Assessment is Integral to Curriculum Development

Learning from the Department of Germanic Studies

Involving all faculty in the assessment conversation can result in pedagogical and curricular innovations and improvements. A recent retreat on curriculum development and assessment in the Department of Germanic Studies resulted in lively conversations around articulating strong and true goals for student learning in the department. The faculty as a group tackled the questions— what should students be able to do or demonstrate when they graduate? What skill sets do we want them to have? And how do we know whether they have learned what we wanted them to learn?

This day-long retreat stimulated conversations about assessment practices and future steps needed for program advancement. The Department Chair, Dr. Peter Hess, initiated and led the retreat and shared with faculty his own learning and understanding around the need for assessment, curriculum development, and curriculum mapping. Faculty began the process of developing strong outcomes, and Dr. Per Urlaub, Associate Professor, and assessment director for the department, led faculty through an exercise where they developed strong “Can do” statements for their outcomes using Bloom’s Taxonomy. They also learned about developing effective methods with rubrics that could be used across different assignments and different formats, all created by different faculty. Such methods are possible because rubrics allow faculty to be able to discern the quality and scope of student learning across different instructors while not impinging on faculty members’ academic freedom to develop the assignments they want to. The importance, validity, and usefulness of qualitative data in assessment was also discussed and appreciated. After understanding the usefulness of developing strong methods, faculty worked together to explore and develop some sample methods that could elicit an understanding of what material needs to be reinforced or taught differently from a program perspective, so that the program might have a greater impact on its students.

Dr. Divya Bheda, Director for Institutional Assessment, was excited to see faculty so engaged and interested in learning how assessment could contribute in significant ways to curricular and pedagogical innovation. “There were a few faculty who had this ‘Aha” moment during the retreat and began talking about how they could apply for grants to fund the ideas they were developing around novel pedagogical and assessment tools to promote student learning. People began to see the how assessment is aligned with, and how it can inform curriculum and pedagogy. They started sharing and exchanging ideas about the various pedagogical strategies they used in their own classrooms. It makes my day when folks begin to see program assessment as integral to curriculum development and pedagogical innovation. It was great!”

Dr. Janet Swaffer, Professor Emeritus, believes that the retreat set the wheels in motion for program faculty to begin working on curricular improvements. An example being the promotion of a smoother transition between courses in the major so that student learning could be scaffolded for their skill sets to be systematically developed as they advanced through the program. The retreat also exposed a desire for more focus on cultural literacy throughout the sequence and progression of courses in the program. Faculty realized that this focus on cultural understanding needed to be just as strong and well-articulated as the focus on language learning outcomes. Dr. Katie Arens, Professor, noted that teaching literacy as a combination of both language and cultural competency gives students better preparation for careers in the field. Faculty explored designing assignments that resulted in career preparation. They discussed high impact teaching and learning practices and how to integrate those in the preparation of the student for a successful career after graduation.

Recognizing the needs of students as they graduate from the program has provided valuable momentum for continued improvement. The retreat had an open culture of talking about areas of development—be it at the individual faculty level or at the program level. Ideas were shared for faculty to learn from each other. The conversation was about teaching and education, about creating and sustaining a culture in the department that promotes faculty being better educators, and about learning with and from each other. Faculty were inspired to search for possible curriculum development grants to be used for departmental growth. A greater interest in pedagogical innovation began to form as ideas were shared and creativity sprouted. The retreat ended with participating faculty requesting regular future meetings to create sustained conversations and spaces for curricular, pedagogical, and assessment knowledge-sharing and learning.