Learning from the School of Social Work
“Faculty get excited about assessment outcomes. They care about what happens in the classroom and want to use their expertise in ways that are most relevant and efficient.”
–Dr. Allan Cole, Professor and Associate Dean
The culture around who does assessment, who is responsible for reporting, and who chooses to be involved in the conversation can play a major role in assessment’s utility and service to the department. The School of Social Work promotes a unique culture where the responsibility for assessment is undertaken by senior rather than junior faculty. While everyone contributes to the assessment report, senior faculty members of the program take the lead on developing the assessment plans and reports. Senior faculty say they take this responsibility seriously to better support their junior faculty members who can then primarily focus on their research and teaching. This culture of practice ensures that the senior faculty who should be involved in assessment conversations are involved in them; that continuous learning around assessment and its usefulness occurs; that faculty use assessment data to make informed and appropriate curricular decisions; and that junior faculty are involved but not charged with the full responsibility of carrying out all the assessment tasks and reporting for the unit. This leads to data-driven conversations about curricular and pedagogical innovations to help strengthen the program as a whole.
Through collaboration among the school’s administrators and faculty leaders, assessment data is analyzed and conclusions are shared with faculty where conversations about curricula and student learning flourish. Dr. Allan Cole, Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, articulates that “the goal is to use assessment data to inform faculty conversations about curricular improvement in any given snapshot of time. The benefit to adopting this culture around assessment is that the data that have been collected help us identify trends across student performance that can be used to encourage richer conversations among faculty.” The data are analyzed, and the findings and inferences drawn can be shared with all faculty. Dr. Cole believes that outcomes assessment definitely enriches and informs faculty conversations and decisions about the curricula and student learning.
The School of Social work undertakes assessment for both SACSCOC (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges), and for CSWE (Council on Social Work Education) accreditation. However, Dr. Cole and his colleagues strongly believe that the purpose of assessment is not just for the sake of compliance, but rather for faculty to be able to confidently say that students are learning what faculty think they are teaching them. According to Dr. Cole, it’s about framing assessment in terms of how it can improve the curriculum and student learning, as opposed to having to check a series of boxes to demonstrate compliance with accreditation standards.
Thus, ensuring a culture of assessment that involves the right faculty at the right levels in the right way is important. Encouraging a culture where everyone is interested and has opportunities to learn more about how best to use assessment in curricular and pedagogical decision-making, and framing assessment in terms of improvement.—i.e., as benefitting the program as a whole, rather than as performance evaluation of faculty or as simple student assessment for grade assignment, can result in assessment being well used widely.