Assessment Overload?

Our new core curriculum will require the assessment of personal responsibility, civic responsibility, and teamwork–among other skills, such as critical and creative thinking. While I am wary of the assessment load this will add to an already assessment-heavy writing course, I think such assessment is useful because so many students fail to connect the expectations of their core courses to their professional readiness/development.

Core courses are primarily populated by freshmen, so these students have some time to mature academically, personally, and professionally before they reach their upper-level major courses, in which such “soft” skills are taken more seriously because of the professional relevance of these courses. However, I see the benefit in assessing such skills early on in students’ college careers. Indeed, since students typically question the usefulness of many core courses to their majors, assessing skills that are professionally relevant in these courses may encourage students to take their core education more seriously. If we must continually justify the relevance of our courses to our students’ majors (oh, that dreaded question/attitude!), then we should have some assessment “ammunition” that is unquestionably perceived as being professionally relevant.

Such assessment, while unfortunately adding to the heavy assessment load that some core courses bear, might be the key to encouraging students to take their core courses more seriously–if not the content, then at least the behavioral and ethical expectations of them.

I’d love to know what you think about the assessment of soft skills: personal responsibility, civic responsibility, and teamwork. Please share your thoughts!
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4 responses

  1. Melissa, to avoid assessment overload, I suggest you budget the amount of assesment, just as you will have to budget the amount of time you expect the students to put into developing the skills to be assessed. If you are adding assesment for new skills, then you will need to allocate time in the program for the students to acquire these skills. You will also have to reduce the time allocated to other activities and also reduce the assesment allocated to those. Keep in mind it is not just the student time you need to take into account when designing assesment, it is also that of the staff, as marking takes up a large proportion of staff time. In designing an online course I looked at how much assesment a typical Australian university course has and allocated marks for my course accordingly: http://blog.tomw.net.au/2010/04/how-to-design-tertiary-level-e-learning.html

    1. Tom,

      Thank you so much for the advice. It’s easy to encourage large amounts of assessment when you’re not the one doing it! I’m in a unique position, in that I direct a faculty development program that requires various assessments, but I am also a faculty member with lots of essays and research papers to grade myself. I think assessing these additional so-called “soft skills” is valuable but dread the idea of being so overwhelmed with assessment that teaching becomes a chore. This will definitely take some strategic planning. Thanks for the link and for taking the time to offer your comments.

      1. Melissa, a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education my final project is to work out how we can fit “soft skills” into higher degree programs. The problem is that while these are considered important, they tend to get squeezed out by the discipline specific courses. My thought is to have the students fill in an e-portfolio alongside their coursework and/or thesis. See: “On-line Professional Education For Australian Research-Intensive Universities in the Asian Century”: http://www.tomw.net.au/education/online_professional_education/

        1. This sounds like an excellent plan. I’ll certainly take a look at this on your site. Thanks so much for the interaction!

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