How well do professors at Castleton State College prepare students for life in the working world?It’s a question that professors and administrators struggle with, and the professors even more so when their respective department is expected to update its program assessment plan every five years.
But on April 10, a national expert on program assessment is coming to try to take some of the pain and ambiguity out of the process – with the ultimate goal of making sure students are learning what the school wants them to in preparation for jobs or graduate school when they leave.
Barbara Walvoord, a retired English professor at the University of Notre Dame who now speaks around the country on assessment, will be spending the day meeting with professors and administrators pitching basic, sensible ways for departments to assess how well they are teaching and how well students are learning.
“It’s really hard to measure how students learn difficult things like critical thinking,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.
Measures can include surveys and tests, but Walvoord said class work – studied aggregately — is what she favors best to determine how students are learning what the college wants them to.
“Assessment is really a way to look at what the student learns as a result of the students’ own efforts and the college’s,” she said. “It’s really important to make clear to students that assessment is not a way for students to register satisfaction or dissatisfaction with an individual professor.
“It’s more global. It’s about how the college and students are working together to achieve the learning everyone wants and to determine how we can make it better.”
She also stressed that assessment plans must be useful, and not updated to simply fulfill accreditation mandates.
Walvoord is coming to Castleton at the request of the faculty Program Assessment Committee, chaired by English Professor Andrew Alexander.
Alexander said he hopes her visit will help professors “tweak their teaching” to benefit students.
“Objectives for major areas of study become more focused and useful,
and the kinds of things faculty do in classes shift to help the students meet those objectives and standards more fully,” he said.
Walvoord will be giving a talk called “Making departmental assessment
simple, sustainable, and useful” during N-period on April 10 in
Herrick Auditorium. She will likely be available for individual sessions with faculty and departments to address specifics of their assessment plans throughout the rest of the day, Alexander said.
“I think everyone who meets with her is going to be blown away by how helpful she is,” Alexander said.