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Work begins to access goals and learning objectives of Appalachian’s General Education curriculum

WAC_t.jpgBOONE—Appalachian State University’s new General Education curriculum was implemented in fall 2009. The next step is to begin accessing how the goals and learning objectives of the new curriculum are being met.

Nearly 30 faculty members from a variety of academic disciplines on campus attended a General Education assessment workshop recently to work together in developing assessment tools and that will be used across campus to measure student learning within their General Education component.

Dr. Barbara Walvoord.jpg
Dr. Barbara Walvoord, professor emerita from the University of Notre Dame, led a workshop recently on accessing the goals and learning objectives of Appalachian State University’s General Education curriculum. Walvoord says learning assessment benefits faculty as well as students. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)

Georgia Rhoades and members of Writing Across the Curriculum Program.jpgGeorgia Rhoades and members of Appalachian State University’s Writing Across the Curriculum Program discuss various ways to assess student writing during a workshop on accessing the goals and learning objectives of Appalachian’s General Education curriculum. (Appalachian photo by University Photographer Marie Freeman)

The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Barbara Walvoord, professor emerita from the University of Notre Dame and author of several texts related to assessment, including “Assessment Clear and Simple” and “Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment,” both published by Jossey-Bass.

“We have created a new curriculum and now we will develop a process for continuing improvement of the curriculum,” said David Haney, vice provost for undergraduate education. “An ongoing assessment of the General Education curriculum will improve student learning.”

“You have created a structure for interdisciplinary, theme-based, perspective-based conversation and collaboration among faculty toward student learning,” Walvoord said of Appalachian’s approach to general education. “That’s what saves your program from being a menu collection of courses students have to take with no particular connection.”

Four educational goals are emphasized in the General Education program: (1) Thinking Critically and Creatively, (2) Communicating Effectively, (3) Making Local to Global Connections, and (4) Understanding Responsibilities of Community Membership. Each goal has specific student learning outcomes developed by the General Education Task Force who represented faculty, administrators, program directors and students from across campus.

Samples of student work, such as papers and other academic materials, will be collected each semester for review. One goal of the General Education assessment plan is to have groups of faculty reviewers consider these student materials as a basis for assessing the degree to which the General Education learning outcomes have been met.

“You are building an assessment system that begins by looking at student work, and that’s a very smart and very organic way to go about it,” Walvoord said.

“One important inspiration I gathered from the workshop is that we are in the process of creating a faculty-driven counter culture of assessment,” said Elaine Gray, General Education assessment coordinator. “This is absolutely key to our process. Faculty are already doing assessment every day, we are just organizing efficient and meaningful methods to capture what faculty do best.”

Among the faculty who participated in the workshop was English professor Georgia Rhoades, who directs the university’s Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Program.

“The WAC Program has been testing rubrics for reflective writing and documentation that were created last spring by Sherry Alusow Hart and Dennis Bohr of our program. We’re now writing rubrics for the outcome designated by General Education for introductory courses this year,” Rhoades said.

Walvoord said learning assessment benefits faculty as well as students. “We (faculty) love to nurture student learning, and the best faculty always want to get better at it.”