University of Nebraska at Kearney
General Studies Program
A Student Outcome Assessment Plan for General Studies
Current Activities. In the context of the 2001 General Studies Academic Program Review, Dr. John Anderson and his students polled a sample of students and faculty concerning their views of the General Studies program. The Registrar’s Office also does exit polling of UNK graduates. In the departmental assessment programs, while chairs have reported that the benefits of the GS program may be evident in their students’ performance as majors, there is no attempt to assess those benefits in their departmental assessment of student outcomes.
Outside of the Academic Program Review, assessment of the General Studies program has not been an organized habitual event. Indeed, the attention of the GS Council has primarily focused on the structure and assessment of the course offerings within the program, and only sporadically focuses on student outcomes. This is not to say that assessment activities relevant to GS student outcomes are not occurring. The present plan is an attempt to “piggy back” some assessment activities on existing assessment programs and to develop new assessment activities concerning direct measures of student outcomes.
The Proposed Plan
Departmentally-Administered Assessment. Each UNK department must complete a comprehensive self study and formal academic program review (APR) every 5 years. It would be beneficial for a portion of the self study to address General Studies. If the Department has GS courses, then evidence should be offered that those courses that are meeting the student learning objectives specified in the GS program. In addition, and especially if a department has no GS courses, then the department could address the question, “Are students who have just begun our academic major in possession of the skills necessary for success?” In other words, is the General Studies program preparing the students for success in the major? A frequent complaint of faculty is that students don’t know how to write when they get to a writing course in the major. The validity of such a conclusion would require some data and this section of the self study would provide departments the opportunity to provide such data.
The departmental self-study should include an assessment of the Writing Intensive and Cultural Diversity courses. Since WI and CD courses aren’t necessarily GS courses, departments may wish to assess their own offerings in these categories. Indeed, when the WI and CD course requirement was implemented, it was hoped that most departments would offer the bulk of these courses within their programs. It will be valuable to see if that goal has been realized.
In some cases, a member of the General Studies Council may be appointed to the Academic Program Review team. This provides an essential conduit to the General Studies Council so that review data can be communicated to the Council. Minimally, the APR self-study should include a separate section concerning General Studies, which is forwarded to the Council.
The first proposal operates on the assumption that the departments should assume responsibility for the assessment of their General Studies courses within the context of GS learning objectives. By placing the GS course assessment in the context of the 5-year APR, then the department has flexibility with regard how best to accomplish the task. Ideally, student outcome assessment data would be collected annually, and summarized in the APR self-study.
A major problem with this aspect of the plan is that faculty, especially department chairs, are already burdened with heavy loads. Some form of assistance will be needed, especially for departments with a large GS course commitment, such as English, Communications, and Economics. Perhaps as assessment becomes part of “standard operating procedure,” the burden will seem less daunting.
The assessment that occurs in the APRs could extend beyond student outcome assessment. It may be important for a department to include assessment of GS course content, techniques for delivering those courses, faculty performance, and GS program assessment from the perspective of the department’s academic programs.
Centrally-Administered Assessment. The General Studies Program will also need to be assessed in some centrally coordinated fashion in order to ensure that there is some uniformity in the assessment of student outcomes. Certainly there is value in utilizing a “divide-and-conquer” strategy by having departments assess their offerings. But the techniques used by the departments will vary and thus, will produce a variety of measures of the effectiveness of each GS component course. In order to measure overall effectiveness some assessment will need to be conducted by the Office of General Studies, under the supervision of the Director of General Studies.
Direct Measures. The learning outcomes of the GS program will be assessed using the following plan.
- Two random samples of 100 students will be formed, one selected from the UNK first year class during the first month of Fall semester and one selected from the UNK junior class during the last month of fall semester. (It may be advisable to stratify the sample with regard to certain demographic characteristics of the students, e.g., the size of their high school. However, until those demographics are determined, a random sample should allow some broad conclusions regarding GS effectiveness to be drawn.)
- The samples should be substantially different with regard to their experiences with General Studies classes. These difference can be verified by accessing their transcripts and compiling a list of General Studies courses taken along with their GS course grades. The junior group should have completed most of their General Studies requirements. In this regard, it is advisable to exclude transfer students from the samples, since their a substantial portion of their GS coursework may have been from different institutions.
- Each of the students in the sample will be contacted, invited to a one-hour testing session, wherein they will write an essay in response to a general question concerning topics covered in major category of the GS Program. Samples of possible questions are presented in Appendix B.
- Written responses to these questions will provide 2 measures of student learning: (1) quality of their arguments, which would include an assessment of the number of references to people, ideas and their texts, and (2) the quality of writing.
- The essays would be evaluated twice by different readers using appropriate rubrics for content and writing. The readers/evaluators can be recruited from the appropriate disciplines at UNK. Their assessment procedures would be modeled after the AP Exam Assessment program run by the Educational Testing Service. This assessment will provide a score for quality of content and quality of writing.
- The data can then be summarized and analyzed in a variety of ways. The critical comparison is between the first years and the juniors. Other possible analyses would include correlating their performance with GS course grades, with declared major, and with other relevant demographic variables, such as size of high school. These data can be compiled from existing data bases or collected at the time of the essay.
- It may also be possible to conduct a preliminary assessment of the Cultural Diversity requirements. There are existing questionnaires, such as the Ethnocentrism Scale from the discipline of Social Psychology, designed to assess appreciation and understanding of other cultures. Following the essay, students certainly can provide data by taking questionnaires of this type.
- It may also be possible to conduct an assessment of retained knowledge by administering some available standardized tests that address knowledge by content area. These formal tests have national norms that would provide benchmarks for GS outcomes and perhaps for each category.
Other Direct Measures. Other direct measures are being devised. The capstone course category in the GS program has been undeveloped. If courses are developed within this category, a course requirement could be participation in assessment activities relevant to the Capstone and Overall GS learning objectives.
One proposal for one-hour of capstone course credit for participating in and meeting a performance criterion on a test is also under consideration. In this proposal, a customized test would be developed for each participating student that addresses the learning objectives for the GS courses that he or she has taken and passed. Students would take a test in some form, possibly on-line. If a level of mastery of the material is demonstrated in the test, the student would receive an hour of capstone course credit. If not, the student could be offered means to review the material in order to try again. Data from all students would be analyzed for GS assessment—perhaps deficiencies could be noted by GS course taken. The technical details of this proposal are enormous.
Indirect Measures. It is also important to develop and implement indirect measures of student outcomes concerning GS. The Office of the Director of General Studies should regularly poll both samples of faculty and students concerning their opinions of the program. The ball is already rolling with regard to these forms of assessment but the instruments need to be refined (possibly altered annually) to ask pertinent questions concerning the program.
Review of Assessment Data. It is the responsibility of the Director of General Studies to present a summary of the assessment data to the General Studies Council during the Spring Semester of every year. Then the Council reviews the data and formulates initiatives. The initiatives then can be incorporated into the long-range and short-range plans for the improvement of the UNK General Studies program.
Addendum to the General Studies Assessment Plan, July, 2003