Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Kendra and Shirlee invite you to help figure something out!

Kendra Cawley is PCC's dean of instructional support and Shirlee Geiger is current chair of the faculty learning assessment council

Here is a question you might find interesting:

Should all PCC SACs be responsible for assessing for all PCC core outcomes?

Background for the question
Last fall, PCC SACs were asked to create 2 year plans for program assessment. Lower Division Collegiate SACs were asked to focus on the core outcomes, and assess for communication and one other (of their choosing.) Career Technical SACs were asked to pick their "biggest" degree or certificate, map the degree/cert outcomes to the core outcomes and then assess their students for the degree/cert outcomes. 93% of all SACs filed their two-year assessment plans in time to get feedback from the peer review session held in November. 40 faculty from across the district met to talk over the plans they had been assigned to read, in teams that spanned all our common divides -- LDC and CTE, full time and adjunct, big campus and smaller campus.

In that session, as at other points in the process this past year, faculty asked the question:
do all SACs have to assess for all core outcomes?

One reason for answering that question with a resounding "Yes!" is that the core outcomes are what we all have in common - they are what define our shared purpose and our ultimate promise to students, the community, and the tax payers who have supported us so generously by passing our bond proposals.

One reason for answering with a resounding "No!" is that the very point of locating program assessment in the SACs is the firm conviction of members of the Learning Assessment Council that assessment activities must be meaningful -- and the only hope for assessments to be meaningful is that they be created by faculty, based on what we want to know. If a given SAC doesn't see itself as teaching to a particular core outcome, assessing for it would just be silly and a waste of everyone's time.

Or maybe your answer isn’t so resounding, but conditional, or situational, or even uncertain. Tell us why.

You will have a chance to hear more about this issue at the 3rd Annual Assessment Circus, coming to Cascade Campus on May 20th, 9 SM to noon. Anyone who pre-registers will be sent a follow up survey to record their preference. (A later follow-up will go to all faculty, but the results of the "informed" group will be tallied separately.) You can also post your ideas here, by using the comments feature....

We hope to see you there!

Shirlee and Kendra


  1. This is my view of this question from perhaps another angle. When we assess our students, are we assessing outcomes they have met specifically from our individual courses and programs or are we assessing what they’ve gained as students of PCC as a whole? In my opinion, the answer must be the latter. For example, as a CTE instructor, I may not be implementing large assignments designed to meet the cultural competency goal, but this does not mean that I shouldn’t do my best to nurture and help develop and even assess the knowledge and abilities students have learned in their other PCC classes. Likewise, I would logically expect that my colleagues in other departments will nurture professional competency skills such as effective teamwork and attention to detail that we work so hard to teach in our CTE classes. We work as a team and our core outcomes goals are achieved in a holistic way. I believe we need to view our assessment strategies and interpretations the same way.

  2. Melinda Hutson, full-time instructor, Sylvania, Geology/General Science SAC

    I read your assessment blog and I came away with “uncertain” regarding a SAC assessment all of PCC’s core outcomes. I'm also not connected enough to add a comment to the blog. So I thought I'd offer you my opinion/confusion. Let me give you an example:

    Cultural Awareness

    Use an understanding of the variations in human culture, perspectives and forms of expression to constructively address issues that arise out of cultural differences in the workplace and community

    Okay, so I want to know how this applies to Geology. I click on the link to expand the description and get

    Analyze Cultural Perspective

    * Identify their own cultural assumptions and those of others.
    * Identify and acknowledge cultural perspectives and values different from their own.
    * Identify and analyze biased behavior, practices and language.
    * Apply appropriate techniques for exploring assumptions and expressing viewpoints.

    Apply Knowledge of Cultural and Historical Context

    * Analyze the relationships of individuals and cultures to the history of events and ideas.
    * Analyze how various ethical systems, world views, assumptions about the self, and historical contexts impact individual and cultural relationships.
    * Engage in, and/or appreciate different forms of creative and artistic expression, connecting personal responses to broader contexts.

  3. cont.
    At this point, I realize that in many many ways, our classes do include “cultural awareness”. One of these is during the discussion of the theory of plate tectonics, which is the fundamental guiding theory in our field. When initially proposed as “continental drift”, it was rejected in part because of cultural biases—the geologists were educated and worked mainly in North America and Europe. The bulk of the supporting data was in South America and Africa. The whole area of climate change and pollution (which goes through several of our classes) has “cultural awareness” components. But there are also numerous smaller connections that we make between culture and history and geology. I’m currently teaching G208 (Volcanoes). One of the leading causes of fatalities associated with volcanic eruptions is FAMINE (which is generally a suprise to students). When talking about Volcanoes and Climate, I bring up Santorini (probably the source of the legend of Atlantis), Tambora (erupted in 1815, caused “the year without summer" in 1816) which produced huge lightning storms and a miserable vacation for Mary Shelley (leading to Frankenstein) and Lord Byron (leading to the poem “Darkness”). Krakatau in 1883 was followed by a year with exceptionally red skies that inspired numerous paintings including those by Ashcroft and the background in the Scream by Edvard Munch. More importantly, volcanic eruptions cause global cooling for several years following an eruption, and some scientists have proposed that some of the current global warming may or may not be due to a lack of big volcanic eruptions in recent time, so this gets into bigger political issues.

    However, none of this is the primary focus of the class, which is to learn about the different types of volcanoes, why there are different types of volcanoes, and volcanic hazards. And these are important topics, as we are living on volcanic terrain and there are hazards about which students should be aware. So “cultural awareness” is not something I would normally specifically assess in this class (except possibly a question on an exam about climate effects, or a class discussion), even though it is a constant thread throughout. Creating a specific assessment vehicle for this outcome that can be used by all of the faculty across the SAC who teach G208 becomes “additional work”, which either goes on top of a full load, or replaces some component of the course.

    I can think of similar numerous examples in many other G/GS classes, but again, they are not specifically assessed via a SAC-wide vehicle during a typical term. So I am torn by your question. I do think that all of our SACs should have components of all of PCC’s core outcomes in their curricula, but I’m not sure that all SACs should be creating vehicles to assess each and every core outcome. I know that individual instructors in our SAC do include various personalized aspects of all the core outcomes, and we do have individualized assessments (including group discussions, papers, presentations) that assess various outcomes at various times. It is the big "have everyone do something we can measure and report on" sort of assessment vehicles that become problematic for some of the core outcomes. We can do it, but I suspect that it will involve additional work.