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An Attempt at Assessment and Evaluation Using Portfolios

Dave Dempsey, Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University


Our First Attempt

In 2002-03, the faculty of San Francisco State University's Department of Geosciences, led by Karen Grove (former Department Chair), collaborated to develop overall goals; a set of six learning objectives; and for each learning objective, several performance outcomes, for its B.S. program in Geology. (We were proud of these at the time. We still like them, though they need some revision.) To assess the B.S. program, the faculty chose to assemble portfolios of student work. We thought that portfolios would showcase what students had learned and allow us to judge both how well they'd learned and how their learning had evolved as they progressed through our program. (We still very much like the potential of portfolios for these purposes.)

To determine which assignments to include in the portfolios, we first considered each of our six learning objectives individually. For each one, the instructor of each of our (then) ten required core courses in geology (but not math, physics, or chemistry) tried to identify one assignment that arguably addressed the learning objective well. Not every core course necessarily had such an assignment, but the instructors for anywhere from one to six courses thought they did. A total of nine assignments were identified for inclusion in the portfolio. Some assignments addressed more than one learning objective; some courses contributed more than one assignment (to address different learning objectives); and nine of the ten required core courses contributed assignments. Most assignments were reports of some type; one consisted of the B.S. thesis and oral defense. Each semester during the next two academic years (2003-05), students were asked to bring any of the designated assignments that they'd completed to their faculty academic advisor as part of the Department's mandatory advising. The faculty advisors were expected to maintain the portfolios. (This didn't work as well as we'd envisioned.) To evaluate the portfolios, in the summer of 2005 a committee of three Geology program faculty members tried to score the available portfolios, using a rubric based on the performance outcomes for each learning objective. (This turned out to be hard to do.) After that first attempt, our assessment and evaluation efforts lapsed. We are now reviving them, spurred by an impending deadline issued by our administration.

What Did We Learn?

Ideas for a Revised Strategy

A revised and improved assessment and evaluation strategy will need to (1) get all faculty members to buy in; (2) assign a meaningful role for students and make them responsible for it; (3) assign faculty responsibility for implementing the strategy; and (4) more broadly, incorporate the strategy into Departmental culture. We also believe that we need a wider range of assessment data, particularly indirect data, to complement the direct assessment data (student assignments) in the portfolios. Possible steps toward a revised and improved strategy include:

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