As part on the ongoing accreditation process, departments across Knox have been undergoing rigorous assessments and the Psychology Department is no exception, having recently undergone such an assessment by two outside advisors, as well as a several self-examinations conducted by the department itself.
Chair of Psychology Tim Kasser said of the process, “Going into it I was dubious of the self-study process and whether or not it was worth the time and effort it would take. It took a lot, but we learned some things that are worthwhile that we would not have learned otherwise.”
The first part of the process was a collection of data. This included looking at enrollment numbers and sending out surveys to recent psychology graduates, along with looking at how Knox’s department compares to other ACM institutions. These results were combined with the findings of the outside advisors to generate recommendations on what to improve on.
A few of the recommended changes have been put into place already. Students taking psychology courses might have noticed that their syllabi now include how the course fulfills the department’s learning goals. Perhaps more importantly, over-enrollment has been singled out as a recurring problem, so class sizes have been made noticeably smaller this term in Group A and Group B 200-level courses. Intro to Psychology has not changed in enrollment and remains in the high 40s but the 200-level courses will be reduced to enrollment numbers in the 30s rather than the high 40s.
There are also three new learning goals that the department will discuss and eventually decide whether or not to add. The first would ensure that all psychology majors took courses that would lead them to develop empathy, the second would be focused on research ethics and the third would be about understanding diversity. All of these would be psychology specific, so that the diversity goal would be differently oriented than the general diversity key competency already required of all students, for example.
Courses in all of these areas already exist and most majors will receive solid groundings in some if not all of these areas. The real question is whether or not the tradeoffs in terms of lost flexibility, student choice and departmental resources are worth it to ensure every major does.
There will also be continued focus on already-existent learning goals, in particular a focus on ensuring all students have a solid understanding of the scientific method as it applies to psychological research. Kasser feels this is critical so that students are able to properly conduct the senior research required of all psychology majors.
Asked what one thing he would like to change about the department, Kasser did not hesitate to respond.
“We need another tenure-track faculty member” he said, pointing out that that every faculty member of the department teaches above the mean number of credits per term. Given the current state of the college’s deficit, though, he admitted, “It would really surprise me.”
Was the self-assessment worth the time and effort it required? Kasser said, “I’m still not sure. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we learned things.”