Academic journal article Peer Review

Assessing Signature Work

Academic journal article Peer Review

Assessing Signature Work

Article excerpt

The complexity and varied outcomes associated with signature experiences have presented many assessment challenges for participating institutions in the LEAP Challenge: Engaging in Capstones and Signature Work consortium, led by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). Each college and university evaluated outcomes by developing customized approaches that were designed for both the type of experience and the specific institutional mission or culture. Higher education's emphasis on signature work is a recent development, and most of the consortium schools believe their institution has yet to make significant progress in assessing such work. In this article, we will examine some of the early efforts to assess signature work with a particular focus on practices used at individual colleges to assess students' reflections, as well as student and institutional preparedness for signature work. We will also discuss some of the challenges and issues faced as work on this front has moved forward.

USiNG EXiSTiNG iNSTiTUTiONAL DATA

Assessing undergraduate signature work may seem daunting at first. After all, institutions often vary in how they define and implement signature work within their curricula. These differences may lead administrators and professors to the conclusion that they must create new assessment mechanisms. Creating new assessments may be necessary, depending on the unique circumstances of each institution. However, it is often possible to assess signature work in meaningful ways using existing institutional assessment practices. In this section, we illustrate how our institutions have applied three distinct, existing assessment tools to help evaluate undergraduate signature work. In doing so, we hope that other institutions may use these examples to implement their own signature work assessment measures.

Among the institutions participating in AAC&U's capstone and signature work project, the most common assessment tool was an institutional or departmental senior survey. Some institutions also employed an alumni survey or a general survey of current students. Through these assessment mechanisms, students self-report learning outcomes or rate their preparedness for signature work. Institutional research offices often administer senior surveys to measure a variety of outcomes within the curriculum, cocurriculum, or other aspects of campus life.

There are several benefits associated with the use of a senior survey. First, some institutions require students to complete a survey before graduation, thus ensuring a high response rate and robust data across academic disciplines. Second, given that many institutions already have a plan in place to administer a senior survey, adding targeted questions regarding signature work to an existing survey requires a modest amount ofwork on the part of administrators, faculty, and students.

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is another survey assessment option available to many institutions. NSSE already includes several questions that can measure involvement in signature work and high-impact educational practices, depending on how signature work is defined at a given institution. There are several benefits of employing NSSE data in the assessment of signature work. First, NSSE includes questions regarding capstone courses and other high-impact practices that may constitute signature work. Given the breadth of NSSE questions, administrators and faculty can dig deep into NSSE data to better understand how signature work influences reflective and integrated learning, faculty-student interactions, student perceptions of their institution, and other important indicators. Second, NSSE provides comparative summary data for peer institutions. While these data may be somewhat basic in their scope, they nevertheless provide insight as to whether one's home institution is excelling or falling behind relative to other colleges and universities. …

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