Outcomes Assessments: Focusing on Abilities

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Tunxis began using ePortfolios for assessment with two career programs, Dental Hygiene and Computer Information Systems. A year later, Early Childhood Education and Business Office Technology began using ePortfolio for assessment, and then expanded to all sections of First Year Experience. Soon Business Administration also began incorporating ePortfolio into their program. Some sections are still in the development stage, for example developmental English and Composition use ePortfolio in place of paper portfolios for final assessment of course abilities. Dental Hygiene and Early Childhood Education focus on using ePortfolio with outside accrediting bodies. Currently, our Business Administration program is the most developed in terms of using ePortfolio for outcomes assessment because it offers the most comprehensive model of inquiry, reflection, and integration, and offers opportunities for seamless transfer.

Author: Amy Feest, Assistant Professor, BA Program Coordinator, Tunxis Community College

Setting the Stage

Tunxis has taken the lead nationally as an ability based college and has been recognized by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC) for our work in this area.

From our ability based statement: “Tunxis faculty and staff have identified a set of specific abilities (skills and knowledge) that students should develop in a successful and well-rounded education. We believe that ten of these abilities, the general-education abilities, are necessary for all students to be successful at work, in future education, and as citizens. In most college-level courses at Tunxis, students will be assessed on at least one general-education ability as well as abilities that are specific to the course. Students in professional programs will also be assessed on abilities that are important to that profession…We are convinced that development of these abilities, and the general-education abilities in particular, is critical to students’ success in all aspects of life.”

As a result of our work, we have defined outcomes for courses, programs and general education abilities across the curriculum. For our work on our general education abilities, we have an Assessment Planner who coordinates work on campus with the Ability Assessment Team – which is comprised of chairs of the ability groups, the president, Academic Dean, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, and the ePortfolio Coordinator. The ability groups are comprised of faculty from all disciplines, but some groups include staff members from counseling and other student support services, as well as students.

Developmental Story

Our General Education Abilities were in place by 2002. The current model, Ability-Based Education, began in 2005 with the Title III grant. An electronic medium to record data began almost immediately, coinciding with the developing ePortfolio work on campus. Tunxis has used ePortfolios for assessment since 2007. Initially two career programs – Dental Hygiene and Computer Information Systems – adopted ePortfolio, followed a year later by Early Childhood Education and Business Office Technology.

In spring 2009, ePortfolios began to be used for assessment in all sections of First Year Experience, and in some sections of developmental English, Composition, and Composition II. In Fall 2010 ePortfolios began to be used instead of paper portfolios in some sections of developmental English.

In Fall 2010, The Tunxis Business Administration program began using ePortfolio for assessing program and general education outcomes. In the beginning, students completing a capstone course were only required to develop an ePortfolio where they demonstrated all program outcomes and four general education abilities. In spring 2012, the BA program expanded its assessment and began using ePortfolio to assess all program and all 10 Tunxis general education outcomes. In the fall 2014, the program will move to assess the new ConnCSU abilities in place of the former general education outcomes.

The administration at the college supports both ability (outcome) assessment and ePortfolio. However, due to union and workload issues we are unable to require ePortfolio use across the campus. BA has added ePortfolio as a course ability in their introductory courses as a way to require full-time and adjunct use of ePortfolio in their course, and as a way to support the strategic initiative.

In fall 2012, the BA program decided to take the use of ePortfolio to the next level.
• First, ePortfolio is now being introduced to all BA students in their first semester through one of three entry level classes: Introduction to Business, Basic Accounting and Financial Accounting. Each of those three classes now has the development of an ePortfolio as a required course outcome. This allows students to understand the benefits of ePortfolio at the onset of their program, and encourages better retention of artifacts and more timely reflection.
• Second, all BA adjunct faculty are being trained on eP and how to use eP for assessment. As the majority of BA classes are taught by our adjunct faculty, we realize how critical their understanding, buy in and support is for the success of the project.
• Third, we have changed the way we use reflection in the assessment process. Prior versions of our BA ePortfolio asked students to reflect on each ability individually. Now, we are using a more holistic approach, prompting students to reflect on relationships among abilities. The results have been remarkably stronger reflection as students are able to articulate how program abilities, general education abilities, internships, and other college experiences/activities integrate.
• Fourth, we have added a capstone class for students not enrolled in the practicum (internship) class that also requires the development of an ePortfolio for graduation. This will ensure that we are able to assess all graduating BA students.

In 2013, Tunxis became part of the new ConnCSU (the newly formed system comprised of the Connecticut State Universities and the Connecticut State Community Colleges). In the fall 2013, these ability groups were modified to represent the new ConnCSU abilities, which were created to assist with seamless transfer and are similar to most of the original Tunxis Abilities. We are presently in the process of modifying all course, program and general education abilities at Tunxis to comply with the new ConnCSU requirements.

Conceptual Framework

ePortfolio serves as a Catalyst and Connector between the BA students and business professionals through a final evaluation by our Professional Advisory Committee, approximately 15 business professionals from our community. Final portfolio assessments are done collaboratively in the BA program with our Professional Advisory Committee, full time faculty and some part time faculty. For the 2012-2013 academic year, the assessment teams commented on the vast improvements in evidence, reflection and professionalism of all the ePortfolios, which is a testament that our new approach is proving successful. We have also had several students successfully use their ePortfolios in the job interview process and are finding more are linking them to their online profiles in sites such as LinkedIn, and are realizing the ability to use their ePortfolios in proving their mastery of specific abilities for transfer credits.

At a course level, ePortfolio has been successfully used in all sections of First Year Experience, and some sections of developmental English and Composition. In business, students are introduced to ePortfolio in Basic Accounting, Financial Accounting and Introduction to Business, three gateway classes. Students demonstrate the course and general education abilities through their final ePortfolio work. The purpose of using ePortfolio in these courses is to introduce students to ability-based assessment and the technology. For the instructors, it allows us to read final portfolio work and write more thoughtful responses to the student work (rather than reading them quickly at portfolio sessions).

We are working hard to help students with Inquiry, Reflection and Integration. Through the practicum and capstone courses, starting in Spring 2013, we spend one class period providing students with prompts and asked them to do some in-class brainstorming, which they then built on independently.

Here are some prompts we used around our Program Abilities:

  • Which items that you put up for evidence do you feel best show your strengths in your degree program?
  • What is the most important thing you learned in your program while you were a student here? What do you wish you spent more time learning?
  • Think about the program-specific courses you took and the evidence that you put into your eP. How do they relate to each other? Give some specific examples.
  • How are you going to use what you learned in the next stage of your life (BA or Career)?
  • What one thing that you learned in your degree program will have the biggest impact on your future?
  • How are the goals you created reflective of what you learned at Tunxis?
  • When you look back in 10 years, what do you think will be the one thing you remember about the classes you took in your major?

We used this same approach for reflection on our General Education Abilities and the students’ internship experience. We explain that we don’t expect them to “answer” these questions, but in brainstorming about them, we would hope they would hone in on those questions where they felt they could expand on their experience.

Interestingly, we had several students who used these prompts to turn their reflection into a “story” of their college experience.

Starting in Fall 2013, we took on a new approach. We found that by asking students to reflect in silos – one reflection about their program abilities, one about their General Education Abilities, and one about their internship, they lack the ability to see the connections between the three. We now ask for one, more in-depth reflection on all three, and the PPT used in that class can be found here: Reflection.

Evidence

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For more information on Tunxis’ ABE model, rubrics, and reports, visit this page: http://tunxis.edu/ability-based-education/

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We are presently using the evidence :
  • To bring other fulltime faculty on board with the ePortfolio initiative
  • To help bring in more adjuncts
  • To gain resources for professional development for the adjuncts
  • Recently, 3 adjuncts earned a stipend for their work and will now serve as mentors for other adjuncts.
  • To bring in more programs: initial success in CIS and DH convinced Business Administration and Criminal Justice to integrate ePortfolio into
    their programs.
  • To serve as a model: success with outcomes assessment in current capstone courses is leading to proposals from GS and LA&S for capstone courses
  • To request and gain resources for faculty development, specifically for a Perkins grant.
  • For program accreditation: In BA, we are using the evidence in our ACBSP accreditation self study, and in ECE, the visiting team “praised” the use of ePortfolio in the program.

Pedagogy: We are now at a point where we will be using the evidence collected through several years of capstone/practicum ePortoflios to begin influencing course and program changes. The BA program is presently undergoing a self-assessment as part of its ACBSP (Accreditation Council for Business School Programs accreditation and we will be using our ePortfolios as both evidence of successful program outcome assessment, and as a study in where we may need to re-evaluate course and program curriculum.

Scaling Up: In the fall 2013, Tunxis’ Business Administration program was the first of many programs in the new ConnCSU system to fully articulate our degree program with the other 11 community colleges and five state universities. Though this process – which all other programs at Tunxis will eventually participate in – we are being asked to make stronger connections to the system’s newly defined abilities. We are hoping that BA will lead the way for other programs to showcase these connections through ePortfolio.

Professional Development: In the BA program, we bring together our full and part time faculty several times a year to offer training in ePortfolios. We ask that each faculty member create their own ePortfolio so that they can understand the experience. However, we do not ask them to go beyond ensuring that students continue to use and update their ePortfolios each semester. Outside of that requirement, we reserve the larger use of the portfolio for the practicum and capstone classes/instructors.

Technology: We presently use Digication for our students to create BA ePortfolios. We have created global BA templates for students in Introductory to Business, Basic Accounting and Financial Accounting, our gateway classes. In the spring 2014, we convinced Tunxis Community College to add a folder in all Blackboard Learn sections (which are used both fully online classes and to augment on campus classes) which give direct links and tutorials to our ePortfolio project, making it easier for students to engage in the technology.  We have created second templates for students to use in BA Capstone and BA Practicum, both of which allow students to pull from their global templates (which they would have populated for several years) to develop their final showcase ePortfolio. Students have found exciting and creative ways to use the technology to showcase not only their abilities, but their personalities as well, including adding video, images, music and more!

Conclusion

As the BA program continues to evolve, we look forward to the increased use of ePortfolio across the curriculum to ensure that General Education courses as well provide reinforcement for reflective thinking about abilities. We continue to help students through the reflection process with better prompts and more opportunities to reflect throughout their program, not just in practicum/capstone. In order for this to be successful, we need to continue to offer professional development opportunities for adjuncts so they more fully embrace ePortfolio for assessment. We are also looking to expand students’ use of ePortfolio for evidence-based assessment using non-classroom based activities: club membership/leadership, service learning, internships, etc.

Because of the capstone course for the program, BA has been able to make the case for why ePortfolio works well and why it needs to be used early and throughout the program. We hope we can do the same with our General Studies and Liberal Arts & Sciences majors. Using ePortfolio for assessment across the college aligns well with our abilty-based model.

In the immediate future, we plan on targeting introductory course instructors with professional development workshops focusing on basic training and reflection, and finding ways of making the project more student-driven. In 2014 we hope to pilot a student workshop on ePortfolio development, which will be led by our Computer Information Systems interns in the ePortfolio lab.

We still see some challenges with moving forward:

  • Closing the Loop – moving from assessment to change in pedagogy and practice
  • Building faculty/staff understanding of the ways more authentic and holistic Outcomes Assessment can effectively support efforts to improve student learning
  • Adapting the ePortfolio platform to support our campus’ approach to outcomes assessment
  • Helping faculty/staff understand how ePortfolio can support more authentic and holistic approaches to Outcomes Assessment
  • Gathering a meaningful collection of artifacts or ePortfolios to use for Outcomes Assessment
  • Overcoming faculty/staff anxiety about Outcomes Assessment
  • Engaging faculty/staff in the process of assessing artifacts of student learning
  • Using Outcomes Assessment to build a campus culture focused on student learning general
  • Developing assignments aligned with designated competencies
  • Gaining the support of key campus stakeholders for the use of ePortfolio for Outcomes Assessment
  • Identifying the competencies and developing the rubrics needed to evaluate artifacts of student learning for Outcomes Assessment

 

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