BGSU contributes to AAC&U initiative

How can the value of education be measured? How can students achieve key learning outcomes? What practices can best measure student success?

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is asking those questions, and has selected BGSU to be one of 12 campuses in the nation to be part of researching the answers.

AAC&U designed the Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) initiative to define, document, assess and strengthen student achievement of essential learning outcomes important for all of today’s undergraduate students. These learning outcomes are part of another AAC&U initiative called Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).

BGSU has proposed to revise and expand its current seven University Learning Outcomes to better fit within the LEAP outcomes.

The 12 schools will assist by sharing examples of students’ work and contributing to the development of rubrics for the learning outcomes.

“There aren’t standardized tests for many of the essential outcomes of an undergraduate education,” said Dr. Mark Gromko, senior vice provost for academic programs. “What higher education has been slow to develop, however, is an alternative to standardized testing that captures the richness and complexity of student learning. The VALUE project will develop ways to collect and assess examples of rich evidence of student learning.”

Setting clear standards
“All students want to succeed, and thus they need to know what standards their work must meet in order to achieve their academic goals,” according to Dr. Milton Hakel, Ohio Eminent Scholar in psychology. “Clearly defined learning outcomes specify the characteristics or attributes that the work should show, and effective rubrics delineate the benchmarks to be used in evaluating the work.” 

The VALUE project will concentrate on identifying the most effective ways to assess student learning, relying on project-based work rather than standardized tests. In 2003, BGSU began a pilot project using electronic portfolios as one convenient way to collect and share the work products students complete as part of their general education and major program curricula. The current system is accessible through the MyBGSU Web portal. Once users log in, they can click on the “ePortfolio” link to access their accounts.

“There are three components of this approach,” Gromko said. “The first is the use of project-based work that calls upon students to synthesize and apply what they have. Second is creating a convenient way to collect and share work products. Electronic portfolios are ideal for this purpose, and BGSU is ahead of the curve in the establishment of systems to support this approach. Third is the development of valid and reliable rubrics to assess the students’ work products. The VALUE project is giving us rubrics that will have credibility with external audiences.”

AAC&U staff and the team of VALUE contributors are gathering and analyzing comprehensive rubrics (or metarubrics) for 14 learning outcomes emanating from the LEAP project: inquiry and analysis, critical thinking, creative thinking, written communication, oral communication, quantitative literacy, information literacy, teamwork, problem solving, civic knowledge and engagement—local and global, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, foundations and skills for lifelong learning, and integrative learning.

Developmental approach
So far, the project has published the first draft of metarubrics for critical thinking, written communication and integrative learning, and is seeking feedback and results from their use.
The metarubrics have a format remarkably similar to BGSU’s current assessment rubrics, which also are formulated as developmental stages, according to Dr. Stephen Langendorfer, School of Human Movement, Sport and Leisure Studies, and director of BG Perspective, BGSU’s general education program. 

Langendorfer and several other BGSU faculty members have been experimenting with the first three metarubrics. Work is progressing to provide specific feedback to Dr. Wende Morgaine of Portland State University, who is helping direct the VALUE metarubric project.

Amy Rybak, an instructor of one of the pilot First Year University Seminar (USem) sections, and Bonnie Fink, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, have worked with Langendorfer to adapt the metarubrics specifically for direct assessment of the five learning outcomes for USem.

“So far, the metarubrics appear to be working well both for the students to successfully complete their assignments and for Ms. Rybak to assess their achievement,” Langendorfer said. (To receive a copy of the draft metarubrics, email

“As developmental stages, the proposed metarubrics can serve as prescriptive and diagnostic assessment instruments that can document how students’ learning changes over their college careers,” he explained.

Another possible use the University foresees for the rubrics is the expansion of the undergraduate BG Experience. Proposed is a plan to organize and integrate the undergraduate curriculum around three key transition points: students’ first-year experience; transition into major fields of study, and completion of the college experience and moving into professional areas or graduate study (as marked by a capstone experience).

“The AAC&U metarubrics can serve as crucial, nationally recognized assessment instruments to measure how well BGSU students are progressing at each of these transition points, both individually and collectively,” Langendorfer said.

“Through devising metarubrics that can be used in different sections of the same course, different courses within a department, different departments within a university, and different universities throughout the country, the VALUE project directly addresses a primary concern of many students—variation of grading standards among instructors,” he said.

November 17, 2008