Improve the curriculum
In order to identify how you might want to improve the curriculum, you will want to examine the findings in relation to your curriculum map. There are at least two important areas to consider when reviewing your curriculum map in relation to your findings: examining concept and skill reinforcement and examining course sequencing.
Examining concept and skill reinforcement
Often programs will discover that students are introduced to a concept or skill in the curriculum, but course assignments and planned experiences are not sufficient to help students master those concepts and skills. This may lead to considering modifications in assignments, readings, or general teaching approaches to reinforce concepts with students. A program may also discover that a new course needs to be created to sufficiently address a learning outcome.
Examining course sequencing
Sometimes faculty will discover that the course provides sufficient support for the student to master the material, but course sequencing should be adjusted so that students are introduced to concepts that build on and complement each other. The student learning assessment process can be used as an audit of the programmatic educational experience.
*adapted from Marymount University Assessment Handbook (2015)
Case Studies of Faculty Applying Assessment Findings to Improve Curriculum
Following are a set of case studies to demonstrate how various programs have improved their curriculum based on assessment findings. While the level of maturity of the assessment efforts outlined in these case studies varies, the commonality is that all of the units took some action. They did not wait years until enormous amounts of data were collected; they did not wait until they had a perfect assessment design and perfect findings to do something with them; they did not spend years discussing what changes to make to implement improvement. They obtained findings that showed them a pattern in student learning. They gathered additional data if they needed it. They took action to make changes in the curriculum.
Assessment matters and is meaningful when you do something with it.
- A two-hour, annual faculty meeting is held in a department of political science where each faculty member who teaches seniors described strengths and weaknesses in research papers. Notes were kept. A vote was taken on one follow-up action to mitigate a weakness. The area identified was students’ lack of ability to construct coherent research questions. Members of the department curriculum committee followed up to investigate in which earlier courses this skill was covered. They also administered a short survey to seniors that asked which courses helped them to construct research questions and what the faculty could do to help students to improve this skill. It was decided that two junior-level courses would cover constructing research questions in greater depth. A year later a similar meeting was held, and it was determined that students’ ability to construct research questions had improved substantially. The faculty members then decided to follow up on another identified weakness.
- The faculty member who teaches the senior capstone biological research course for biology majors developed a simple scoring system or rubric to evaluate students’ research papers. He shared the results at a department meeting. The results showed that designing experiments and controlling variables were the areas of greatest weakness. A small committee examined the curriculum, developed some potential ideas to implement, then held a student focus group to obtain feedback on their ideas and whether students needed additional support in relation to their ideas. They decided to institute a tutoring program that reinforces these areas.
- Faculty members in health sciences noticed that several students were providing incorrect answers to questions in the final exam of a first-year survey course that required interpretation of written material. They began to suspect that there was a relationship between reading skills and performance in the exam. A student survey and discussions with academic advisors confirmed this relationship. As a result, the faculty emphasized the importance of reading skills in their first-year survey course, they strengthened a requirement that students who scored below a certain cutoff in a diagnostic reading test enroll in the institution’s reading and study skills course, they asked experienced students to discuss with first-year students the importance of study time and effective study methods, and they provided professional development for faculty members in the department to recognize student reading problems early in their courses and to refer the students with such problems to the campus study skills center.
- Music faculty members reviewed student portfolios and determined that there was wide variation in entering students’ knowledge of music theory. They developed a music theory diagnostic test that students took as part of their application process and created a first-semester basic music theory course for students who scored poorly on the test.
- Faculty members offering online MBA courses noticed that some students were not turning in assignments or using the online discussion board. They emailed students a link to a short survey and also asked the institution’s IT staff to collect some statistics about students’ use of tutorials that were provided to explain how to use the features of Blackboard. It turns out that some students did not understand the basics of how to navigate Blackboard, and they did not complete the tutorials. A new policy was instituted that students would be de-registered from their courses unless a usage report confirmed that they had completed the tutorials and scored at least 80% on a proficiency exam.
While the level of maturity of the assessment efforts outlined in these case studies varied, the commonality is that all of the departments took some action. They did not wait years until enormous amounts of data were collected. They were better off concentrating on a few simple concerns that matter. If a unit collects large amounts of information but does not discuss the implications and use the information to make improvements or disseminate learning strengths, then the process has been a waste of energy. Assessment matters—is meaningful—when you do something with it.
*adapted from Ball State University Assessment Workbook (2012)