Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Making Assessment Everyone's Business: The Use of Dialogue in Improving Teaching and Learning

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Making Assessment Everyone's Business: The Use of Dialogue in Improving Teaching and Learning

Article excerpt


There is little doubt that outcomes assessment has become the cornerstone of the accreditation process. Regional accreditation bodies regard outcomes assessment as vital to measuring the effectiveness of institutions of higher education and require institutions to develop outcomes assessment plans. In the current climate there are faculty and administrators who wholly support assessment and those who are vehemently opposed, with many falling somewhere in between these positions and cautiously observing the movement towards assessment.1 In spite of the opposition and caution, assessment is a reality and part of the life of the academy. This is evident as external bodies, including the federal government, routinely ask to what degree students reach the goals of an established curriculum.

Our goal in the conduct of this study was to see if opportunities existed to find constructive ways to engage assessment beyond the positions of those who are opposed or cautious about assessment. We designed the study so that faculty could experience and explore the challenges of the outcomes assessment and its effect on teaching and learning in our classes and ultimately our department.

We brought together five faculty in our Department of Communication Media to seek ways to be proactive in addressing the challenges imposed by outcomes assessment. During the Fall 2007 semester, these five faculty experimented with the development of assessment outcomes for one assignment in one of their courses. The courses ranged from introductory communication theory to advanced communication theory courses and included two courses in film production. Each faculty member selected one assignment and developed a rubric according to guiding principles that would assess what students learned. The rubric served as a guide to evaluate the students' work. In the study, rubrics served as an instrument to assist the faculty in measuring student work as clearly and consistently as possible by defining the criteria to judge and measure performance. Although this was not a study in rubrics, we found them helpful as a means to organize and interpret data gathered from observations of student learning.

The faculty met several times throughout the semester and participated in discussions about rubrics, teaching, learning, and the assessment process. After the assignments were completed, the faculty held a discussion about the effectiveness of all aspects of the project. This study provided the faculty with an opportunity to reflect and learn about ways to approach the assessment challenge.

In completing the study we certainly became aware of the challenges of assessment and soon discovered the opportunities it provided for a group of scholars. We recognized that the strengths of the assessment process lay in the kind of critical inquiry and thoughtful self-reflection we were able to engage in as a result of our discussions.

The remainder of this article will be organized as follows: first, we introduce a communication perspective for studying assessment; second, we give a detailed overview of the various components of the study; next, we discuss our findings and connect them to a systemic approach for looking at assessment; finally, we conclude by emphasizing the importance of synthesizing assessment, dialogue, and self-reflection.


Our work is grounded in what has been called the communication perspective (Pearce, 1989). Briefly, the communication perspective contends that communication is more than a simple process to express our inner thoughts or a way of describing objects and events in the world. Instead it recognizes communication as the primary social process--meaning, it is the way that we create, sustain, and change our understanding of all things. We come to know things in our world through the process of communication; this includes persons, relations, and institutions. …

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