The Future of College Assessment
By Alicia Jacobs, Excelsior Life News Staff
In the fall of 2012, Dr. Mary Beth Hanner, provost and chief academic officer of Excelsior College, and Dr. Patrick Jones, vice provost, presented a session on how technology is closing the loop on student learning assessments at the Association of Test Publishers Conference in Berlin, Germany. With over 240 attendees from 25 countries, the annual conference represents leaders in the professional testing and assessment industry.
“The conference gave us an opportunity to network with test developers, administrators, and educators from across the globe while outlining Excelsior’s framework for success,” said Hanner, who has been with Excelsior since 1990, serving in several capacities, including dean of Excelsior’s School of Nursing for 12 years and most recently as interim provost and vice president for outcomes assessment and institutional research. “Attendees were particularly interested in the technology tools we use to compile and report our learning assessment results and increase student retention.”
Hanner, and Jones’ presentation, “Using Technology to Close the Loop on Student Learning Assessment” focused on the variety of emerging tools on the market, best practices, and future trends in assessments. In particular, the Excelsior leaders focused on the three different types of assessments – course-level, institutional, and program-level.
“A good assessment program will allow administrators, faculty, and staff to identify areas that need to be adjusted with resource allocation or curricula changes,” said Jones, who joined Excelsior College in April of 2002.
For online learning environments like Excelsior, the “variety and range of assessments are endless,” said Hanner.
In fact, student persistence rates, defined as the progress enrolled students are making toward their degree, can be measured in key strokes, postings, quizzes, and discussions, among a host of other interactions.
Excelsior College continues to experiment and use several technology tools. In May 2012, the school began a Starfish Early Alert ™ pilot program, designed to provide faculty with early indicators of student persistence. For example, no course logins or lack of participation in discussions are markers in persistence problems. Initial impressions among students and faculty are positive.
One “good” assessment problem remains the massive amount of data collected – and what to do with it. Excelsior uses a system called TracDat ™, a large repository that allows faculty and staff to get key indicators and report results to decision makers while creating semblance out of large amounts of information.
In recent years, fraud has emerged as a key issue among online learning institutions, and one academic and assessment leaders like Hanner and Jones take very seriously.
There are a host of cutting-edge biometric tools available to verify student identity and prevent plagiarism. Acxiom is a system with challenge questions based on publicly available information. It searches public records linked to an individual - such as the color of their registered vehicle - to determine whether the student is the one who registered for credit.
Key stroke analysis measurements, too, can be used to prevent fraud since they are considered as unique to an individual as a fingerprint. With plagiarism, software programs such as Turnitin.com allow instructors to check for originality against not only existing scholarly work and internet sources, but papers submitted to other higher education institutions. The challenge still remains for schools to balance intrusiveness with ensuring credit goes to the person who registered for academic experience.
So what does the future of assessment hold?
“For educational institutions planning to use learning assessment tools in the future, make sure large amounts of information can be handled and anticipate requirements,” concluded Jones. “The assessment industry is moving toward more authentic simulation, live application experiences, and multimedia formats that will be more dominant and less expensive. In addition, there will be less intrusive student identity verification devices and instruction will become more tailored.”