Assessment Shorts: Examples of Program Assessment in Action

Honors Program

Using Assessment to Show Program Strengths

     “If you think about assessment in terms of skills, it’s much more meaningful for everybody,” said Jon Goss, Director of UH Mānoa’s Honors Program. But Jon didn’t always have this perspective: “I had probably more than the usual faculty resistance to assessment . . . [I viewed assessment as] another way of increasing my workload without providing any kind of assistance for it.” Then a shift occurred. “I began to realize that by resisting assessment we’re actually losing an opportunity to show how good we are,” he said. “This isn’t just a hoop that you’ve got to jump through in order to reach a particular goal. This is a chance for you to take the reins and to shine.”

     The Honors Program commissioned an extensive, comprehensive assessment plan, and when it became a dusty paperweight, Jon decided to simplify the process while keeping his eye firmly on the goal of program improvement. The Honors Program started gathering information from students and using that student feedback constructively. They sat down with students on a regular basis, informally during the semester and in formal exit interviews which are accompanied by an exit survey and self-reflection paper. “Without investing a great deal of resources, you can make a big difference,” Jon stated. “There’s a couple of areas in which we’re trying to listen to the data and adjust the program accordingly.”

     Assessment revealed that many students who enter the program without going through the lower division selected studies program are unprepared to begin their capstone research project in Honors 495. “We’ve noticed—as well as the students telling us,” Jon said, “that they don’t really have preparation in their majors before they take Honors 495 so they don’t really know anything about research. So we addressed that by modifying the curriculum.” Now the Honors students will complete a class-based research project in Honors 491 before they begin their individual research projects in Honors 495. “So they’re doing research and it's experiential-based learning. That’s a way in which assessment has informed [the curriculum],” Jon stated.

     Another problem identified through assessment was a lack of community. Students stated in the exit survey that there wasn’t enough of a sense of community in the Honors Program, particularly when students were writing a their capstone honors thesis. “Students felt like they’re fending for themselves,” Jon stated. “So using that feedback, one of the things we’ve done is we’ve introduced a writing community that meets every Friday afternoon.” Regular communication with other students made the thesis process less intimidating and gave students additional support as they prepared a public presentation of their research for the Fall Forum and Spring Symposium.

     Assessment helped the Honors Program achieve its goal of priority registration for honors students, which students view as a benefit of the program. Jon used data from students' Curriculum Vitae (CV): “We managed to negotiate priority registration for the first time in the Honors Program,” said Jon. “We said, we’ll prove to you that honors students do more than anybody else in terms of scholarship. They’re doing community service. They’re doing leadership activities on campus. . . . With this CV we’re able to get quantitative data on that from summarizing the CVs.”

     The Honors Program guided and trained students on how to create a CV.  “There’s a coherent set of web pages that instruct students how to go about developing a CV,” Jon stated. The students are now required to present their CV every semester, enabling the Honors Program to guide students developmentally. The CV gives students a valuable tool for their futures. “We’re getting data,” Jon noted, “At the same time the students are getting help in improving their work. . . . It’s a tool for advising as well . . . and students see then what we’re using to assess them is actually meaningful.”

     For Jon, a key to successful assessment is to make the assessment process meaningful for the students. “It’s just shifting your focus,” he stated. “Rather than thinking of [assessment] as being something that you have to do because somebody else is measuring your quality, think of it as a chance to strut your stuff.” To start, Jon advised using “some kind of capstone that the students will aspire to do well . . . it will show you off, that [your program] is doing well. If you can show that you’ve added value and enabled them to do that better than they could have by themselves, then you’ve got a great program.”

 

Honors Program


Keys to Success

  • Shift the paradigm: use assessment to show your program's strengths.

  • Don't let resource limitations prevent you from starting--just start with a realistic plan.

  • Use student feedback in a constructive way to improve the program.

Methods to Collect Evidence
  • Capstone Thesis, reviewed by a 3-person faculty committee and the Honors Council.
  • CV that students create for themselves and which the program can use for assessment purposes.
  • Spring Research Symposium which is faculty refereed.
  • Exit interview.
  • Exit survey.
  • Self-reflection paper.
  • Frequent conversations with students.


Quick Tips

 

 

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The Honors Program (www.honors.hawaii.edu) (2010)

  • 270 students in the lower division Selected Studies Program
  • 140 students in the upper division Honors Program
  • Approximately 30 Honors students graduate each year
  • 1 Faculty Director and 1 part-time advisor
  • 30 cooperating faculty members (who teach “A” sections and Honors courses)

Honors Program Student Learning Outcomes