Coordinating on Glossary Terms

Just an update on the meeting yesterday with Larry.  The Goals groups are meeting and defining terms for WSU’s Strategic Goals (Core Themes).  The implication as I read it is that we need to hold off on these terms:


So in the context of the assignment Ashley shared, the language you find that elaborates on these concepts –or translates them effectively as suggested– may have to be reworked to align with efforts of the four WSU Goal groups.  Meanwhile, I am shipping AEA and NWCC&U definitions to the Goal Groups as Larry confirmed and suggested.

There remain  a number of terms and conceptual bottlenecks related to the language of assessment that will no doubt keep us busy.


Howard Grimes
Mary Wack
Muriel Oaks
Melynda Husky

Each chairs one of the four groups, in order.

Institutional Self-Assessment Rubric

This post is in support of a TLT webinar, the series is titled “Power of Rubrics
[Archive of session]
Gary Brown, Theron DesRosier, Jayme Jacobson & Nils Peterson, Washington State University

Introduction and Background on the Problem

Washington State University is in the process of responding to changes in by its accrediting body, NWCCU. The response includes the transformation of the former Center for Teaching Learning and Technology (CTLT) to the Office of Assessment and Innovation (OAI).

The University is in the process of developing its response to NWCCU’s changed standards and OAI is helping move the institutional thinking toward one that embeds assessment in ways that help faculty to think about student learning outcomes, and about the processes that programs are using to assess their work on improving outcomes.

This work builds on work of the former CTLT known to as “Harvesting Gradebook.” Previous reports will provide context on using the Harvesting Gradebook with students: AAC&U report Jan 2009 Update Fall 2009. This report links to a webinar archive that paints a picture of how to roll harvesting up, From Student Work to University Accreditation.
Using Harvesting Feedback with Academic Programs

In the previous webinar (From Student Work to University Accreditation) we described a vision for how harvesting could be used to move data from the level of an individual piece of student work up through levels of assessment and reflection to a university-level accreditation report. Presently OAI is engaged in deploying a middle level piece of this vision, the assessment of program-level self studies with an “Assessment of Assessment” rubric. The most current version of the rubric and other materials for the process are linked from grey portion of OAI website banner.

Figure 1. The process involves the academic program collecting evidence, writing a self study, and having the self study assessed with the University’s rubric (Called Guide to Assessment on the OAI website, formerly called Assessment of Assessment rubric). This image shows the process from data sources (upper left, to self study, to rubric-based assessment, to radar graph of results. This diagram represents work on the level of an academic program, a “middle tier” in the vision presented in From Student Work to University Accreditation.

Readers interested in trying the process are invited to do so at the WSU University Portfolio site for 2009-10. The Department of Rocket Science (on the site as of 12/7/09) was created as a sample. Other programs appearing on the site (beginning in January 2010) are actual WSU programs seeking formative feedback. (strikeout March 2010) Contact us if you want.

A Prezi visual of the WSU assessment calendar, provides an interactive picture of the assessment cycle and calendar and will serve as a “Dashboard” for monitoring progress.

Guide to Assessment – Rubric
Because of the wide diversity of programs in the WSU 4-campus system, a one size approach to learning outcomes assessment will not fit all. Consequently, WSU is developing a rubric to assess the self-study plans (short form and long form). Like the AAC&U VALUE project, the WSU rubric assumes that “to achieve a high-quality education for all students, valid assessment data are needed to guide planning, teaching, and improvement.”

The Guide to Assessment is the tool OAI is creating to help programs assess the quality of their student learning outcomes assessment activities. Using the Harvesting mechanism, programs will be able to gather evidence from stakeholders outside the university — a requirement of the accreditor — as well as gathering self-, peer- and OAI reviews.

Short form of the Rubric

Building a learning community online

I have been thinking about dissemination and adoption of knowledge as our organization (formerly WSU’s Center for Teaching Learning and Technology) is re-organized to become the Office of Assessment and Innovation (OAI). Our unit’s new challenge is to help the university develop a “system of learning outcomes assessment” in response to new requirements from our accrediting body, NWCCU.

We have captured a discussion about how our unit’s web presence might be changed in a series of notes and whiteboard shots attached to this blog post.

One part of our ideas for this “accreditation system” can be found in this presentation for the TLT Friday Live on harvesting feedback across multiple levels of the university.  We have a prototype of one of the middle tiers running now to test and refine the rubric.

Our system depends on OAI staff working with “Liaisons” for each College and their “Points” in each academic program, and developing skills among the Liaisons and Points so that they can provide useful feedback to programs on the assessment activities that the programs are undertaking. Because of the diversity of WSU, the specific learning outcomes assessment that programs undertake will need to vary by program. What the university seeks is “robust” assessment of student learning. Our method (links above) involves a meta-assessment of the assessment practices of the programs. For programs to understand and develop robust assessment strategies, I believe that the OAI’s, the Liaisons’, and the Contacts’ professional development needs to be a key component of the “system of assessment.” [That is, professional learning in the discipline.]

The challenge is to provide professional development in the context of a multi-campus university, with programs and learners at diverse places in their own learning.
We have advocated that learners find their community of practice and join it and work on their problem in the context of that community. However, that assumes the community of practice exists in an organized way that can be joined. Presently, the COP’s I’m aware of are loose knit collections of bloggers who have developed the skills of tracking one another. Novices would need to learn these skills as an entry requirement to their own participation. That barrier for entry/participation is probably too high for the WSU community we need to reach. I previously wrote a manifesto describing how our unit should change its web strategy. That proposal also included the concept of finding/ building the community of practice online — but it did not solve the problem of how to build that community.

In 2006, Dave Cormier proposed the idea of a “feedbook” of readings that was based on an RSS feed, rather than on traditional paper media. The book was more dynamic because it could be based on blogs or other contemporaneous sources.  In Dave’s later reflections he points to the interesting perspective that the feedbook is (can be) a collaborative effort among a community of learners.

“In addition to the freshness of the material, the multiplicity of voice and perspective and the fact that your textbook will never be out of date, one of the first things that would happen is a decentralization of the instructor. While the instructor would usually be responsible for the basic set of links…gone will be the rabbit out of a hat magic that comes from controlling the flow of knowledge. Students will actually be able to add to that flow of knowledge as their research brings up new sources of course material.”

Dave’s thoughts about multiplicity of voice and perspective seems to fit with Lave and Wenger’s Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation Cambridge U Press, 1991

John Seely Brown summarizes several of Lave and Wenger’s writings in a piece written for Xerox PARC:

“This work unfolds a rich, complex picture of what a situated view of learning needs to account for and emphasizes, in particular the social, rather than merely physical nature of situatedness…

“Next, a few clarifications are probably helpful. First, as Lave (1991) herself notes, the situation is not simply another term for the immediate, physical context. If it is to carry any significant conceptual import, it has to be explored in social and historical terms. Two people together in a room are not inevitably identically situated, and the situated constraints on practice do not simply arise in and through such isolated interactions. The people and the constraints importantly have social and historical trajectories. These also need to be understood in any situated account.

“Second, community of practice denotes a locus for understanding coherent social practice. Thus it does not necessarily align with established communities or established ideas about what communities are. Community in Lave & Wenger’s view is not, a “warmly persuasive term for an existing set of relations” (Williams, 1977). Communities can be, and often are, diffuse, fragmented, and contentious. We suspect, however, that it may be this very connotation of warm persuasiveness that has made the concept so attractive to some.

“Third, legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) is not an academic synonym for apprenticeship. Apprenticeship can offer a useful metaphor for the way people learn. In the end, however, in part because of the way apprenticeship has historically been “operationalized,” the metaphor can be seriously misleading, as LPP has occasionally been located somewhere between indentured servitude and conscription.

“As Lave and Wenger put it:
‘Legitimate peripheral participation is not itself an educational form, much less a pedagogical strategy or a teaching technique. It is an analytic viewpoint on learning, a way of understanding learning. We hope to make it clear that learning through legitimate peripheral participation takes place no matter which educational form provides a context for learning, or whether there is any intentional educational form at all. Indeed, this viewpoint makes a fundamental distinction between learning and intentional instruction.’ [1991: 40]

This quote above is one that I’m still trying to fully absorb [np]

JSB continues:

“One of the powerful implications of this view is that the best way to support learning is from the demand side rather than the supply side. That is, rather than deciding ahead of time what a learner needs to know and making this explicitly available to the exclusion of everything else, designers and instructors need to make available as much as possible of the whole rich web of practice-explicit and implicit-allowing the learner to call upon aspects of practice, latent in the periphery, as they are needed.”

“… The workplace, where our work has been concentrated, is perhaps the easiest place to design [for legitimate peripheral participation] because, despite the inevitable contradictions and conflict, it is rich with inherently authentic practice-with a social periphery that, as Orr’s (1990) or Shaiken’s (1990) work shows, can even supersede attempts to impoverish understanding. Consequently, people often learn, complex work skills despite didactic practices that are deliberately designed to deskill. Workplace designers (and managers) should be developing technology to honor that learning ability, not to circumvent it.”

Applying these ideas to OAI/WSU

In the process of becoming the OAI we are re-vamping our website and proposing that it contain several elements:

  • a branded page that provides a basic OAI presence within the university
  • an archive of the former CTLT site, with its various linked resources (many of which retain some value and the URL has some reputation in search engines)
  • a university portfolio space (a showcase)  where we assist the university in mounting is publicly viewable and assessable evidence for accreditation (the system demonstrated above)
  • an assessment workspace for collaborations on assessment activities with academic units (these collaborations may require managed authorizations)
  • a “social” space for collaboration around professional development related to the problems we are working on

It is the last space that presents interesting design challenges, an opportunity to facilitate LPP, and is the cause of this reflection.

Given that the social space will be closely linked to the OAI’s main university presence, we have a requirement that it be “professional.” Dave’s comment above about multiplicity of voice and perspective is the opportunity/concern to manage. Its possible that in a community of learners, some members (perhaps more novice ones) will make contributions at a lower level of professionalism or with less insight. The community, and the visitor, should have ways of both hearing, and not over-valuing, these comments and the community should have ways of responding to these comments that can facilitate learning for multiple players in multiple ways.

In face to face environments, there are various protocols for making contributions, and cues that give an observer orientation to the hierarchy of expertise and authority within the community. An observer can use these cues to conclude which contributions carry the greatest authority in the group. Protocols for responding to contributions can also help organize the group dynamic. In online settings, these cues may be absent and a visitor may sense immaturity or cacophony (e.g., in a feedbook’s content) where in fact what is happening is that novices are exploring their (partial) understanding by sharing within the community.

The problems as I see them:

  • How can an open online community that embraces legitimate peripheral participation maintain a coherence that allows members and visitors to appreciate its professionalism/maturity while still making space for novices participation?
  • What mechanisms can be employed to create “emergent” authority in a web-based learning community without a central oligarchy?
  • Much of the literature on LPP was developed in the context of face-to-face communities. How can an Internet-based community exploit “incidental” (e.g., drop in) participation by experts, who would not have appeared in face-to-face settings? This question is a recognition that via a feedbook mechanism an item from an expert outside the community can be routed into the stream of the community’s readings (thus ‘incidental’).

A Of A Template and Rubric post-NWCC&U Meeting in Seattle (11.6)

From: Brown, Gary
Sent: Sunday, November 08, 2009 1:14 PM
To: Peterson, Nils; Ater-Kranov, Ashley
Cc: Green, Kimberly; Desrosier, Theron; Jacobson, Jayme K; ‘Jane Sherman’
Subject: a of a beta 2


Attached is a working version of A of A Beta 2.  I’m trying to build into our Assessment of Assessment rubric and template some of Friday’s language from NWCC&U, focused so far mostly in the template (Nils, for Rocket Science mock model report update).  I’m working mostly on the digest form right now so more alignment with expanded criteria will be necessary in the ongoing iterations.  I’ll be working on squeezing in more language from NWCC&U, though it is deliberate in the level of abstraction they use’a very clear position taken that we operationalize it ourselves as one size will not fit all universities.  Our authority, such as it is, will come from the stance the WSU Executive Council takes and our ability to convey the principles of assessment as useful.

The meeting was literally a reading and Ron Baker’s interpretation of the new standards, which are somewhat different from what was recently posted.  What is key will be clarifying for ourselves the language of:

Core Themes

Used everywhere and in different ways, we will want our language to align as much as possible with the way NWCC&U is using the terminology. Ron Baker appears to have worked on point to revise and explain the standards, so if we have questions we can go to him.  Jane will be here in December and we hope to confirm our approach to the language at that time, but the working clarification I have so far come to understand (awaiting confirmation) is that  Core Themes equates to WSU’s four strategic “goals”: of a set beta 2 (Yes, we have lots to operationalize in the four goal language in ways that programs and faculty can really make use of in practice).  Our institutional goals for meeting the core themes in the learning realm are still the six Gs of the B.  Programs will have objectives which are generally measurable (though function more like discrete program goals in this scheme) and outcomes which are what is actually measured.  We may have many objectives, for instance, but focus at any given time on actually doing that measurement to determine if we have achieved our outcomes.

(Jane, please weigh in if this corresponds to your understanding.  Needless to say, terminology can be a real bottleneck, is debated among experts, and we have little time to count dancing pin-headed angels, or something like that…..)

Anybody want to join me in CLA point meeting Tuesday 10:30-12:00?   CLA has a mix of chairs and good folks identified to make assessment happen in their programs.

I also want to get the revised A of A and template out to all Liaisons this week, sooner rather than later, and start setting up meetings to walk them through the Rocket Science mock report.


Dr. Gary R. Brown, Director
The Office of Assessment and Innovation
Washington State University
509 335-1352
509 335-1362 (fax)
attached draft reporting template and rubric  a of a set beta 2

Assessing Capstone Courses and Internships–Where is the Value?

A faculty on point for her program’s assessment asks:

One of the group discussions at the last retreat was on choosing the capstone course. I understand that the major/core assignment in the capstone  course needs to address all the program goals. That will be the course we assess (along with a 200 level course). The degree really has a natural capstone course built into their core.  So, they are all set.

The group also talked about using the internship experience as their capstone course. Since the majors in the program are fairly diverse, the teaching faculty thought the unique internship experiences would address that issue. For assessment purposes, it seems most efficient to have one 400 level course per degree program that we assess (as opposed to multiple ones, possibly a capstone course for each major).

What are your thoughts about 1) using the internship course as a capstone course and 2) about having multiple 400 level courses that we assess.

Finally, are there other programs on campus that are using their internship as a capstone?

Thanks –

Combing through the new NWCC&U standards, prepping for a meeting with accreditors on Friday November 6, 2009, I note Standard 2.C.5 that states:

“Teaching faculty take collective responsibility for fostering and assessing student achievement of identified learning outcomes.”

That to me means the a capstone assessments gains formal utility when it involves many faculty in a program, and the much better reason than the rule is that program improvements are most potent when those faculty in the program are engaged in the assessment.  When faculty actually assess the performance, debate the performance (inter-rater reliability), a better handle on what it takes to improve the student learning experience emerges.

Internships are also invaluable targets especially when all or part of the same rubric might be used. We might engage internship supervisors and coordinators to also provide feedback on students’ performance during the internship.  That process helps corroborate or validate the capstone assessment and provides independent review that verifies our claimed outcomes. We’ve found that internship supervisors in other programs, in spite of some initial skepticism, were both willing and capable at applying rubric adaptations, and open to input from program faculty when they collaborate in the norming process.

Comment  added to original of this post

Capstone and Internships

There are some terrific internships going on for WSU students, and some not terrific ones.  From my conversations with faculty in a couple of different programs, the intership experience can be one of the best things but in reality it’s all over the map.

I think a great step that a number of programs may choose as a pressing need is to better assess the internship experience, and how students get feedback.  This could be rich assessment data.

However, because the internships are so varied in quality, I don’t see that as a good substitute for assessmetn of a capstone project (which should be addressing all the learning goals, for example, while an internship may not.)

Green, Kimberly at 12/18/2009 12:29 PM

After Beta Rain King, Liaison asks Purpose of Initiative

A liaison asks in the online forum:

“With this experience behind us, I would ask for a quick rehash of the goals for the assessment of assessments. We may be better prepared to comment at this point.”

I suggest this response.

1.      Establish an institutional system of assessment aligned with NWCC&U principles
2.      NWCC&U further requires us to assess our assessment
3.      Establish a system that meets 1 and 2 in a way that is responsive to program diversity but is unified by principles of good assessment

Seeking NWCCU Feedback on Rain King Initiative

From: Karen Houmiel []
Sent: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 2:04 PM
To: Brown, Gary
Subject: RE: Seeking feedback

Hi Gary,

I have forwarded your email to Dr. Baker who is the person with whom you will want to speak.  If you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to let us know!  Have a great day!

Thank you,

From: Brown, Gary []
Sent: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 1:52 PM
To: Karen Houmiel
Subject: Seeking feedback

Hi Karen,
I have recently been appointed to lead our new Office of Assessment and Innovation and Washington State University.  We are developing a process for helping our programs at WSU assess their assessment, and in that process we are developing criteria and a template, doing our best to align it with principles of good practice and the new NWCCU standards.  It would be a tremendous help to talk about the process and invite some early feedback on our efforts now, and perhaps, if we are successful, gaining an endorsement in principle.

I recognize that improved learning outcomes and reaccreditation is the endorsement that matters most, but I am seeking some guidance and support to help WSU programs help the institution (and our students!) in achieving those ends.  Is it possible to speak with somebody in advance of the gathering in Seattle in November?

Gary Brown

Dr. Gary R. Brown, Director
The Office of Assessment and Innovation
Washington State University
509 335-1352
509 335-1362 (fax)