How valuable are teaching centers? Stepping Up for Outcomes Assessment.

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I just returned from the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) in Washington DC.  I was honored to be a panelist in a session focused on the role of teaching centers in institutional transformation.  The panelists provided examples of how teaching centers are collaborating with other units to advance institutional change. My fellow panelists include Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, Provost and Sr. Vice Pres. of Dillard Univ., Peter Felton, Asst. Provost at Elon University, and Virginia Lee a consultant with her own company. All of us are very involved in the professional society for faculty developers in higher ed (podnetwork.org).

My contribution was to briefly talk about the role of the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence in Penn State's program and student learning outcomes assessment initiatives.  This led me to ponder why I think it is so important for us to take on both leadership and collaborative roles at Penn State.  My short answers:

  1. Teaching centers and faculty developers have valuable knowledge and skills to offer the teaching community;
  2. If we don't collaborate and lead, the university is at risk of losing a valuable resource because no one will know how valuable we are!

If no one knows how valuable you are, how valuable are you really?

One way for the institution to recognize the value of teaching centers is for us to step-up-to-the-plate and take on areas, tasks, and projects that either no other units want or that are likely to be difficult (another panelist talked about Gen Ed Revision!). 

Assessment is a case in point.  Course, Program, and Institutional Assessment offer a great opportunity to further establish our value. 

So, what did Stepping Up for Outcomes Assessment entail?  First, it did not involve us in the role of assessment enforcer, nor did it involve us gathering and interpreting evidence.  Instead, we have helped faculty and administrators responsible for student learning outcomes assessment to meet their obligations.

A colleague at the University of Washington (J. Turns) coined the phrase "Assessment?  I hate it.  What is it?" which captures what we've done quite well! 

We decided to step up and provide:

Information.  When first entering the assessment arena, faculty and administrators have lots of questions (Why do we have to do this?  Why is it important?  Why don't course grades count?  What exactly am I supposed to do?!?  Is our disciplinary accreditation evidence sufficient?)

Opportunities for intra- and interdisciplinary discussions via workshops, conferences, and meetings

Guidance about the process of assessment

Examples (goals, outcomes, plans)

Templates (curricular mapping, identifying and developing goals and outcomes, reports)

Feedback on assessment plans

Success stories

As we became more involved, we took on maintenance and further development of the University's assessment website (assess.psu.edu), which has become the "go-to" place for information and updates on the Penn State approach to assessment.  (We also regularly hear from colleagues at other institutions about how they have used these resources.)

Stay tuned!  The Schreyer Institute and Penn State's assessment story continues to evolve and mature.  And never forget, we are always looking for new opportunities to become even more valuable to our community of teachers and learners. Visit or contact us.

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