Why do we do assessment?

Assessment is the systematic process of collecting, evaluating, and using information to determine if and how well performance matches learning or service expectations. The purpose of assessment is to use the results to inform meaningful dialogue and decision-making about how the university can improve its programs and services to support student success and institutional effectiveness. Assessment can help faculty improve their own teaching practice, and make informed decisions about the curriculum, both in the classroom and as part of a full academic program. Assessment and the use of results for improvement are required for Mason’s regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); specialized accrediting agencies such as ABET and AASCB; and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to meet external reporting requirements.

Why Now?

Mason is always engaged in learning outcomes assessment, at many levels. Our last Mason Core (General Education) cycle was completed in 2014. We took some time to reflect, and align our assessment strategy with best practices from national efforts. We also need to complete a second cycle for the upcoming SACSCOC reaffirmation, due September 2021.

Which faculty are required to participate?

ALL FACULTY who are teaching a course that is required for a given Mason Core category are expected to submit a course portfolio during the semester in which the assessment is taking place. This includes tenure-line, term, and part-time or adjunct faculty, and graduate students who are instructor of record. Some people fear they are being picked on; rest assured this is not the case! All faculty are important for this assessment.

Is this an evaluation of my teaching?

Absolutely not. This assessment process is not about evaluating you or your teaching. Student work will be reviewed on a common rubric and results will be reported in aggregate only (there may be up to 400 pieces of student work across over 100 sections in a category). Course-level data are kept confidential, and will not be shared. It should also be noted that it would not be methodologically sound to report assessment results for 3-5 student samples. Even with the random selection of student work, there is not enough information to make meaning of student performance in any one course. It is the rubric ratings analyzed in aggregate that give us meaningful information.

What happens if I choose not to participate?

All faculty who are teaching a Mason Core course are expected to submit a minimal portfolio of course materials at the end of the scheduled semester: syllabus, one assignment prompt, and a random selection of student work for that assignment (3-5 samples). The requested materials are produced in the course, and require no additional work from the instructor.

We hope that all faculty will choose to participate in the pre-assessment workshop, submit portfolio materials, and join the post-assessment meeting to discuss the results. Faculty who participate in the full process will be eligible for professional development funds from the Provost’s office.

You may choose to submit the portfolio only and not participate in the pre-assessment workshop or post-assessment meeting. If you choose this option, you will fulfill your obligation to the Mason Core assessment project for this cycle; however, you will not be eligible for the professional development funds.

How can I use the professional development funds from the Provost’s office?

Professional development funds may be used for professional travel, books, and supplies for research projects. If you have specific questions about these funds, please contact Stephanie Foster at sfoste21@gmu.edu.

Do I need to get student permission for using their work for this assessment?

It is not necessary to get student permission for using their work for the purpose of academic assessment. The Catalog contains a statement in the Student Rights and Responsibilities section about use of student work for academic assessment: https://catalog.gmu.edu/policies/student-rights-responsibilities/. We do not recommend telling individual students that their work has been selected for assessment. Mason does not provide individual assessments to students, and it makes no impact on their grade or progress toward degree. All student work is treated with respect and confidentiality during the assessment process.

Should I share the work samples with my grading comments, or provide clean copies?

We prefer that you not share your grading comments, just the student work. The idea is that the work will be reviewed on a rubric that is looking for specific learning outcomes, and the reviewer will not necessarily be looking for the same things that you are when you grade the paper. Typically, the assessment has a much narrower focus, such as evidence of critical thinking (rather than everything that you look for to assign a grade).

I don’t use Blackboard for my courses. What should I do about student paper copies?

Please submit digital copies of student work on this Blackboard organization. If you only accept paper submissions, the work can be scanned and turned into PDFs. If you do not have someone in the department who can help you with this, please contact Stephanie Foster at sfoste21@gmu.edu for assistance.

Can I serve as a reviewer?

Yes! We hope that many of you will choose to serve as a reviewer for the student work. Student work submitted in the portfolio will be reviewed by peers, to include Mason Core committee faculty, and faculty who teach Mason Core courses. Please contact Stephanie Foster, sfoste21@gmu.edu if you would like to participate.