Success Matters: How Skill-specific Feedback Drives Positive Change

Assessments are used to validate and improve student learning. Here are examples of how this has improved specific Oakton programs.

Automotive: Through assessment, the automotive department found inadequate class time was given to cover brakes, steering, balancing and alignment in one course. The program split the course into two courses to increase instructional time.

Computer Network Systems: Through assessment, the CNS department discovered a benefit to administering pre-tests that gauge student's knowledge at the onset of the semester. These pre-tests allow faculty to customize the delivery of content to meet students’ needs.

Law Enforcement: Employer feedback indicated a deficit in law enforcement report writing. As a result, a stepped, report-writing instructional process was instituted. Students began writing reports at several junctures with a cumulative report-writing assignment in the final course. This instructional design change resulted in report writing that exceeded benchmark expectations.

Nursing: The nursing department measured the impact of a two-tiered, mid-curricular (MC) standardized assessment.  They discovered that the second tier had no impact on success. Therefore, the second standardized assessment was removed, saving the department over $4,500 per year and both student and faculty time. There are now plans to evaluate the impact of the first tier of the MC assessment.

Learning outcomes assessment also improve student learning in transfer courses.
The academic areas below show examples of how assessment has validated and improved student learning:

Anthropology: The social sciences department assessed multiple course learning objectives in ANT 202, Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology. Overall, students successfully met the criteria for success on this assessment as determined by the faculty. However, faculty did identify two areas of weakness: ethnographic fieldwork and research methods. In response, the faculty identified strategies to provide students with more ethnographic fieldwork and research experiences. Department faculty are also revising the course learning objectives and the assessment tool to improve clarity. These actions will prepare the department to reassess the course learning objectives.

Biology: The biology department conducted a three-year assessment on students’ critical thinking skills, focusing on students’ abilities to apply biology knowledge to new information and problems specific to enzymes. Students were tracked as they progressed through two or more biology classes. Faculty created actions over the three years to address results as they were analyzed. Some of the actions included, providing professional development opportunities in critical thinking and aligning course learning objectives with learning activities and exams, developing department policies specific to critical thinking pedagogical strategies, and sharing best practices among faculty. Students’ critical thinking skills improved, on average, 25 to 30 percent as students progressed through three or more biology courses.

English: The English department assessed the ability of students to analyze, evaluate, compare and synthesize source materials and use them effectively in assigned essays in EGL 102, Composition II. As the assessment was conducted, EGL faculty learned the faculty themselves did not have a common meaning or definition of the word synthesis in the course learning objective. As a result the college writing workshop group administered a survey to all EGL faculty to determine how faculty define the word synthesis. As a result of the survey responses, the college writing workshop group provided professional development to address the concept of synthesis and the relationship to students’ abilities to make text to text connections. The faculties have now agreed upon a common definition for ‘synthesis’ in the context of current theory about reading and critical reading and will be reassessing this learning objective.

Mathematics: The Mathematics department assessed the pass rates in MAT 060, Pre-algebra, over a three-year period. Of the five modules, module three, which covers fractions, seemed to be an obstacle for many students. The average passing rate for module three was 57 percent. MAT 060 was redesigned to allow students more time to master the third module. MAT 060 was reassessed after this redesign and 77 percent of students passed.

Co-curricular Assessment
Four years ago the college began a formal assessment of co-curricular activities to learn the effectiveness of these programs, to discover how and what our students learn outside of the classroom. Leaders from the following co-curricular areas participated:  

  • enrollment services
  • athletics
  • financial aid
  • tutoring
  • learning center
  • student life
  • career services
  • continuing education
  • TRIO
  • orientation
  • advising
  • student recruitment and outreach
  • access, disability resource center (ADRC).

One example of the work can be seen in the efforts of the ADRC.
The Access and Disability Resource Center aimed to assess students’ knowledge of the learning objectives of the intake process. Students’ ability to meet the learning objectives was measured through a post-intake survey. Eighty–one percent of the students who completed the process met all of the learning objectives. In order to increase the success rate, the ADRC modified the intake process to include a separate checklist for students to follow. A second assessment was given and the checklist improved the student success rate by ten percent.

Assessment at Oakton is a continuous process, always leading us to ask the question, “Are our students learning what we say they are learning?” We constantly learn from our assessments and strive to make student learning more effective, powerful, and engaging.  Our ultimate goal is to make our students as successful as they can be in our global community.