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Measuring Student Learning

Wed, Nov 13, 2013

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

Julie Atwood
Director of Assessment at American Public University System

All universities face the question, “how do we know our students are learning?” To answer that question at American Public University System (APUS), we gather data in a number of ways, including key course assessments, capstone course assignments, nationally-normed tests, and surveys.

All universities gather student learning data and report it to accrediting bodies, such as regional accreditors and government agencies. This is one type of stakeholder with an interest in student learning, but there are others. We consider the needs of multiple stakeholders in how we choose which data to gather and how to report it.

Most external stakeholders, such as potential students, potential investors, and others who are interested in APUS are most interested in comparative data and want it to be relatively easy to find. We report nationally-normed test scores for the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Proficiency Profile and Major Field Test (MFT) scores for our larger programs on our public website for easy access. We include national averages as well so that anyone can see the comparison.

Internal stakeholders, such as deans, directors, and administration, need student learning data for program improvement and we provide it to them regularly, including trend data for student groups over time. With this information, they can make decisions about program needs and changes based on how well students are currently learning and can see improvements that occur as the result of previous changes.

The most important aspect of gathering and providing student learning data is to provide useful and understandable information to the stakeholders who need it.

Key course assessments provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate proficiency on program objectives. These assessments occur within course frameworks and are graded within that context. In addition to their use in the classroom, the data from these assessments are gathered and provided to program directors to indicate student comprehension of concepts throughout the program.

By the time students are ready to graduate, they are expected to be knowledgeable in creating documents and projects that synthesize areas of their learning at advanced levels. Capstone courses are structured to provide the student an opportunity to show this advanced level of learning. Additionally, program directors regularly receive data from these culminating experiences.

Nationally-normed tests are used to compare our student success against students across other universities. At APUS, we use the ETS Proficiency Profile to measure learning in general studies areas, MFT to measure learning in selected majors, and the Peregrine Common Professional Component (CPC) to measure student learning in business fields.

Finally, we survey students to ask what they think they have gained and learned from their experience at APUS. This is a method of indirect assessment, which does not measure the student learning directly but gives us the students’ own perceptions.

In short, the goal of assessment at APUS is to measure student learning at various times with different types of assessments and to provide useful information to the multiple stakeholders interested in the university.

About the Author

Julie Atwood is the Director of Assessment at the American Public University System. She has worked in higher education for more than 20 years in the areas of adult learning, program evaluation and assessment. She earned her M.Ed. from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2001.

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