Mason Core 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.
At Mason, assessment of academic programs is the responsibility of faculty, and is administered by professional staff in the Provost’s office. Mason’s assessment efforts are guided by the belief that student learning is enhanced in classrooms in which instructors use best practices for collegiate teaching and learning. As such, a partnership with Mason’s Stearns Center for Teaching and Learning facilitates faculty development activities to encourage best practices in curriculum development, student learning outcomes, assignment design, and learning assessment.
Student Learning Outcomes
Student learning outcomes are broad goals that reflect the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students take with them from a learning experience. Learning outcomes for the Mason Core categories are established by faculty, led by the University Mason Core Committee. Faculty members who teach Mason Core courses are expected to incorporate the learning outcomes in their courses, in addition to course- or discipline-specific learning outcomes. These learning outcomes then serve as the basis for learning outcomes assessment for each of the categories.
The assessment of learning outcomes is conducted at the course level using course portfolios. The portfolios are reviewed by peers to determine the effectiveness of the Mason Core as an educational program. As with other program-level assessment activities, Mason Core assessment focuses on the overall effectiveness of the Mason Core program, and is not an evaluation of individual students or faculty members.
Mason Core faculty prepare course assessment portfolios to serve three purposes:
- Mason Core program assessment. Taken together across courses and categories, the portfolios provide a clear picture of the overall effectiveness of the Mason Core program at Mason.
- Learning outcomes assessment. The portfolios provide direct evidence of student achievement in Mason Core learning outcomes through samples of student work.
- Portfolio review. The portfolios provide the most updated information about what is being taught in the course, what kind of learning experiences are offered to students, and what assessment strategies faculty use.
Mason Core assessment focuses on two questions: To what extent do faculty address the learning outcomes in their courses; and how well do students achieve these outcomes?
Use of Assessment Results to Improve the Course and/or Curriculum
Assessment has the potential to improve learning by systematically linking assignments, course structure and grading practices to intended learning goals. It can help instructors become better teachers by offering specific feedback on what is working or not working in their classrooms, and provides systematic feedback to gauge progress. Information is used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the educational program, and plan for curricular improvement. Faculty may discover ways to modify existing course content, tests, or assignments to better align the outcomes of these activities with learning outcomes.