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ISSUE 121 VOL 18 PUBLISHED 4/25/2008

Faculty assesses awareness

By Ellen Weaver
Contributing Writer

Friday, April 25, 2008

"When students leave St. Olaf, do they really have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and commitments that we say they do?" As the last month of school winds down, seniors may be recently asking these questions of themselves. Jo Beld, the director of evaluation and assessment (E&A), feels as though we owe it to the St. Olaf community to try to answer them. St. Olaf faculty members are trying to do just that. On April 15th, faculty gathered for "Global Understanding at St. Olaf," the fourth of five sessions in the series titled "What Are We Learning About Student Learning?" These sessions gather small groups of faculty "who are focused on a particular learning outcome, such as critical thinking, effective writing, quantitative reasoning, and global understanding" to present their ideas, Interim Director of E&A. Mary Walczak, explained. Last Thursday, the St. Olaf CALL Project Global Understanding team Eric Lund, Susan Bauer, Tony Lott, and Tom Williamson discussed alternative conceptualizations of "global understanding" and considered the implications of these alternatives for teaching, learning, and assessment. The team also explained the cooperation with other colleges in order to report and assess progress that each school is making. In assessing Global Understanding, Lund elaborated on some of the complexities the team has encountered. "It is difficult to assess a global understanding," Lund said. "All colleges use different language and terminology which makes intercampus communication challenging. There is no continuity is assessment of global understanding through curriculum." Lott elaborated on the challenges of assessing global understand through curriculum as a result of the difficulty of connecting the idea of global perspective with one particular class or GE requirement. Even through the CALL program frustrations, Williamson insists that progress can be made by facilitating discussions. "We need to get together to talk and continue conversations." E&A hopes to continue those conversations with students, raise student awareness and gain support of the many programs. "If students knew more widely the importance of the work of the office, they may be more inclined to participate," Walczak said That work includes collecting student input in faculty evaluations and measuring student learning. "On the evaluation side," Walczak explains, "we work with departments evaluating faculty members for tenure and promotion and other reviews in soliciting student feedback about a faculty member's teaching. On the assessment side, the office is involved in supporting efforts that seek to measure and promote student learning. We administer college-wide surveys as well as provide advice for individual faculty members preparing course evaluations. We are also responsible for reporting assessment results to our accrediting organization, the Higher Learning Commission." Beld discussed the students' role and involvement in all of these tasks. "When faculty and administrators make decisions about whether to tenure or promote a faculty colleague, they pay very close attention to students' evaluations of the faculty member's teaching." There are students who are already making an impact in these projects. Some of their work includes student research, analysis of data, and assistance in developing questionnaires "that get at what students really think about their learning and education," said Beld.

Beld hopes that they can work more with SGA to have discussions on specific topics about student learning that any student can attend. Beld emphasized the fact that students should be involved in evaluating their own curriculum. If students participate in the assessment, students get their voices heard about issues such as global understanding and Beld and others in E&A "benefit enormously from student awareness and understanding."

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