CHADRON – Assessment, a common term in higher education, involves the collection, analysis and evaluation of student learning data. At Chadron State College, assessment is driven by two factors: improving student learning and satisfying external authorities, according to Dr. Dave Nesheim, who has served as the Interim Director of Assessment for two years.
While the second factor can seem like a threatening element, both are done for the public good, Nesheim said.
“I’m confident assessment efforts can comply with both the letter and the spirit of the policies in the least coercive and invasive way, in a way that works best for CSC,” Nesheim said.
Assessment at CSC the past few years centered on the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) reaffirmation of the institution’s accreditation culminating in a team of HLC peer reviewers visiting campus in April 2017.
“With the positive response to the documents we submitted and following the site visit, we’ve earned HLC’s trust. That gives us some freedom in how we go about our assessment work,” Nesheim said.
Since 2013, newly adopted HLC standards have dramatically increased the role of assessment.
“It moved gathering data beyond academics and explicitly required it of other areas,” Nesheim said.
As a result, assessment is now organized into three categories: academics, co-curricular and operational.
“We have systems in places for all three. They are not perfect. However, we will keep adjusting them to meet external requirements, incorporating changes while continuing to focus on student and institutional improvement. We also have departments and units thinking about different ways they could approach assessment and getting excited about it,” Nesheim said.
Nesheim said although there is little research to prove that application of the business model of key performance indicators works in education, the idea of improvement is valued in higher education.
“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reduce a complicated human being, a student, to a data point. Understandably, the prospect makes some bristle,” Nesheim said. “We are much more like a small community than a business. We’re not analyzing widgets in a factory, we are working with people.”
As a key player tasked with coordinating the collection of data both useful within CSC and capable of satisfying outside entities, Nesheim sees himself as a kind of ecologist for the complex campus environment.
“An ecologist doesn’t measure everything, but instead measures meaningful proxies,” he said.
Speaking as a former faculty member, Nesheim said he knows his students benefitted from assessment questions that helped him identify what he wanted them to learn and how to help them.
“When students and faculty engage in systematic reflection and articulate their goals, we have useful information for improvement,” Nesheim said.
This fall, Nesheim will return to the classroom, as well as take on department chair responsibilities. He will also continue working with assessment in his new role of Assessment Coordinator.
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