Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Brian J. Cowley, Dennis D. Kerkman, Ed L. Hight, Andrew T. Johnson, & Kevin J. Payne Park University, Parkville, USA


Park University is a traditional liberal arts university located in the state of Missouri in the United States with approximately 1,100 students on its main campus. Currently Park University has 52% of students enrolled in campus centers mostly based in military installations across the United States. The online students make up 40% of the student population. The assessment issue that presents itself at a diverse institution like Park is to assure that students learn the same foundation knowledge and skills regardless of delivery mode.

The Educational Testing Service (ETS) recently called for “… a systematic, data-driven, comprehensive approach to understanding the quality of two-year and four-year postsecondary education, with direct, valid, and reliable measures of student learning” (Dwyer, Millett, and Payne, 2006, p. 1). This leaves each institution with the task of developing such an assessment program.

Dwyer et al.’s report (ETS, 2006) called for universities to engage in annual data collection to produce reliable, valid, empirical evidence of learning. Williams (1999) advocated using operational definitions as a reliable method for measuring fundamental characteristics of student learning in higher education, such as critical thinking. Our review of the existing literature on assessment in higher education shows it to be more prescriptive than empirical -- what good assessment ought to be, as opposed what good assessment actually is. As Dwyer’s report noted, “... there is no commonly used metric to determine the effectiveness – defined in terms of student learning – of higher education in the United States.” (Dwyer, et al. 2006, p. 3). Park University is faced with the following challenges:

1) A method for quantification and standardization of reliable, valid, empirical measures of the attainment of postsecondary educational objectives across the curriculum, regardless of delivery mode. 2) An empirical comparison of the relative efficacies of traditional face-to-face and online instructional modalities. 3) Identification of the factorial structure of postsecondary student learning. 4) An assessment method that provides detailed, specific feedback to instructors and administrators for ongoing improvement of instruction to achieve the institution’s goals.

The purpose of this participant idea exchange is to describe the efforts that have been made by the Psychology and Sociology Department at Park University to meet the assessment needs of the university. One of the assessments described is part of a wider university effort to assess all three modes of course delivery with a course embedded assessment using operational definitions. The other methods are of a departmental nature such as the use of a comprehensive examination and a senior capstone class. Then the discussion will turn to what other schools are trying and we will look for commonalities and differences. This will lead to a more comprehensive view of what efforts are being made to assess post secondary education.

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© 2008 Victor Karandashev