives that integrate critical thinking, employing historiography and historical methods. (Mission Statement # 3)
This learning objective was evaluated by questions 3 and 4 on the senior seminar checklist, concerning the students’ “ability to organize material into an historical narrative” and to “place research in the context of multiple historical sources.” Regarding organization, 22% of the papers were rated superior, 35% very good, and 38% good—in all 95% were rated good or better. Students success in demonstrating their understanding of historiography declined slightly this year, due likely to the specific topics of the Senior Seminar courses, but remained adequate. 7% were rated superior, 30% very good, and 22% good indicating that over half of our majors ( 59%) have mastered this objective.
3) Students will analyze and interpret the meaning of certain historical texts or events in their social, political, economic, and cultural contexts. (Mission Statement # 4)
This learning objective was evaluated by both the assessment exam and the senior seminar paper.
On the assessment exam, question 3 evaluated the “analysis of historical data.” On that question, only 16% of GS students received a ranking of Good or above. In contrast, our SS students did much better with 70% being ranked at Good or above.
On the Senior Seminar paper checklist question 5 assessed the students’ “ability to analyze and interpret historical texts and event.” On that question, 16% of the 37 papers were rated as superior, 32% very good, and 27% good. We conclude from these figures again that a majority (75%) of our students have achieved this objective.
4) Students will demonstrate effective communication skills through papers written in forms appropriate to the discipline of history. (Mission Statement #5)
This learning objective was evaluated in the assessment exam and the senior seminar paper
On the assessment exam, question 4 evaluated the students’ written communication skills. 40% of GS received a ranking of Good or above in this category. However, our SS students did much better with 78% being rated as Good or better. Perhaps more significant, among GS students, of that 40% none were ranked Superior and only 4% Very Good in written communication, while among Senior Seminar students, of that 78% 15% were ranked Superior, 28% Very Good, and 35% Good.
Question 6 of the senior seminar rubric also deals with written communication skills. In that category, 81% were rated as Good or better--27% of the papers were rated as Superior, 24% as Very Good, and 30% as Good.
5) Students will demonstrate effective communication skills through discussions of historical and current events. (Mission Statement # 5)
This skill was evaluated in the focus group discussions held with students in the senior seminars. 38 students were asked to describe their senior seminar papers. According the reports provided, all of them were able to do so, usually giving a topic and the question they were asking in it or the approach they were using.
- Students will appreciate the historical dimensions of contemporary society. (Mission Statement #6)
This value was assessed both on the assessment exam and in the focus group.
On question 1 of the assessment exam, which asked about the historical context of any current event, only 27% of GS students received a ranking of Good or above, while 73% of SS students were so ranked.
In the focus groups, 21 students responded to this question. All of them agreed that they have a better understanding of current events based on their increased historical perspective. They seemed to have a greater appreciation for patterns from the past and the role historical context plays in daily life. Most agreed also that they pay more attention to the news as a result, especially international news and are more aware of alternative perspectives. Their comments lead us to believe that the majority of history and social sciences have developed an appreciation for the historical dimensions of contemporary society in accordance with Value #1 and Mission Statement #6.
Use of Results
The Department discussed these results at department meetings on August 19 and September 13, 2005. Department members addressed first the slight decline in historiography numbers and agreed that it was likely the result of the topic of one Senior Seminar course which was a particularly difficult one for students to deal with historiographically.
Another issue raised at the meetings concerned those students who, in the focus group discussions, have requested some way for the department to teach some of the research skills needed in the Senior Seminar classes earlier in the students’ careers. This is not the first time that this issue has been raised prompting some members of the department to suggest adding a new course to the department’s curriculum. A lengthy discussion ensued and a subcommittee was created to investigate the matter further.
Assessment of the Assessment Plan
Another issue that came up concerned the relative weakness of the department’s ability to assess students’ oral communication skills. We do assess them in our focus group discussions and our better students do present their papers at conferences, most of our majors, however, do not have this opportunity. In discussing this problem, it came up that in fact most of our students are education majors and take the Social Science Teaching Methods Class—Sosc 370. In that class, students are regularly required to give formal teaching presentations. Lilly later spoke with Roger Thomsen who teaches that class and got permission for an assessment team to come in and evaluate a sampling of those presentations toward the end of each semester. We certainly would not be able to asses ALL of the students every semester, but we would be able to get a representative sample.