Evolution of an Assessment Plan


-Approximately 16 graduates each year
-50 declared majors
-12 faculty members

Program assessment was waiting for Professor Lurana O’Malley on her return from sabbatical, but what started as an extra duty became a useful tool as the assessment process developed and matured. “It’s just been a very gradual evolution,” Lurana explained as she reviewed a decade of program assessment at the UH Mānoa Department of Theatre and Dance. “The faculty felt that whatever we come up with had to be really useful for the student.” This student-centric approach led to a new requirement for graduating seniors: a portfolio of work and a resume. “Theatre faculty felt that was a really practical compilation of materials,” Lurana noted. “Something that as they’re graduating they should have anyway, especially in our field.” Now students have begun to align their portfolios with SLOs, both as a means of demonstrating they had achieved the department’s major objectives, and as a method of organizing their capstone work.

Buoyed by the success of this practical and student-centric approach to assessment, Lurana revisited an old idea she had for student mentors and was excited to realize that undergraduate mentoring could also be used as an assessment tool. “Our graduate students get a lot of personalized attention but it seemed like there were some undergraduates who were falling through the cracks,” Lurana said. “So when we started to think about assessment, that idea was revisited as something that could be a part of the [assessment] process and then it had more momentum.” But turning this idea into a reality was not straightforward and it fell into the trap that often awaits an ambitious assessment plan: over-complication and over-work. “We made it very complicated at the beginning. Each faculty member met with each student every semester and got input from all the other faculty about how that student had done in the semester and it was just too hard,” she stated. So the department trimmed the workload. Now students describe their experiences that semester to their mentor and visit a specialized undergraduate advisor for course advising. “They are to meet with their mentor—chosen by the student (they can choose any of us)—once a semester until they graduate,” Lurana said. Not only did this result in extra guidance for undergraduate students and an opening of the pathways of communication between students and faculty, the process of getting the students to talk about their experiences led to one more assessment tool that ended up being the most useful for the department: the exit interview.

“I think we’ve all learned the most from those interviews,” Lurana reflected. “There are two new degrees that we have in mind and that’s come from the exit interviews.” One of those new degrees under development is a BFA in Performance. “It’s been a dream for a long time,” Lurana said. “But this process has at least provided us a way to talk to students about it as a group of faculty. [Assessment gave us] a method of being able to investigate what should be a part of it and how it would be received.” The process of interviewing graduating seniors also gave the department the answer to a program question they had been pondering for years: Is there too much theatre history and theory? “We have five courses in history and theory that are required,” Lurana explained. “We’re always asking and [students] are always—by the end—so glad they’ve done it! ” The exit interviews therefore provide a dual basis for review: both for the department who get together to discuss what they’ve learned, and for the students.

As Theatre’s program assessment continues to develop under the guidance of Dr. Lurana O’Malley, she has some useful advice for fellow assessment coordinators: “Take a little time every year to do some sort of educational opportunity provided by the then Assessment Office,” she counseled, adding, “I was lucky to go to a really good one . . . and I learned much from her about all these different pieces, whether it be about constructing a learning outcome, what that sentence looks like, what the curriculum map means, what are the different tools and different disciplines, all those pieces you need to be educated about.” But no matter how much the process is streamlined over the years, assessment for Lurana still sometimes feels like a daunting task. “It could be a . . . full time job to make it perfect,” Lurana lamented. “I think there’s a lot you can do. That’s the frustrating thing for me. If I’m going to do something I want to actually do it well. So I do try to put in a little bit of time.”

While assessment came to Lurana as an unwrapped gift, the undergraduate Theatre program has been the main beneficiary of program assessment, directly and positively impacting the quality of the education that undergraduate students experience en route to their degrees. “The exit interviews provided us with a lot of good, good, feedback on the program and what’s working and what’s not,” Lurana stated, adding that were it not for assessment, “we would never have done the exit interview part of it.” As for the capstone portfolio that each student creates, Lurana noted that, “the students have found creating the portfolio very, very important and useful,” and added, “It’s very easy to lose track of all kinds of materials and experiences if you don’t have the incentive to keep it and put it together.” While this is true of the students’ work, Lurana also finds it true of the assessment process in general because it has given her department the momentum to build on past ideas and a method to explore new program options.

Keys To Success

  • Create an assessment process that is useful to students and faculty.
  • Let the assessment process evolve gradually.
  • If something isn’t working, change it!

Methods to Collect Evidence

  • Student portfolios, including a resume.
  • Exit interviews.
  • Regular meetings with a mentor.

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