As the deadline to report back to the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) slowly approaches, administrators and faculty are beginning to ask the “meaningful questions” to self-assess and fulfill the HLC recommendations.
The HLC, a commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, is charged with the evaluation and accreditation of member institutions, Knox included. An evaluation team visited campus in November 2009 and a report is due back to the HLC in April 2013.
Director of Academic Assessment Leah Adams-Curtis, who is charged with providing guidance and support throughout the process of assessment, said that to go through this process in a meaningful way entails first asking the “meaningful questions.”
“There really is a very strong vision for what a Knox graduate should look like. And it’s a very positive vision,” Adams-Curtis said. “The college expects great things of its graduates, and given that, the next question that we should be asking is ‘How do we ensure our students who graduate have the skills and abilities to meet those lofty goals?’”
Most of the initial work now underway to fulfill the HLC recommendations is being done at a departmental level. Each department is required to have goals for its students and to develop data and “plans for change based on that data,” according to Adams-Curtis.
She said the next step for departments is to look at their goals and see if they are adequately addressed in the courses required for the major.
Adams-Curtis said the report also requires that the college develop a way to look at its broader academic goals, such as the foundation requirements.
“We ask students to take a course in math and natural sciences. Why do we ask them to do that? What is the point of that particular requirement? Those conversations are very important in terms of determining whether students are meeting the goals that we’ve set for them,” Adams-Curtis said.
Associate Dean of the College Lori Haslem chairs the Assessment Advisory Group, a committee of faculty meant to coordinate the efforts toward assessment.
“It’s important that it’s a faculty body so that we maintain faculty ownership of this process of assessment, with an eye toward accreditation,” Haslem said.
Haslem said that departmental self-assessment should be a continuous process that always reinforces itself.
“It’s always feeding back into decisions,” Haslem said. “The model that I like to think of is the way that all faculty teach our classes: we never really teach them the same way twice.”
Adams-Curtis said there is always some effort needed to get faculty fully behind the effort for assessment, but most often she is asked how to make the process meaningful to the college.
“Frequently I hear the question, ‘Since we have to do this, how do we do it in a way that is really useful to us? What can we do that makes what we do actually inform our teaching rather than fill in a form?’” Adams-Curtis said.
Note: The coming issues of The Knox Student will include a look at what each department is doing to fulfill the HLC recommendations.