Assessment and Outcomes
Teaching - Learning Fellows, Summer 2003 Learning Outcome Project
I am an Associate Professor of History at Western Washington University. I came to Western Washington from Texas where I taught for three years in the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas. I completed my Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine. I have written on State repression of dissent during wartime, amnesty and civil liberties movements in the United States, feminist theory, gendered and racial violence, anti-Catholicism, Joan Jett and Xena, Warrior Princess. Despite spending my adult life west of the Mississippi, I was born in and in and retain a primary allegiance to the Northeast, especially in sports. I am optimistic that most of my students take history courses because they love history and believe that someday the Red Sox will win the World Series. When not teaching or writing, I spend my days watching sports, Babylon 5 reruns and playing with my dogs, Eliot and Sampson.
What my students say about me when they think I am not listening:
- She hangs upside down in her office
- Buffy could take Xena in a minute
- The Backstreet Boys have talent
- Cats are not vermin
- The Red Sox will never win the World Series
My primary reason for participating in this project was to align my individual assignments with my course goals. I was concerned that my assignments did not always measure the skills that they claimed they did. I began this project as a skeptic and like many faculty members did not want assessment imposed on me by either legislative mandate or by colleagues unfamiliar with the humanities. I anticipated that my participation would enable me to not only write better assignments and to translate the useful literature on assessment to my colleagues in the humanities. By doing so, I hoped to retain control over the learning process in my classroom and to provide a language for my colleagues to address assessment requirements without compromising what they do in the classroom. It was my hope that once my colleagues were reassured that they would maintain this control that they would be see assessment projects as an opportunity to improve their courses rather than a threat to their pedagogy.
Ed Chatterton, Student Research Partner:
My name is Ed Chatterton, and I am a graduate student in History Department. I am what many would call a "returning" student; that is a student returning after a career in a non-academic field. My decision to participate in this project was fueled by three distinct considerations. First, my respect for Dr. Kennedy and a realization that anything she was involved in would be excellent. Secondly, the opportunity to interact with teachers and fellow students all motivated by a similar goal–the improvement of their individual and corporate learning skills. I would be dishonest if I did not acknowledge that the opportunity to be paid for the experience I would gladly have purchased was also a factor.
My experience in the non-academic "real world" has convinced me that knowledge in any particular field is often "caught" rather than "taught." Teachers plan curriculum, syllabi and evaluate procedures well, but much of what is actually learned does not originate in the structured, traditional classroom paradigm. Clearly stated, intended learning outcomes carefully crafted learning opportunities (included lectures, labs, cooperative and collaborative learning methods and individual student research), and realistic, innovative assessment tools are the primary goals of this Teaching and Learning group.
History 103 fulfills the General Education Requirement in the Humanities. It introduces students to the first half of American History (Ancient Native American societies to the Civil War) that typically enrolls anywhere from seventy-five to one-hundred and twenty-five students. When I teach the course in the Fall, most of these students are first-quarter freshmen, some of whom are enrolled in a Fig cluster. Like most History courses it has a heavy writing component as the members of the History Department use essay exams and generally assign anywhere from five to fifteen pages of writing in lower division courses. The course has the dual burden of teaching students the basic content of early American history and in introducing students to the practice of history.
When I first began including learning objectives on my syllabus, I used as a guide a rubric developed by the History Department at California State University at Long Beach. This rubric was the result of a project designed to examine and articulate what first-year history students should know. I have revised this rubric to make it specific to History 103 and to arrange it in accordance with the Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher learning. By using the language of Bloom’s Taxonomy, I hope to better articulate how these objectives moved students from basic knowledge to critical thinking.
- Place in time key historical events and actors
- Identify and evaluate multiple perspectives and approaches to historical understanding
- Identify and Evaluate the diversity of AAmerican@ experiences
- Formulate and defend an historical argument
- Write clearly, economically and persuasively about historical problems
- Develop a proper foot/end note
- Locate appropriate primary sources
- Distinguish between primary and secondary sources
- Interpret different types of evidence
- Detect and appraise bias and point of view
- Draw conclusions and inferences from examined evidence
- Formulate historical questions
- Create, organize and support an historical argument in written and oral presentation
- Assess and prioritize historical causes
These learning objectives are measured by three assignments:
- Two history papers that articulate a clear historical argument developed from a careful analysis of primary sources
- Two to three short essay exams that require students to define key concepts, identify and discuss the significance of key people and events and to place those concepts and events in historical time and context
- Participation in a discussion list in which students contribute to ongoing discussions and arguments about key historical events, their causes and meanings.
The assignment I will focus on here is the history paper. Because of class size, students only write two history papers of between 1000 and 1250 words. These papers are modified research essays. By modified I mean that students do not actually locate the primary sources that they will use in this essay in the library but are provided with a series of primary sources in an assigned reader. They are also provided with a topic and series of questions that their essay must address. I needed an assessment tool that would enable me to measure the quality of their essay. I wanted a tool that would allow me to provide students with information as to the overall quality of their essay and one that would break the essay down so that students could understand how well they had addressed the various parts of historical writing. To this end, I chose a writing rubric that would give students a visual picture of my assessment. I have also found that the rubric leads to a more consistent assessment of student essays as it ensures that I am articulating clear standards.