BGSU contributes to AAC&U initiative

BOWLING GREEN, O.—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 Bowling Green State University 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, or scoring tools, for the learning outcomes.

“There aren’t standardized tests for many of the essential outcomes of an undergraduate education,” said Dr. Mark Gromko, BGSU 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.”

“All students want to succeed, and thus they need to know what standards their work must meet in order to achieve their academic goals,” added to Dr. Milton Hakel, Ohio Eminent Scholar in psychology at BGSU. 

By helping to make grading guidelines more consistent nationwide, “the VALUE project directly addresses a primary concern of many students—variation of grading standards among instructors,” according to Dr. Stephen Langendorfer, an associate professor of kinesiology and director of BGSU’s general education program.

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.

“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 scoring tools 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.

To date, the project has published the first draft of scoring tools for critical thinking, written communication and integrative learning, and is seeking feedback and results from their use.

Several BGSU faculty members have been experimenting with them, and have reported good results so far, Langendorfer said.

Acknowledging the strong legacy left by President Sidney Ribeau, Cartwright said, “His accomplishments here over the past 13 years helped to create opportunities and position the University for even greater success in the future.”

Last year, Ribeau charged a campuswide group with drafting a 10-year strategic plan, “a unified plan to align all areas of the University and allow us to respond to changing conditions, including the new expectations of Ohio’s chancellor and governor,” Cartwright described.

That team has reviewed the many planning documents created over the past few years and identified the major themes and ideas. “They have completed important background work and built a platform for all of us to use as we create the new plan. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean all of you in the BGSU community,” Cartwright said.

The sessions scheduled for Sept. 8-12 will allow broader input from the campus community. A video of a “dry run” of one of these sessions is available on the Charting Our Future Web site (http://www.bgsu.edu/strategicplanning/)

In addition, beginning today (Aug. 25), more background information will be sent by email for nine days, each day addressing a different topic. “After nine days we will all be even better prepared for the collaborative discussions,” which will encompass the community’s debate on the University’s vision, mission, values and overarching goals, Cartwright said.

“We will look carefully at your input, consult with appropriate groups and, shortly after the conclusion of all the discussions, I will issue a statement about the results of our work,” she said.

“We’re in a leadership transition and people want to know where we’re going,” she said. “And we need to inform the presidential search process—finding the best possible leadership match with our vision, mission and values is the key to a successful search. This is our opportunity to influence the process.”

Seizing opportunity

“We’ve all heard the saying ‘opportunity only knocks once,’” Cartwright said. “But I will warn you that it has been my experience that, many times, opportunity doesn’t even knock at all. We have to be prepared to open the door, track it down and maybe even tackle it.

“This is our opportunity.”

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(Posted November 18, 2008 )