Exploration of how assessment professionals describe faculty compliance with academic assessment in higher education
Hughes, Jennifer S.
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Because higher education faculty directly impact student learning, it is important to understand how they perceive their roles in academic assessment and how they communicate their involvement in, and commitment to, academic assessment practices (Lee, Zhang, & Yin, 2011). Faculty may have different points of contact with academic assessment. Assessment professionals need to understand how faculty incorporate academic assessment practices into their professional routines and rituals, so that institutional leaders can provide better resources and smarter strategies to gain the compliance of faculty on academic assessment tasks (Daniels, 2011). To effectively measure student learning, assessment professionals need to understand how to provide resources for faculty that will ultimately lead to gains in student learning performance (Banta, 2007). The purpose of this study was to explore how assessment professionals described their efforts to work collaboratively with faculty to gain their compliance on academic assessment tasks. Using the interpretive research paradigm, this study employed a qualitative methodology that utilized a collective case study research design. A collective case study research design was used to study collaborative behaviors within the context of assessment professionals’ work. The collective case study design allowed the researcher to gather data from the perspective of multiple interrelated cases. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews. The processes of open coding, axial coding, subcoding, and NVivo coding were also used. The findings of this study indicated that assessment professionals employ specific strategies to gain faculty compliance on academic assessment tasks. First, participants noted that communicating reciprocity was a helpful compliance strategy. In other words, offering something in return to the faculty member seemed to help the faculty member complete the assessment task. Second, participants suggested that conveying flexibility and supportiveness, where appropriate, was also a useful compliance strategy. The participants described how they consciously made decisions about extending assessment deadlines based upon departmental or institutional circumstances. Third, the participants reiterated the importance of recognizing disciplinary-based connections to the assessment data. This intentional strategy helped the faculty members contextualize the data within their discipline. Finally, the participants offered six recommendations for working collaboratively with faculty on academic assessment tasks: 1) communicating reciprocity to faculty can be a helpful strategy for assessment professionals to gain compliance with assessment tasks; 2) assessment professionals should convey flexibility and supportiveness to their faculty colleagues in order to help build greater commitment to academic assessment; 3) faculty are engaged in assessment when a discipline-based connection is present; 4) a best practices approach for collaborating with faculty emphasizes how the assessment data benefits faculty; 5) a best practices approach for collaborating with faculty is dependent upon the extent to which the faculty member(s) and the assessment professional can propose a solution to the assessment problem, and 6) a best practices approach for collaborating with faculty focuses on the creation of disciplinary connections to the assessment project. The discussion of findings gives voice to the role of the assessment professional in higher education. Assessment professionals are an unstudied employee group within higher education, and this study aimed to contribute to the literature on this particular employee group. The results of this study lead to several implications for higher education practice, including that the current accountability climate is not overwhelmingly empowering either to assessment professionals or faculty members; collaborative strategies used by assessment professionals need to be intentional in order to gain faculty compliance, assessment professionals must consciously work together with faculty to solve assessment problems, and assessment professionals may consider interprofessional collaboration as a legitimate compliance strategy. These four implications indicate that institutions will continue to be challenged to achieve greater faculty compliance with academic assessment within the current higher education environment. The results of this study lead to several recommendations for higher education practice. The first recommendation is the need for assessment professionals to create meaningful professional development opportunities for faculty, so that faculty learn about assessment techniques and strategies at the course, program, and institutional levels. The second recommendation is that institutional leaders must explicitly state that academic assessment is a required part of the faculty contract. Clarifying these expectations for faculty is fair, especially because assessment practices generally require significant effort, especially when performed well. The third recommendation is that institutions must develop their own assessment policies that privilege continuous improvement of student learning. Institutions need to move away from using the term compliance, and instead develop and implement institutional policies that emphasize improvement. The fourth recommendation for higher education practice is to encourage assessment professionals to have more direct involvement with the academic decisions of their respective institutions. Direct involvement can take many forms, such as serving as a voting member of an academic decision-making group, like a core curriculum committee, a general education committee, a state education board, or a departmental assessment subcommittee. The final recommendation for higher education practice is to create formal partnerships between assessment professionals and faculty. Examples of formal partnerships include the development of a faculty fellow program, the awarding of faculty assessment stipends, and the offering of workload credit or reassignment time to faculty who have significant responsibilities in assessment.
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