Developing an Assessment Program to Measure Critical Thinking: A Case Study at a Small, Online College

Developing an Assessment Program to Measure Critical Thinking: A Case Study at a Small, Online College

Caulyne N. Barron (Dunlap-Stone University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8411-9.ch006
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This chapter posits that the assessment cycle is a valuable part of the discussion of teaching critical thinking skills in post-secondary settings. Acknowledging that critical thinking is a crucial skill for post-secondary students, the chapter ties accreditation mandates to the need to include robust outcomes assessment measures in college programs that teach critical thinking. The chapter traces one small, nationally-accredited online college's efforts to develop a robust assessment plan to measure how well students met general education and program objectives, particularly those related to critical thinking skills in a business program. The efforts to comply with accreditation standards and to demonstrate a culture of assessment resulted in a culture shift that sought meaningful data about how well the college was educating its students and meeting its mission.
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Higher education is moving towards an outcomes assessment model, often triggered by accreditation requirements (Lubinescu, Ratcliff, & Gaffney, 2001; Peach, Mukherjee, & Hornyak, 2007). Pedagogical changes, particularly in distance education, have required the development of defined outcomes to assure the quality of the programs offered (Swail & Kampits, 2001). Yet, often it is the institutions themselves that define the course and program outcomes most appropriate to their institution and their mission. The need to assess specific outcomes is rooted in accreditation mandates (Bresciani, 2006; Driscoll & Cordero de Noriega, 2006; Taras, 2005). Accrediting bodies therefore seek evidence that there is a process of reflection that led to the establishment of the outcomes and that there is an assessment cycle in place to measure, meet, and revise those outcomes when necessary.

This chapter describes these processes as they were operationalized at a small, nationally accredited online institution, Dunlap-Stone University (DSU). Founded in 1995, the college was first accredited by the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) in 2003. In 2009, DETC revised its standards surrounding outcomes assessment, and the college sought to revise its assessment program to comply with accreditation standards. According to the DETC Accreditation Handbook, Policy C.14. (2013), “Institutions are expected to have in place a formal written and actively executed plan for conducting outcomes assessment and satisfaction studies…” While DSU had informally measured industry-related outcomes, retention, student satisfaction, and progress through courses and programs, few specific measures were in place that would meet the DETC standard. At the time, the Phoenix, Arizona based college offered a single bachelor’s degree program, a Bachelor of Science in International Trade Management. This chapter documents the process of compliance through the development of an outcomes-based assessment model centering on student critical thinking skills.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Outcome: The knowledge, skills, abilities, or attitudes that a student is expected to have achieved after completing a course or program.

Accreditation: The self-study and peer-review process that assures institutional quality in the United States. The process is managed through an assessment of how well institutions adhere to standards of accreditation and policies established by each accrediting body.

Critical Thinking: The ability to arrive at reasoned and supportable conclusions using sound research techniques, including inference, analysis, and interpretation.

Assessment: An ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning by collecting data and deriving institutional improvement processes as a result.

Rubric: A scoring tool that includes written criteria linked to learning objectives to assess performance.

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