Assessing General Education

Background

Wichita State University is an urban institution that serves a large number of non-traditional students. We have many minority, international, part-time, first-generation-to-go-to-college, and transfer students. Indeed, only a small minority of our graduates consists of traditional four-or five-year students who take all of their general education courses with us.

These facts of life have had a strong effect on the nature of our general education program and on the means by which we can assess it. At some institutions, the general education program consists of a limited number of courses so that there is a strong element of shared experience for students; that is not possible here. At some institutions, outcomes are measured by a single exam given to all; that also is not possible here.

The essence of our assessment program is that it is a means for providing feedback to ensure that we are achieving our goals to the fullest extent possible. It is based on the premise that our faculty members are professionals who are competent to judge outcomes in the courses they teach.

Nature of the Program and its Relationship to the Mission of the University

The mission of Wichita State University includes equipping our students “ . . . with the educational and cultural tools they need to thrive in a complex world, and to achieve both individual responsibility in their own lives and effective citizenship in the local, national, and global community; . . .”

In the context of our general education program, we interpret this statement in terms of the skills and breadth of experiences needed for our graduates to succeed. The skills we emphasize are those involved in finding, assessing and analyzing information and formulating ideas so that they can be communicated orally or in writing, as appropriate. The diversity of intellectual exposure demanded by our general education program provides our students with the breadth they need to “thrive in a complex world.”

Goals of the Program

1) to study and apply mathematical principles;
2) to study and apply principles of written and oral communication;
3) to study and apply basic library research skills including basic assessment of various kinds of sources;
4) to study the natural sciences, social and behavioral sciences, humanities and fine arts in order to understand how scholars in those fields work;
5) to study human diversity on a global basis and its implications for society.

Structure of the Program

The first three goals are articulated in an across-the-(general education)-curriculum structure for writing, oral communication, mathematics and library research. Students are introduced to these skill areas in four Basic Skills courses – two in English composition and one each in public speaking and mathematics. They are intended not only to provide practice in library research, writing, speaking and the manipulation of abstractions but also to provide students with experience in thinking clearly so that they can argue clearly – in evaluating oral and written and mathematically-based arguments. Students are required to complete this part of their general education program in their first 48 credit hours.

The second tier of the program is an introduction to the major arenas of intellectual life: the humanities and fine arts, the social sciences, and mathematics and the natural sciences. Students are required to take at least one Introductory Course in the fine arts, and two each in the humanities, social sciences, and mathematics/natural sciences. Students may take Introductory Courses concurrently with the Basic Skills courses, subject to course prerequisites.

The third tier of the program allows students to follow interests developed in the introductory courses. They are required to take one Further Studies course (outside their major) in each of the three divisions. Both the Introductory Courses and the Further Studies courses are designed to enhance students’ skills in oral and written communication, library research and mathematical manipulation of data. That is, within the General Education Program, we have an across-the-curriculum structure for library research, mathematical reasoning, writing and oral communication. Departments are encouraged to continue this emphasis in courses beyond the general education program.

Within this final tier, students are required to take at least one and at most two Issues and Perspectives courses outside their major. These courses substitute for one or two of the Further Studies courses in the general education requirements. They are a means of exposing students to certain valuable but non-canonical subjects and methodologies. The requirement ensures that students are exposed to either a problem that has emerged from contemporary conditions or an interdisciplinary discussion of an enduring topic.

Learning Outcomes - Student Learning Outcomes for the Introductory Courses Include

Understanding of fundamental concepts used in the discipline,
Awareness of the kinds of problems addressed, and
Familiarity with methods used in the discipline.
Student learning outcomes in the Further Studies and I&P courses include those for Introductory courses plus

Ability to apply basic concepts to various issues,
Ability to apply some of the basic methods common to the discipline,
And the ability to write using the standards of the discipline.
Student learning outcomes for diversity courses include:

To acquire knowledge of the diverse cultures, communities and histories that comprise US society
To gain an appreciation of global cultural diversity
To attain an understanding of the depth of cultural differences and their implications for communication and interaction between groups.

The Assessment Process - Basic Skills Courses

The departments responsible for designing and teaching the Basic Skills courses are also given the responsibility for assessing the outcomes in terms of individual students and for assessing the training provided to those who teach the courses. Statements from the three departments regarding how they accomplish such assessment are attached to this document. The General Education Committee reviews these procedures periodically, in discussion with the program directors from the concerned departments.

In addition, during the appropriate part of the assessment cycle, the three departments report summary statistics to the General Education Committee to aid in the assessment of the overall program. These include: number of students who have taken the courses, course grade distributions, exit/final exam grade distributions, and whatever other measures they have accumulated.

For instance, the Elliott School of Communications reports the results of their pre-test/post-test of students’ self-reported attitudes regarding speech competency and both the instrument used and the cumulative scores for the persuasive policy speech required of all students in Communication 111.

The English Department reports numbers of students in the composition courses and the grade distributions in the courses and on the exit exams.

There is no required Basic Skills course for library research, but the librarians are developing means of assessing student skills using an on-line self-test. Librarians also provide in-class instruction at the request of course instructors.

Introductory, Further Studies and Issues & Perspectives Courses

Assessment of the rest of the general education program (including further assessment of the basic skills courses) is accomplished through 1) program monitoring, 2) tracking outcomes, and 3) other institutional feedback.
Program monitoring

In order to determine the extent to which the various courses are contributing as they should to the general education program, we obtain information from the instructors of record regarding

  1. the ways in which the course addresses all of the goals of the program
  2. how the goals are reflected in course assignments
  3. the percentage of the course grade that is derived from assignments directly related to general education goals.

Instructors are asked to provide this information in course syllabi.

One of the goals of the program, (to gain a basic understanding of the natural sciences, social and behavioral sciences, humanities and fine arts) is addressed in the structure of the program, which requires students to take Introductory and Further Studies courses in the various broad fields of inquiry. In addition, the General Education Committee uses a General Education Course Proposal Form and the course syllabi to determine the appropriateness of a course for the program and the extent to which the course addresses this goal. Since such courses will vary in the extent to which they can involve library research, public speaking, mathematics and writing, the general education committee is responsible for developing and maintaining a matrix that documents which general education courses at the introductory and further studies levels have components that require students to apply their library research, mathematical, and written and oral communication skills. Students and advisors use this matrix when planning courses of study to ensure that students obtain practice in applying their newly-acquired skills while completing the rest of their general education program.

Tracking Outcomes

The outcomes of the program are determined in three ways.

  1. Course grade distributions are a measure of the outcomes of the Basic Skills courses. This is appropriate because each department teaching a Basic Skills class has a rubric (that is shared with students) for evaluating outcomes. The departments teaching the courses provide grade distributions, including withdrawals, and an analysis of problems encountered in ensuring that students are achieving the appropriate learning outcomes.
  2. We interview a sample of graduating seniors who took all of their general education coursework at WSU to obtain both a student’s perspective of the program as a whole and of their attainment of the skills and perspectives that the program is supposed to provide. Students who have completed the program can speak to all aspects of it and, by the time they are seniors, are more likely to be able to assess the value to them of the program. Interview questions include some that probe student behavior as an appropriate measure of outcomes.
  3. Individual departments provide feedback to the general education committee as part of the regular program assessment cycle. Instructors who teach General Education courses are asked to provide appropriate assessment of student learning outcomes, including (but not limited to) pretest-posttest models. In the year that a given tier of courses are assessed by the General Education committee, instructors of those classes will be asked to provide statements of how they assessed learning outcomes and the nature of the results.

Institutional Feedback

In order to monitor and improve the program, we have designed a set of feedback processes that allow all parts of the university that affect general education to learn from one another. Faculty members who teach general education courses will be asked to report outcomes once every three years. At the time when their input is requested, they will also be asked for comments on the strenghts and weaknesses of the program.

The general education committee meets yearly with academic advisors to obtain feedback from them regarding the program and to provide them with whatever feedback the committee obtains from faculty. Similarly, the general education committee meets annually with representatives from Ablah library regarding students’ library research skills. The committee also receives annual reports from exceptions committees so that it can review all cases that involve general education requirements. Any waivers of requirements made by deans will also be reported to the committee so that it can monitor them as well.

Schedule

In order to mesh the assessment of general education with the other assessments at the university, we review the program in a three-year cycle. Since the program consists of three main elements – basic skills courses, introductory courses and further studies courses – each is reviewed in turn. In the fall semester, the general education committee gathers and assesses the data that has accumulated since the last review and writes a report to the Faculty Senate. In the spring semester, the report with any recommendations for change is presented to the senate early in the semester so that the senate has the time for thorough consideration prior to taking the recommendations to the general faculty later in the semester. Any changes approved by the general faculty will be instituted in the following version of the undergraduate catalog.