If the purpose of assessment is to sustain and strengthen student learning, then the College needs to be intentional in determining what, where, and how we will assess. Assessment, like any other worthwhile institutional activity, requires resources of time, energy, and money. And like any other form of inquiry, it leads us to ask many more questions (and often, many more interesting and complicated questions) than we can feasibly seek to answer. Consequently, we have established three criteria for choosing among assessment activities. St. Olaf aspires to an assessment program that is:
- Mission-driven. At the institutional level, our inquiry priorities should be consistent with (and therefore help to advance) our distinctive mission as a liberal arts college of the Church that fosters a global perspective. At the program level, assessment priorities should be governed by explicit or implicit statements of mission and purpose. Even at the classroom level, assessment activities should be guided by intended learning outcomes or course objectives.
- Meaningful. A meaningful program of inquiry in support of student learning must be designed to:
Inform decision-making about a specific program or educational activity -- a course, a major, a concentration, a General Education requirement, an off-campus or experiential learning program
Satisfy genuine intellectual curiosity on the part of those responsible for delivering the program and/or designing and carrying out the inquiry
Promote faculty development bystrengthening faculty capacity for disciplined inquiry into teaching and learning
Improve student learning, not simply through analyzing and applying the results of the inquiry, but ideally through the process of conducting it. In other words, wherever possible, assessment should be inherently and simultaneously educational for the students whose learning is being assessed.
- Manageable. As the College has sought to learn from its peers, it has become clear to us that we are not alone in our struggles to implement and sustain assessment. The best advice we have received as we have thought together about how to move forward is "Start small and grow." Our current approach to inquiry in support of student learning is deliberately selective in its objectives; we want to choose a few assessment themes (with our choices directly related to our mission), concentrate our efforts, and build on what we learn - not just about the questions we are investigating but about the very process of assessment itself. A manageable assessment program is realistic about the resources available for the design, administration, and data analysis involved in high-quality inquiry, and about the time that is needed to disseminate, discuss, and apply the results to decisions about pedagogy and programs.