Blog: Idea Exchange

Reflections from AALHE 2017: Refreshed, Refocused & Ready for New Assessment Challenges

Patrick Barlow July 5, 2017

As an Assessment Coordinator at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, I’ve found the work is often a solitary task. The workload ebbs and flows on a somewhat predictable schedule. I long for a chance to re-energize my thinking, reconnect with the basic foundations of the work, and seek out new professional connections to break that feeling of isolation.

The recent AALHE 2017 conference in Louisville provided the perfect forum to fulfill these needs. Across the two days of sessions, featured speakers, and networking events, three main themes emerged for me to take home and incorporate into my work.

Theme 1: What We Assess

The plenary talks by Randy Bass (Assessment for the New Learning Ecosystem: Innovation, Integration and Integrity) and Jose Bowen (Assessment as Strategy: You are What You Measure) painted a picture of a changing landscape in higher education beyond assessment of student learning. It led me to consider if the skills we typically assess are fully aligned with the ancillary thinking and cultural skills also needed by our students in the future.

Several times, the Gallup Purdue Index was mentioned as a model for looking at some of the outcomes we most hope for in our students as a measure of their personal and professional success related to their learning. The key factors of close connections to faculty mentors who excited students about learning, internships that bridged the classroom to the workplace, and projects lasting at least a semester to complete were noted as critical factors in reporting higher levels of well-being after college.

Theme 2: How We Assess

Beyond what to assess, many institutions struggle with how to go about it best. In this light, several AALHE sessions on critical thinking and diversity (Researching Critical Thinking Assessment in a Multinational Higher Education System, Integrating Multiple Measures to Assess Students’ Critical Thinking and Written Communication Abilities and Assessing & Promoting Diversity as a Learning Outcome) caught my attention. The main takeaways on critical thinking assessment included these ideas: (1) make use of multiple tools such as direct measures and indirect results (survey results or focus groups), (2) supplement with additional standardized tools like ETS Heighten test, (3) review the quality of the measures being used, and (4) pay attention to the timing and delivery of the assessments.

The session on diversity described the close inspection of the writing prompts used to assess a campus-wide diversity outcome. The results indicated that the nature of the prompt led to different patterns of performance on the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence VALUE rubric. This might have affected the interpretation of how well the outcome was being achieved. It was interesting to see this particular campus also used focus groups and the Global Perspectives Inventory to supply additional information—instilling the need to look carefully at the performance of the assessment tools as you combine data from different courses across a campus.

Theme 3: That We Assess

As the landscape continues to evolve and, in turn, the tools needed to operate within it, I look forward to what the future will bring. As for where we are right now in that landscape, those of us in assessment have access to the tools we need to meet the calls for accountability currently knocking at our door. I left AALHE bolstered by the clear belief that we’re also well-poised right now to gauge our provisions of the skills and dispositions needed in the future portrayed by the plenary session speakers.

Last but certainly not least, the networking dinners at AALHE offered great opportunities to meet new colleagues and catch up with acquaintances. Just the social exposure I wanted! I was able to break out of some of that isolation and establish new connections to help learn and share ideas. I’d encourage any person involved in assessment work to seek out this conference to aid their work.

[Editor’s note: The next AALHE conference takes place June 4-6, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Keep your eyes peeled to http://www.aalhe.org/ for more information.]