In 2002, Samford University began working on a long-term learning assessment plan designed to evaluate its undergraduates’ competencies in written and oral communication as well as information and quantitative literacy (these areas were labeled Transformational Learning Abilities or TLAs). Departments were encouraged to measure student learning in ways that made sense for their particular disciplines, with an eye toward creating sustainable assessment plans that would inform program review. The Department of Communication Studies created an innovative senior capstone program that incorporates student-driven communication workshops and electronic portfolios and uses qualitative and quantitativemethods to assess the TLAs and gather valuable data for departmental review. This chapter provides a description of the program and how it serves as a catalyst for student engagement, faculty development, and departmental transformation.
First, both speaking and writing have rich connections with critical thinking and experiential learning (see for example, Bean, 1996; Broad, 2003; Morreale, Shockley-Zalabak & Whitney, 1993). As Bean notes, “writing is both a process of doing critical thinking and a product communicating the results of critical thinking” (p. 3). While Bean focused only on writing, clearly speaking represents a similar process and product. Competence in oral and written communication skills is necessary for generating, negotiating and attributing meaning. Similarly, the ability to locate, analyze, and synthesize information and to understand and produce quantitative information are essential to critical thinking. As a department, we recognized and accepted the value of the TLAs to our students’ educational goals, and thus, our challenge became how to assess our students’ progress in achieving an appropriate level of competence in each of these areas.
Many scholars have theorized and proposed models for effective assessment measures. Banta (2002) presents an approach that describes our stance on assessment. Banta asserts that effective assessment plans share three phases: planning, implementing, and improving/sustaining (see Fig.1).
Banta’s (2002) Characteristics of effective outcomes assessment
Key Terms in this Chapter
Electronic Portfolio: A webpage or CD that contains selected examples or artifacts to represent efforts, successes, goals, and outcomes.
Rubric: An assessment framework intended to define expectations in order to improve inter-rater reliability.
Communication Workshop: A practical, experiential training session that covers some aspect of human communication.
Problem-Based Learning: Pedagogy based on the belief that learning occurs best when students engage in active problem-solving, particularly solving “open” problems that may have more than one possible and pragmatic solution.
Transformational Learning Abilities (TLAs): A set of abilities or skills that are the mark of a well-educated college student.