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What have we learned?Why Course-Level Assessment Is Important to Kaplan UniversityIt is true that assessment is important to all accredited postsecondary institutions; we are required to assess student outcomes. Like many for-profit, universities, we are a comparatively young and fast-growing institution. We began offering online programs in 2001, for example, with just 34 students and a few degree programs. But over the past decade we have expanded, so that we now serve more than 58,000 students online and more than 7,000 students at 11 campuses in Iowa, Nebraska, Maryland, and Maine, as well as at several learning centers across the country. Given that growth trajectory, it became increasingly important to know that we were doing things right.We are also a student-focused institution that emphasizes flexible programs and market-relevant degrees. Students enter Kaplan University with an average of four NCES-identified risk factors and without a great deal of college preparation. Once planning was complete, the second half of 2008 and all of 2009 were focused on creating learning goals and objectives and corresponding rubrics for each course.
Consequently, in order to test the efficacy of the CLA system, we needed to distinguish changes to courses that were driven by or that utilized CLA results from those not directly involving CLA data.By late 2010, we had reached a significant milestone on the road toward improvements in teaching and learning. Therefore, every learning goal is assessed for every student, every term, in every section of every course.
We assign four to six discipline-and course-specific learning objectives to both graduate and undergraduate courses. Additionally, for undergraduate courses we assign at least two general education literacies (GELs) that we want students to master. As a student progresses through a program, we expect to see an increase in the cognitive complexity of the learning outcomes. GELs differ from discipline-specific goals in that the same GELs appear in courses across a program, whereas disciplinary goals are specific to a single course. To move over a period of just three years to an institution-wide system of assessment required a substantial investment of human, capital, and technological resources. While nearly all the assessments were based on assignments and exams that already existed in the courses, new grading rubrics had to be created to ensure that the CLA system produced measurements of specific learning objectives independent of aggregate grades. Throughout a course, students regularly submit work that is reviewed by faculty, who enter CLA data throughout the term via a component of the online gradebook used in all courses.
When courses are changed or new courses and programs are implemented, CLAs are created up front as part of the process.The learning goals and rubrics that appear in the online gradebook come from a common data repositorya€”eCollege's Learning Outcome Manager (LOM)a€”that Kaplan, along with several other of eCollege's large clients, designed to be a single source of record for course- and program-level information. The LOM provides a linkage between specific assignments, exams, or components of those assignments and exams and the stated learning objectives.


By linking those objectives, rubrics, and assessment data, we can compare student achievement on any specific objective across any number of instructors, sections, or terms with the confidence that the same assessment was used, addressing the same learning objective, graded with the same rubric. This level of consistency, supported by a common repository, is foundational to our institution-wide CLA system.Checks and BalancesTo ensure the fidelity of data collection and consistency in the student experience, we designed two university-wide system checkpoints. First, as part of the curriculum-development process, all learning goals and rubrics are reviewed by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to ensure thateach goal describes only one primary area of knowledge,for each, specific behavior(s) can manifest the knowledge or skills that students should be able to demonstrate mastery of by the end of the course,the cognitive tasks demonstrate the appropriate level of complexity required for given levels of mastery, andthe rubrics comply with Kaplan guidelines.Second, all new courses or major course revisions, including modifications to learning goals, are subject to review by one or more governance committees, depending on the type of course change.
Both the General Education Committee and the Faculty Curriculum Committee are charged with approving all major curricular changes within their jurisdiction, including reviewing all learning goals, their alignment with the course and program, and the viability of their successful assessment within the course.In addition to governance committee oversight, we developed and continually update training modules on the use of the rubrics and the CLA approach in general.
This required training contains both a general orientation to the framework and detailed calibration exercises.
Kaplan periodically surveys the faculty on content knowledge as well as general attitudes toward CLA and rubric use. As a result, both assessment and assessment-driven decision-making are now established in the university's culture.
As Kara VanDam, vice provost for academic affairs, relates, a€?We are deliberately focused on what students are actually learning, not simply what we assume we are teaching them.
This core belief in the importance of measurable student learning informs every conversation we have and every curricular improvement we undertake.a€?In January 2011, we conducted a survey to gauge the faculty's understanding and use of the CLA tools and system. The survey, sent to 1,640 randomly sampled faculty from a total of 4,923 across the university, had a 48 percent completion rate.
Among these respondents, 95 percent claimed to have had experience with applying the CLA rubrics and entering CLA scores.Nearly half reported that they assign learning activities that address specific course outcomes always or most of the time and that this awareness of the CLA system affects their lesson planning. Yet a clear majority also reported that the CLA system does not divert attention from the required courseworka€”in other words, faculty do not distort classroom work to a€?teach to the test.a€?We have made CLA-related data part of Kaplan University's normal operations, and we ensure that all data reporting remains focused on actionable information.
Our Office of Institutional Effectiveness is responsible for regularly publishing reports that aid particular stakeholders.
For example, a report showing the impact of a curriculum change within a course was designed specifically for the curriculum team (Chart 3).
This type of report includes parametric statistical tests on pre- and post-change data so that users can quickly ascertain the effect size of any changes.CLA scores reveal student performance and inform administrative conversations on curricular design. In 2010, we initiated a study of 221 courses that had been revised since the inception of the CLA system, using post-revision data. Given the variations in student cohorts and other influences, it would not have been realistic to expect that every curricular modification would result in significantly better student outcomes, although that is the overall goal. Indeed, for some subsequent groups, we might see no evidence of improvement, or even regression in some cases.We looked for two types of improvement evidence. First, a comparison of student outcomes between pre- and post-modification of the courses should show that the average levels of learning are higher post-revision at statistically significant levels. The second form of improvement was defined by a reduction in the rate at which students fail a given course. Kaplan tracks this definition through a a€?U ratea€?a€”the a€?Ua€? representing unsuccessful performance. A course-level U rate includes all students who fail to earn course credit for whatever reason, including an inability to achieve passing grades or dropping out.The dual definition of improvement was created to reward changes that encouraged students to persist who might otherwise have failed to successfully complete assessments or withdrawn from the course.


An example is IT117, an undergraduate course in website design required for students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and the Associate of Applied Science of Information Technology.
Based on a review of CLA data, along with other academic metricsa€”grade distributions, end-of-term student satisfaction surveys, and faculty surveysa€”the curriculum team and faculty discussed the need to revise the course. In the mastery-learning change scenario, students were allowed to redo and resubmit their work for re-grading provided they had submitted the original assignment on time and it was determined to be in reasonable form by the instructor. The guided online tutorials provided structured training in several target skills for the course. The self-efficacy scales measured students' learning at a task-specific level both pre- and post-instruction.
While there are also external motivatorsa€”most notably accreditation and federal policy changesa€”the CLA was, and remains, an undertaking inspired by a focus on student learning.Availability of sufficient resources.
Human capital and technological resources were allocated to make implementation possibleChampions of the cause from across the university. Executives championed the undertaking, academic leadership was empowered to drive change, faculty engaged in the project, and institutional-research and faculty-development staff provided support.Transparency of the undertaking.
From regular meetings to updates on the employee intranet, everyone knew what was going on, why the change was happening, and what their role would be.Plan for data usage.
How the data would be used was an integral part of the project, not an afterthought once work began.Incorporation of the CLA into the culture of the university. It is incorporated into our day-to-day tasks, academic projects, and strategic planning.The need for sufficient resources to do this work cannot be overstated. But the substantial investment of human, capital, and technological resources to create an institution-wide system of assessment was a strategic decision, made with both academic and business outcomes in mind. We hope that this level of learning assessment will pay off, not just in terms of immediate gains in student learning but also through a recognition of the quality of our programs that will attract new cohorts of students, faculty who engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning, and new academic partners.The successes to date from the CLA approach and structure have not come without some changes, lessons learned along the way, and adjustments based on feedback. These include:Acknowledgment of concerns from stakeholders regarding their existing paradigms for instruction. We had to ensure safe havens for discussion of differing views on teaching as a science or an art, on the balance between a centralized curriculum versus individual teaching styles, and so forth.Balance of responsibilities. Different people provided institutional oversight, curriculum expertise, and a knowledge of assessment best practices, while faculty autonomy was respected even while we aimed to reach a common goal.Appropriate granularity of analysis. Discipline was required to focus on what information we need to gather and will use, rather than collecting more and more information because we can.Potential for spurious results. At the same time, the benefits to students, faculty, and the institution are clear, and we look forward to all that we will learn in the coming years.Resources1. Comparing Three Learning Outcomes Assessments How Effective are the NSSE Benchmarks in Predicting Important Educational Outcomes?



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