Student Achievement Assessment Committee
American Culture Studies
Below is the report from the American Culture Studies Program of our student learning assessment outcomes for the academic year 2000-2001. This is the first year that we have had our program’s learning assessment program in place. Although it is difficult to draw general conclusions, due to the small number of graduating undergraduate majors from which we drew our information and to the fact that we lack a baseline of previous year’s assessments, we are at least providing a starting point and a baseline for future assessment reports.
ACS Learning Outcomes
1. Students will develop skills for interdisciplinary thinking, drawing on holistic,
critical and connective models of analysis.
2. Students will develop oral and written communications skills appropriate to their level of education.
3. Students will acquire understanding of the cultural contexts of human expression and behavior.
4. Students will be able to appreciate the multicultural and pluralistic nature of American culture and the diversity of our national cultural heritage.
5. Students will work toward understanding the relationship between theories of culture and analysis of cultural traditions.
Assessment Measurement Activities
1. Senior ACS majors take a capstone seminar, ACS 400, that provides a culminating learning experience for all graduating ACS majors. This seminar gives an opportunity for students to draw upon and synthesize their experiences in the preceding ACS and ACS-related courses that they have taken. The seminar culminates in a senior research thesis that requires the student to draw upon the theoretical literatures of ACS and related fields in the process of reporting their field research experience. This research thesis is conducted under the guidance of a senior ACS faculty member. Students also are required to present an oral report of their senior thesis to the class at the end of the semester. This Spring semester 2001, two students were enrolled in this class.
2. Following the completion of the seminar the ACS Program Assessment Committee studied these senior theses and wrote an “internal” program report assessing the theses in terms of the program’s five learning outcomes.
3. Dr. Thomas Barden, Associate Dean for the Humanities at the University of Toledo, and former Director of the American Studies Program at that same Universify, examined these senior theses and provided an independent “external” assessment of the theses in terms of the ACS program’s five learning outcomes. This report was written without reference to the report of the internal ACS assessment committee.
4. The two graduating seniors were given an exit interview by the ACS Program Director and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in which they were asked to evaluate their undergraduate education in ACS.
Analysis of Assessments
The internal and external assessments of our student’s senior research theses in terms of the ACS Program’s five learning outcomes are attached at the end of this report. To summarize and compare the two evaluations, both were generally positive concerning the paper’s responsiveness to learning outcomes one, three, and four. These learning outcomes involve students demonstrating that they have acquired skills for interdisciplinary thinking, shown understanding of the cultural contexts of human expression and behavior, and appreciated the multicultural and pluralistic nature of American culture. In general, both sets of evaluators felt that the theses demonstrated satisfactory accomplishment of these skills.
Concerning learning outcome two, demonstrating written communication skills, our internal evaluators were somewhat more critical of our students’ writing skills than our outside evaluator. Concerning learning outcome five, utilizing theories of culture, our outside evaluator was more critical, finding one of the senior theses especially lacking in this skill.
Overall, I think it is fair to say that both sets of evaluators found these papers to be adequate, but not outstanding. And it is significant to note that our outside evaluator remarks in his concluding paragraph that both papers seem to suffer from “insufficient guidance from faculty advisors,” which he felt resulted in a less sophisticated level of interpretation in both students’ work. There is a clear theme here of a lack of theoretical sophistication in these theses, although this is balanced by a recognition that the papers show a range of “acceptable” to “good” outcomes in terms of the students’ reasoning and communication skills.
The exit interviews conducted with our two graduating seniors were informative, although in retrospect, we can see that we did not organize them in a way to make the best use of them as an assessment tool. The interviews were informal, and resulted in several interesting anecdotal comments about particular classes, professors, etc. However, these interviews, while informative and somewhat useful, failed to provide us systematic information that will enable us to build a sense from year to year of how the program is progressing. For the exit interviews to be a useful assessment device, we will have to develop a more systematic interview strategy that will ensure some uniformity, and thus repetitively in the interview experience from year to year.
Feedback Activities: Taking Action Based on Assessment Findings
The assessment process that we have initiated this year suggests several steps that will be considered by the ACS Executive Committee for the forthcoming 200 1-2002 academic year. Lacking baseline data from previous year’s assessment studies, Sand given the small number of students included in this study, it is difficult to draw general conclusions from this year’s assessment activities. However, our ability to confidently draw general principles from these assessment reports and to implement reforms should improve from year to year, as we gather additional increments of data. In the meantime, several activities suggest themselves, and are listed below. Some of these steps have already been implemented; others will be implemented beginning in the fall; yet other steps will need to be considered for possible implementation in the future.
1. In February 2001, we established an ACS Undergraduate Committee, with responsibility for assisting Jeannie Ludlow, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in organizing and conducting the undergraduate program. One important function of this committee for the next year will be to work, along with the program director, to devise additional methods for embedding the program’s learning assessment goals in all courses taught in ACS, and enhancing the achievement of these goals in the program.
2. Several steps are being taken to standardize course material and improve presentation in both of our general education courses (ACS 200 and 250), which are required for the ACS major. Training for ACS graduate student instructors, who constitute the majority of instructors for these classes, is being intensified. First-semester graduate students in ACS will no longer serve as instructors of record in these classes; rather, they will serve an apprenticeship during the fall semester of their initial year in the graduate program with a senior faculty member teaching one of these courses. Beginning in the 2001-2002 academic year, all joint-appointment ACS faculty members will be teaching at least one section of ACS 250 each year. The ACS 200 course has been reorganized into several sections of large (60 students) lecture/small discussion group format led by Kelly Morgan, the ACS Instructor, utilizing our first-semester ACS MA students as discussion group leaders.
3. The Undergraduate Committee, along with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, will work to increase the amount of student writing across the undergraduate curriculum, and to enhance its usefulness in improving students’ ability to analyze arguments and communicate effectively.
4. Following the suggestion of our external assessment evaluator, the Undergraduate Committee and the Director of Undergraduate Studies will work to improve the guidance given to students writing their senior research papers
5. During the 2001-2002 academic year, the Undergraduate Committee and the Director of Undergraduate Studies will explore the possibility of accumulating and assessing a portfolio of work for our graduating seniors and making this part of our ACS assessment activities.
This year’s assessment program is a but a first step in the development of a long- range self-correcting assessment feedback system, with assessment leading to curricular and instructional reforms, which themselves become subject to assessment, leading to further reforms, etc. We are confident that this process will lead to the implementation of decisive positive changes in the ACS undergraduate program that will be consistent with the general thrust of the University’s larger commitment to make BGSU a premier learning community.
While this year’s assessment activities have been focused at the undergraduate level, we are aware of the need to initiate assessment at the graduate level as well. Indeed, this is especially important for the ACS Program, which functions primarily at the graduate instructional level. We have already drawn up an initial graduate-level assessment program, which was submitted to the Student Achievement Assessment Committee in summer 2000. For the time being, we have held the implementation of this plan in abeyance, pending the reorganization of the ACS Ph.D. program, which is currently underway following the final report in May 2001 of the Dean’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Reorganization of the ACS Ph.D. Program.
The reorganization of the American Culture Studies Ph.D. program will be implemented over the next academic year, with the first class of students to enter the reorganized program arriving in the fall 2002 semester. At that point, we plan to implement a full graduate-level assessment program, one that will, in all likelihood, reflect the concerns and interests of the representatives of the new ACS governance structure for the reorganized graduate program.