Examples of Departmental Assessments

Academic departments/programs at the College are each reviewed on a seven-year cycle as part of the College's assessment program. The departmental review involves a self-study, external reviewers, written reports and responses, and follow-up activities. It is comprehensive, covering curriculum and teaching and learning environments. Starting with the 2003-04 cycle, departments/programs have been required to formally address assessment of student learning as part of the process. 

Below are examples of methods/activities to formally assess student learning (both outcomes and processes) reported in departmental self-studies submitted during 2005-2009. (Note: This is not intended to be an exhaustive list.)

Biology Department

Latin American Studies Program

Psychology Department

Sociology & Anthropology Department

Biology Department:  Approaches to assessment of student learning cover evaluation at the course level and the capstone experience.  

  • Assessment of the program's effectiveness includes senior exit survey, post-graduation questionnaires, and external reviews.
  • At the level of individual courses, assessment of student learning is conducted in a number of ways. Relevant indicators of performance include quizzes, exams, critique of papers, formal scientific papers, lab notebooks, oral presentations, and websites. Assignments based on problem-solving questions are also commonly administered. 
  • Successful completion of a capstone experience in Biology is one of the primary indicators of effective student learning in the Biology curriculum. Assessment of these capstone experiences is conducted within the context of the designated capstone courses by the instructors; individualized student research is evaluated by the sponsoring faculty member and a second faculty reader.                                                                             

 Latin American Studies (LAS) Program:                        

The LAS committee seeks a balance between individual faculty members' assessment of student performance in discipline-based coursework and the overall learning goals of the combined major and minor. Each faculty member is responsible for assessing student coursework, generally via written exams, paper assignments, tests, and oral class presentations. 

  • The committee oversees learning goals by reviewing course proposals and syllabi for new LAS courses or cross-listed LAS offerings. It circulates proposals and syllabi among the committee members and discuss them prior to adoption. The committee then reviews the relative merits of the course content, materials, and evaluation methods. It also gathered as many syllabi as possible to evaluate the coherency of the course offerings for the major and minor. We have made some initial efforts to try to avoid assigning the same readings or films for our courses. 
  • The senior capstone project: We ask students to identify a topic of study and a methodology when they submit their capstone proposals to the LAS committee fall semester. The committee reviews the capstone proposals. The committee uses the quality of the senior capstone projects to assess the overall effectiveness of the combined major. Despite the generally good quality of the papers in the past two years, we have found that students often lack a foundation in their chosen discipline; they would benefit from a methods and/or theory course.

 Psychology Department:                                                  Back to the top

  • Assessment at the course level: assessment of students' abilities through our various graded work in each course. Many of our course syllabi have learning goals and objectives clearly stated for students. Our courses involve varied techniques for assessment of student learning, such as journal entries, short papers, and exams. In addition to exams, we use several mechanisms for ensuring quality in student writing, e., g., requiring students to write research proposals in APA format and style. Oral presentation skills are also assessed in many of our courses, especially in their final research projects in advanced lab.
  • We have used student course evaluations to gather data on student satisfaction with both the courses and the faculty member. Faculty in the department, especially the more junior faculty, summarize both quantitative and qualitative types of course evaluation data per class, per semester, and not only include these data in their pre-tenure or tenure dossier, but also use that information to make changes to the way they teach. 
  • The department also used another source of student feedback concerning a faculty member in the tenure track: student interviews conducted by the chair in the semester before the faculty member's evaluation. These interviews provide valuable information about much broader aspects of the candidate's abilities both inside and outside the classroom, e. g., the strength of the class(es), accessibility to students, ability to advise, and students' overall impression of this faculty member's ability to draw students into his/her research program. 
  • We get information and feedback from our alumni through an annual alumni newsletter and annual Homecoming symposium. 

Sociology & Anthropology Department:                                     

  • Assessment of student learning in individual courses: Department faculty use a wide variety of formal techniques to assess individual students' learning. Some faculty evaluate student writing through weekly or bi-weekly reflection papers, application exercises, or other brief assignments; others require a series of short papers, book reviews, film analyses, term papers, or journals. All examinations require students to formulate their answers in clear prose. Most courses also evaluate students on their ability to present information and ideas orally. Formal assessments are also used to deepen students' understanding of course material. Final exams, in particular, often ask students to reflect on what they have learned, to apply it to experiences and events outside the course, or to synthesize course material in a way that goes beyond what was done in class.
  • Assessment of student learning in the Sociology major: A set of formally defined learning goals for the Sociology major and for Soc 101 have been adopted by the department. We have also committed ourselves to doing some kind of assessment at the beginning of each 200- and 300-level course to gauge both student learning in the major and what students are retaining from Soc 101 (a prerequisite for almost all 200- and 300-level courses in sociology). Faculty have developed a variety of strategies for carrying out this assessment, but all of these are consistent with the department's philosophy of assessment: we are interested not only in assessing what students have learned, but also in consolidating and reinforcing their understanding of important concepts, theories, and skills. For example:
    • Professor Emmons uses written pre-tests both to assess what students have retained from previous courses and to identify concepts, ideas and skills that they will be expected to draw on in his course. He strongly encourages them to look up and study the items they missed on the pre-test.
    • Professor Potuchek uses a more discussion-based technique in her 200-level courses, pairing students up and asking each pair to list concepts or ideas from previous sociology courses that they think would be useful for studying the current subject matter. The concepts and ideas are listed on the board and discussed and are followed by a discussion of any important missing concepts. Students who feel they need to brush up are encouraged to borrow one of Professor Potuchek's introductory text books for the semester.
    • In teaching field research methods, Professor Gill begins the semester by asking students to write paragraphs about key ideas from Soc 302, especially those most relevant to qualitative methods; students then discuss their answers in class. In her upper-level theory courses, Professor Gill asks each student to present the ideas of their favorite theorist from Soc 306 and tell the class why they have found the ideas of that theorist particularly useful in explaining social life.
  • Assessment of how well students have met the learning goals for the major is done primarily in Soc 400, usually the last course students take in the major. This course always includes an exit exam. In addition, faculty teaching this course adopt strategies to assess and consolidate student learning in the major throughout the course. When Professor Gill teaches this course, she hands out a copy of the learning goals for the major to students, asks them which ones they don't feel they have a good grasp of, and then designs the syllabus to remedy those gaps in student learning. 
  • In Spring 2007, we also conducted focus group discussions with graduating seniors to assess how well our students are meeting the learning goals for the major. Graduating Sociology majors identified the learning goals in theory, social inequality, and the social construction of reality as particularly strong components of the major and the learning goals in comparative societies as not well met. In general, students felt that learning goals for the major were most strongly met when they were incorporated throughout the curriculum rather than confined to one or two specialized courses.                  Back to the top

(Compiled by the Office of Institutional Analysis, 2010)