Critical Friends Academies Focus on Institutional Assessment

Friday, August 08, 2014

A group of Fairmont State University faculty members participated in professional development during the summer to support assessment of learning and building an institutional assessment system and to become assessment ambassadors for their academic departments.

Forty-two faculty members from multiple academic units attended a series of three, three-day Critical Friends Academies in June and July. Deb Hemler of the College of Science and Technology and Jaci Webb-Dempsey of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance convened each session. The effort also was supported by Van Dempsey, Vice President for Institutional Assessment and Effectiveness.

“Institutional assessment is going to be a critical focus for the 2014-2015 academic year to help support rigorous assessment of learning and building a system that will inform program improvement and meet the expectations of the Higher Learning Commission accreditation process,” Webb-Dempsey said. “We would like to thank the faculty members who gave their time this summer and who have committed to providing future support to their colleagues.”

Participating faculty members included Matt Hokom, Clarence Rohrbaugh, Suzanne Heagy, Deborah Nestor, Christopher Kast, Erin Hippolyte and Josh Smallridge, College of Liberal Arts; Andreas Baur, Susan Goodwin, Robynn Shannon, Phil Yeager, Hugh Costello, Philip Freeman and Steven Roof, College of Science and Technology; Rebecca Giorcelli, Tim Oxley, T. Jean Engebretson, Leisa Muto and Frank Lee, School of Business; Francene Kirk, Jennifer Yerdon LeJeune, Constance Edwards, Jeff Greenham, J. Patrick Joyce and Elizabeth Melanson, School of Fine Arts; Denise Lindstrom, Amanda Metcalf, Julie Reneau, G.H. “Budd” Sapp, Jessica Brown and Amy Sidwell, School of Education, Health and Human Performance; Vicki Kerwin, Gale Kirby, Veronica Gallo, Denice Kirchoff, Tanya Rogers, Leia Bobo, School of Nursing and Allied Health Administration; and Jim Matthews, Robert Hammonds and Gwen Jones representing General Studies.

“The Critical Friends group provides a mechanism for a professional learning community on campus that will allow colleagues to support each other and improve the teaching and learning process via giving and receiving feedback. It is extremely important to be involved in a group that permits peers to communicate and collaborate across campus in order to improve faculty teaching and student learning via assessment accountability,” Sapp said.

Kirk said that conversations about teaching and learning happen frequently on campus, but the Academies provided a forum for a broader discussion without a lot of distraction.

“The Academies were important because they were time specifically carved out of our busy schedules to think deeply about what we want our programs to accomplish and how we’re going to know that they do what we say. What skills and knowledge and behavior do we want students to take away when they leave?” she said.

Sapp said he hopes he can share information with colleagues about developing a program assessment plan and an annual assessment cycle; utilizing TaskStream to document, map and assess learning outcomes as well as summarize findings and generate recommendations; and developing mission statements, program goals and course learning outcomes.

Heagy pointed out that learning about the language and practice of assessment is important for all educators in that it is a reflective endeavor that seeks to provide the best course content to students.

“One important thing for me was learning how other departments include adjuncts in the assessment process,” she said.

Despite the serious focus of the professional development sessions, participants also experienced a side benefit from meeting.

“Another positive from the sessions was that we had the opportunity to get to know faculty from other schools and colleges within the University much better, and not just professionally. For example, Jennifer Yerdon LeJeune from the School of Fine Arts brought her baby Quinn with her, and I really enjoyed walking around the room holding him one afternoon so Jen could work with her colleagues,” Webb-Dempsey said. “We are fortunate to have a campus community that is so willing to grapple with the hard—and sometimes contentious—issues related to improving teaching and learning and also maintain such a strong sense of community.”