2019 Degree-Level Assessment Award Winner
This year’s degree-level assessment awards have been won by the departments of Economics and French, Francophone & Italian Studies. KU’s faculty author roughly 200 assessment reports from across campus each year. Although we saw many excellent reports this year from both the undergraduate and graduate levels, these two undergrad programs rose to the top of a crowded field. The award both honors the high quality work already completed in these departments, but also comes with a stipend to support future assessment work moving forward. The CTE wanted to feature these two departments, side by side, because each department took a very different road. Although both projects generated clear insights and useful data, Economics did this through rigorously analyzing a large data set that integrated survey, course-embedded, and institutional sources of data; while French and Italian did this through focused and deep analysis of small sets of students observed over time in multiple classes.
The Economics department ran what was essentially a natural experiment – with separate sections of their foundational micro- and macro-economics courses, they designed two delivery mechanisms: one focusing on a traditional blend of lecture and discussion sections and another that integrated longer lectures with an in-person drop in economics lab. The latter arrangement granted students more flexibility and agency in terms of when and how they interacted with the teaching staff. Together with student performance data in the classes themselves, the department also integrated data about students’ sociodemographic backgrounds, lab attendance, and general study habits. The amount of data they merged together – much of it from an original survey tool and institutional data sources – was truly impressive. Their findings indicate that the new, alternative arrangement yields discernible benefits for students and also serves as a more cost-effective method of delivering coursework for department personnel. With the data in-hand, they plan to conduct follow-on analyses about how their new approach might benefit certain types of students, such as First Generation and URM.
French and Italian conducted an assessment project that seemed like it involved more than half their faculty in its administration, and cut across multiple levels of their curriculum, from mid-level competency courses to upper-level seminars in special topics. The two sides of the department sat down and constructed separate rubrics that could be generalized across courses. This allowed them to sample and assess student work from several stages of a student’s career in their major. In particular, they paid attention to over-time growth trajectories in student learning as well as variance in student scores at any one point in time. With a common assessment language employed across the curriculum, they were able to answer questions like “Are our students learning better on the dimension of ‘critical analysis’ or the dimension of ‘expression in Italian’?” as well as “Are our students all improving in the same ways over time or are some of them outpacing the others?” Their faculty assessment committees met together to discuss the results, ensured they agreed on their interpretation, and then made recommendations for curriculum improvement. With such detailed, rich data in-hand, the department can pinpoint the precise areas they need to tinker with. For example, the French report concludes by suggesting that instructors adopt a specific fix at the 300 level – namely, the integration of secondary literature in students’ critical writing assignments – so that their final projects in the capstone course will be better supported earlier in their careers.