Frequently Asked Questions
What is assessment?
Assessment (or student outcomes assessment) is a process by which the Anthropology faculty seek to continually improve student learning by looking to see if seniors earning a degree in Anthropology have achieved outcomes laid out for the major.
How is assessment done?
First, the Anthropology faculty establish a set of learning outcomes (or SLOs-student learning outcomes). Every year, the faculty identify one or more outcomes to evaluate and collect examples of student work (referred to as artifacts) that pertain to that outcome. These artifacts are then reviewed by faculty. Most important, if this critical review reveals any issues in the outcomes, assignments, or the artifacts, the Anthropology faculty make recommendations to improve student learning by changing assignments, lecture content, curriculum, etc.
What are student learning outcomes (SLOs)?
Student learning outcomes are generally a short list of standards, rooted in the curriculum, that reflect the essence of what a student of Anthropology should know and demonstrate when they graduate with their degree. Examples might include things like being able to collect data or applying theory to research. As leaders in assessment, the Anthropology faculty continually evaluate their outcomes and change them when necessary to better fit with the curriculum or to match changes in course offerings.
What is the role of artifacts? Can’t you simply administer a test or ask students what they’ve learned?
Naturally, as Anthropologists, interviewing students was the primary way to assess student learning and this was the approach used over a decade ago. However, students are not always good evaluators of their own learning, so the faculty began to use a pre- and post-test where first-year students and seniors were asked the same 20 questions drawn from the four subfields of Anthropology. Again, this was not a good measure of learning in part because it focused on content, in part because not all students took the same sequence of class, and in part because it relied on test-taking skills. On the other hand, artifacts like oral presentations, research papers (e.g., theory papers in Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft), lab reports (e.g.,, archaeological analysis in Interpreting the Working with the Past), class projects (e.g., skeletal identification in Forensic Anthropology), and data analyses (e.g., conversation transcription in Language and Culture) are a demonstration of what students can do. There should be alignment between specific outcomes, classes that touch on those outcomes, and assignments in those classes that relate to the outcomes. In that way, an artifact should directly reveal whether a student has met an outcome or not without the issues surrounding interviews and multiple-choice tests.
Can’t you just use grades, don’t they measure learning?
Student grades in classes are not always a measure of learning and might be better thought of as a measure of performance. Oftentimes, an overall class grade incorporates elements not directly related to learning by individual students such as group work, points for participation, attendance, extra credit, curves and other grade adjustments. Because of those things, a grade in a course is not a good indicator of learning.
Who does assessment, who is responsible?
As dedicated teachers, the entire Anthropology faculty is directly engaged with assessment; all results are reviewed and discussed by faculty. A reflection of this dedication to the process is that the leadership role in assessment rotates through the faculty so that everyone is invested and knowledgeable about the process. Past leaders have included Drs. Lowell, Grey, Gaff, and Woodrick. Dr. Li is the current assessment leader. Additionally, Dr. Gaff has served on assessment committees at the university, participated in a college assessment retreat, and attended conferences involving assessment.
How does this benefit students?
The Anthropology faculty are committed to providing the best education to students, so they take assessment seriously. As a result of assessment, lectures and assignments have been changed, new classes developed, and most recently, the entire Anthropology curriculum has been revised. Looking to emphasize skills valuable to employers and graduate schools, the Anthropologists spent almost two years developing and refining a new curriculum (informed partly assessment results and discussions) that prioritized highly desirable skills. Along with the curriculum redesign was the creation of new student learning outcomes tied to each part of the curriculum so that the entire curriculum might be assessable. Ongoing participation in assessment helps ensure that Anthropology students at UNI are being offered the highest quality classes and training.