Achieving Transparency & Closing the Loop
The only four-year institution within a hundred-mile radius, CSU Bakersfield serves a low-income community where many students are the first in their family to attend college. Taskstream helped the university modernize its decentralized paper-based assessment program, and start using assessment results to jump-start continuous improvement.
For years, each program at CSU Bakersfield prepared assessment reports on paper, with no standard format and no clear guidelines. Reporting was “spotty” and sometimes “very convoluted.”
“Faculty who took assessment seriously ended up doing too much work,” said Dr. Laura Hecht, Assistant Vice President for Institutional Research, Planning and Assessment. Documentation was sometimes thorough but not on target. “Some of the reports were really scholarly treatises.”
A 2009 visit by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges underlined the need for change.
“Regarding the Student Learning theme, the team found that there is much more work to be done…. [P]rocesses for assessing student learning and the disaggregation of data (especially as related to graduation/retention) are at the ’emerging’ stage of development.”
Professor Andreas Gebauer, faculty assessment coordinator and chair of the chemistry department, worked with Dr. Hecht to involve the faculty and move the assessment initiative forward. After attending WASC’s Assessment Leadership Academy, he designed and, together with Dr. Hecht, led the Summer Assessment Institute in 2010.
Faculty representatives from each major program and General Education area, as well as staff from student support and co-curricular programs, clarified program-level student learning outcomes and designed assessment plans. Three other assessment events were held throughout the academic year, in which participants presented assessment findings and action plans. “It was a candid environment where faculty felt protected,” said Dr. Gebauer. “It was acceptable to admit you’d made mistakes. Nobody laughed.”
“There were different levels of understanding among the faculty,” said Dr. Hecht. “Some faculty thought grading was assessment. Our job was to help them build their assessment expertise without adding to their workload.”
Recognizing the benefits of a technology solution to organize and analyze assessment data across the campus, CSU Bakersfield reviewed several products and decided on Taskstream.
“Your team was very well organized,” said Dr. Hecht. “It was very easy for faculty to learn the system without going to a bunch of classes. We liked the flexibility and transparency of the system. For instance, it was easy to create and edit templates for our annual report. And the price was good.”
To make this easier, Drs. Hecht and Gebauer entered all the university’s Student Learning Outcomes into Taskstream before asking faculty to use the system. “It was a huge job,” said Dr. Hecht. “But we thought if they saw something of themselves there, they could just start clicking.”
“The faculty generally really like Taskstream,” said Dr. Hecht. “Those who had done paper-based assessment appreciated how it streamlined the process.”
“There are no secrets on campus anymore,” said Dr. Gebauer. “In the past, faculty might say, ‘Why did that department get more funding? The dean must like them better.’ Now there’s no reason to believe that nonsense. You can see what your colleagues are reporting, and learn from them. Transparency helps decrease nervousness.”
Closing the Loop
Putting its assessment plan to practical use, the university began using its findings to implement initiatives like these:
- Most students in American History classes were found to be unable to respond effectively to analytical questions. Faculty added an in-class tutorial, and acceptable responses rose to 86%.
- Assessments showed students had trouble finding and citing appropriate sources for research papers. Faculty reinstated instruction by a librarian.
- Business administration faculty tested students’ interpretation of data, and found that students in traditional classrooms outperformed those in computer labs. Faculty added “hands off the computers” discussion to lab sessions.
In 2011, WASC returned to CSU Bakersfield for an Educational Effectiveness Review. “They were very pleased with the structures we set up, and that we were using assessment results to drive our action plans,” said Dr. Hecht.