Expert Offers Road Map

October 06, 2011
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Faculty members and academic administrators got a taste of some of the issues the university is facing in terms of student learning outcomes assessment during a presentation Sept. 28 at the Burnaby campus by U.S. assessment and accountability expert, Peter Ewell (above).

Ewell, vice-president of the Coloradobased National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, began by saying assessments of what students learn in university are typically used for improvement or accountability, and occasionally both.

He went on to outline the reasons why, since the early days of the “assessment movement” in the U.S. in the mid-1980s, these two purposes of outcomes assessment have not rested comfortably together.

“You are in a privileged position for taking on this complicated issue at a late stage of its development,” he said, “because you can see what everybody else has done wrong and harness some that have been done right.”

Ewell summarized what has and hasn’t changed and over the past two decades of student learning outcomes assessment and the shifting expectations of policy makers, accreditors, higher-education leaders, students, and government officials about student and institutional performance.

After describing how various kinds of aggregated information can and should be used for improvement and accountability at the program and institutional level, he pointed to ways institutions such as SFU can productively manage the persistent tensions accompanying improvement and accountability. And manage them while faculty and staff members do the important work of documenting, reporting, and building on what students have gained from their post-secondary experience.

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