Awareness Through Assessment
As part of its overall mission to prepare students for the world after graduation, Fordham strives to foster in its students self-awareness. It is in that spirit that the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) this year took part in an assessment process.
Under the guidance of Amy Tuininga, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and associate dean for strategic initiatives, partnerships and assessment at GSAS, each of the school’s 40 programs put itself under a microscope in an attempt to, as Tuininga described it, “evaluate how well students achieve and learn what a program intends. The goal is to improve accountability, efficiency and efficacy.”
Tuininga said GSAS wanted to ensure that it was preparing students for the current climate and for a new model of learning.
Because each GSAS program features different discipline-specific goals, each one had to manage its own assessment process, using the help of faculty, staff and students to examine the individual program’s goals, and analyze expected and actual outcomes.
Though the idea of educational assessment has been around for at least a century, the process has received a bad reputation over the years because of its association with accreditation. To many, it is synonymous with impositions and restrictions on academic freedom.
However, Tuininga said that for GSAS programs it was simply a matter of thinking about what excellent professors try to do all the time—improve. They do this by asking themselves what is working and what is not. The process required for accreditation just makes what they are already doing known to others.
“For scientists and social scientists, assessment is a very simple example of the scientific method,” said Tuininga. “For nonscientists, for humanists, assessment is a way to gather support for your argument. We really have a lot of great assessment projects going on already, and they’re continuing.
“Making these projects more transparent will foster communication within the Fordham community. For assessment, as with anything else, information needs to be accessible to a wide audience.”
The assessment process has already had positive effects. Based on the results of the individual program analyses, many departments began formulating new goals and restructuring certain aspects of their programs. New professional development seminars and workshops are being developed, comprehensive exams are being restructured, rubrics are being constructed and dissertation-writing guides are being created.
A new alumni database for departments is also in the works. And GSAS hopes to involve students in the process even further, making them an integral part of the process in the hopes of better understanding student needs, as well as creating new opportunities for their professional development.
The process of assessment seems daunting to many who participate in it, but Tuininga hopes that, by making Fordham’s assessment a continual process of self-reflection, it will become as much a part of Fordham’s culture as the Jesuit philosophies of cura personalis (care for the whole person) and homines pro aliis (men and women for others). Fordham, as an institution, should care not only for its students’ growth, but for its own development.