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National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment

NILOA In the Field

For NILOA Newsletters, please see the NILOA Newsletters.


February 2017

Multi-State Collaborative Charrette in Virginia

NILOA believes in effectiveness of Charrettes as means of assessment improvement. This is the reason why our scholars and coaches often take the opportunity to guide faculty through the charrette process, so that they improve their assessment abilities at their respective institutions and are able to lead assignment design conversations on their own campuses.

What is a charrette? Briefly, "Charrette" (Fr.) means a small cart. Its origins lie in architecture studies, where students deposited their assignments in a cart that was rolled through the studio. Architects now use the word to refer to an intense collaborative, creative effort in a limited time period. Similarly, assignment charrette is based on the same concept, where faculty peer review a variety of assignments in a limited timeframe.

On February 15, 2017, NILOA Director Dr. Natasha Jankowski, along with Assistant Director Dr. Gianina Baker, traveled to Midlothian, VA to train faculty and assessment directors from across the state on the charrette process. The effort was arranged by Dr. Jodi Fisler, Associate for Assessment Policy and Analysis at State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). Virginia joined the Multi-State Collaborative (MSC) this academic year and is the 13th state involved in the project. Some of the state’s participating campuses signed on to the MSC specifically because of the faculty development opportunities the MSC could provide. Due to the fact that institutions are located all over the state, campus specific workshops in assignment design are difficult to organize. Dr. Fisler, however, worked with NILOA to come up with a solution that would work; hence, the concept of “train the trainer” workshop was implemented. “I was surprised and delighted that more than hundred people signed up from all regions, including public and private 2-year and 4-year institutions,” said Dr. Fisler. NILOA’s assistant director, Dr. Gianina Baker agreed that going through the charrette process was the best way to learn how to continue to lead the efforts after the visit.

SCHEV does not influence nor direct its institutions on how to conduct assessment, but rather serves as a guide. In Dr. Fisler’s view, faculty are interested in engaging in conversations regarding assessment, which leads to better education. However, she noticed, that it is not always easy, due to negative connotations that “assessment” carries. “Faculty often see assessment as a burden, or something they have to do that doesn’t really mean anything to them,” said Dr. Fisler. According to NILOA’s Assistant Director, Dr. Baker, the main goal was to lead the audience through the charrette in a way that would make them comfortable to lead a similar workshop on their campus. Often, this is not an easy task. “I think participants struggled the most about how to bring this work back and talk about it with their faculty and were a bit unsure of what they would encounter introducing this work to their campuses,” said Dr. Baker.

Even though every member of the group had their own reasons for participating in the workshop, one notion was common to most: desire to improve their own work. “I’m a big fan of making sure my students get the best, so when I heard about activity focused on designing assignments, I wanted to participate to make myself better, so that I could give my students the most innovative thing that’s out there”, said Dr. Narketta Sparkman-Key, Assistant Professor at Old Dominion University. Most participants shared similar perspectives, along with the ability to make connections and learn from each other. According to Dr. Anderson, from Northern Virginia Community College, most faculty across the state have similar issues. His interest was primarily understanding how faculty perceive assessment and learning new perspectives on it.

It was important for Dr. Fisler to recognize that SCHEV’s intention was to avoid approaching the workshop as an assessment program. It was rather an opportunity for faculty to improve their work and that in itself was valuable enough to attract participants. The outcome, which is hopefully better assessment design, should be an added bonus. “The charrette gets faculty talking about assessment through something they already care about and that is directly applicable to them. That helps expand the conversation about assessment and quality in a non-threatening (or at least less threatening) way,” said Dr. Fisler.

According to Dr. Anderson, such workshops are about teaching faculty how to solve problems, rather than solving problems for them. “It’s important to think about this as handing out tools, not solutions as at the end of the day that’s the objective,” he said. For Remica Bingham-Risher, Director of Writing and Faculty Development at Old Dominion University, transparency in assignments is the important factor and the key value she would like to learn and further implement at her institution. “We would like to think of ways to involve students in assignment, curriculum and course design process and see how it might affect their learning. I think it would shift the way we’ve been thinking about assignments,” said Ms. Bingham-Risher. In her view the idea that students should not be allowed to see the rubric and learning outcomes be kept as a secret, came from the traditional way pedagogical practice gets passed down. That is why she advocates for culture change within assessment. According to Dr. Anderson, network and communication are critical to make it happen. “Getting people to talk to each other, I think, would be a very fruitful thing, to build the culture of assessment…,” he said. Dr. Sparkman-Key agreed. She needs the network of people she could communicate with in order to initiate the change. “I want to be ahead of the movement and constantly move forward,” she said.

Asked to give advice to others in similar situation, Dr. Baker had an important final remark: “Get involved. There are so many assessment efforts happening across the nation and a wealth of resources available at your fingertips. Our resources just happen to be free!”

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"The complex, diverse learning goals, of postsecondary education do not justify a passive approach to student achievement. It is heartening to see state policy and institutional leaders working together to collect evidence of student learning and pursue continuous improvement."

Paul Lingenfelter

Paul E. Lingenfelter
President Emeritus
State Higher Education Executive Officers