Middle States Thanks and Next Steps

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Middle States self-study feedback process.  We received useful comments and suggestions from faculty, staff, and administrators, both on the Main Campus and from the Schools of Law.  The attention to detail and the positive responses overall are much appreciated.

Next steps:  A final, revised version of the self-study report will be prepared by the tri-chairs, and then sent to our Team Chair no later than October 17.  Then, we will await feedback from the Team Chair while planning for the Team Chair visit, to occur on November 10.

Feedback Welcome on the Middle States Self-Study

The comment period on the Middle States self-study is underway.  An open meeting was held yesterday in Lathem Hall, and the campus community was invited to join members of the Steering Committee to share feedback.  Turnout was fairly good, comments and questions were collected, and the tri-chairs were able to provide some insight into the process.

Feedback, questions, and comments are welcome; the deadline is September 20.  Feel free to send your thoughts to the tri-chairs!

Welcome Back from Widener Middle States!

We hope our colleagues (and steadfast blog readers) have had a productive and restful summer.  The Middle States team has been working all summer on multiple drafts of the self-study report, and we are just about ready to share the document with the campus community.

The Steering Committee met today to provide feedback to the tri-chairs, who will now commence preparing a new version for wide dissemination.  Once all Steering Committee feedback is collected by the tri-chairs (deadline: Monday, August 29th), a newly edited document will then be available to the campus community on September 1.

All members of the campus community are invited to a Town Hall to discuss the draft, to be held on September 8 from 3–4 (location TBD).  Feedback is welcome and encouraged.  Those who cannot make the Town Hall are invited to send any comments and feedback to Janine Utell by September 20.   At the General Faculty meeting tomorrow, August 25, Provost Wilhite will share additional news and updates.

As always, please get in touch with any questions!  Happy new semester!

Preparing the Self-Study: Summer Timeline

We’ll be taking a bit of a summer hiatus here on the blog, as we get down to drafting the Middle States self-study report.  The writing is well underway, thanks to the labor of the working groups.

In the meantime, here is the timeline for drafting, revising, and sharing with the campus community [NOTE: This timeline has been updated as of 24 August 2016]:

  • June 1: First draft to Provost Wilhite
  • June 10: Revisions due back to Tri-Chairs
  • July 1: Second draft to President Wollman
  • July 15: Revisions due back to Tri-Chairs
  • August 1: Third draft to Steering Committee and Executive Committee
  • August 24: Steering committee meeting and feedback received
  • September 1: Fourth draft to Widener community
  • September 8: Town Hall (location TBD)
  • September 20: Final feedback due to the Tri-Chairs from all constituents
  • September 30: Final revision sent to Provost Wilhite
  • Early-mid-October: Report sent to MSCHE Team Chair
  • November 10:  MSCHE Team Chair Visit
  • March 27–29:  MSCHE Evaluating Team Visit

Just because we’ll be offline doesn’t mean we’re not available.  As always, feel free to get in touch with questions or concerns, and have a great summer!

Middle States: Spring and Summer Progress

We have met another important deadline:  the final drafts of reports from the working groups are coming in.  Our next step is to begin drafting the complete self-study report, synthesizing all the work from the teams.  The tri-chairs will meet several times over the month of April to review the working group reports and formulate a plan for writing.  The self-study draft will be available for review by the campus community at the end of the summer.

Professors Krouse and Utell will give a brief update at the next General Faculty Meeting on April 25.  In the meantime, if you see a member of a Middle States working group, make sure to say thanks!

Finally, in case you missed it, a student member of the team, Ashley Rundell, was featured in a home page story on the important contributions students make to the work of the university.  Ashley shared her experiences working on Middle States here on the blog a few months ago.  We’re grateful to Ashley, and to all those who contributed so much time, energy, and expertise to this process.





Accreditation and Learning Outcomes: Time for Reform?

Last week some of us were lucky enough to spend time with Dr. Tia Brown McNair, Vice President of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success at AAC&U.  Dr. McNair held two workshops on Wednesday, sponsored by the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, and she led us in wide-ranging and necessary discussions examining what it means to define ourselves as equity-minded practitioners as faculty and administrators.  We were challenged to think about how we embed our students’ own cultural wealth in our teaching and learning, and how we make student learning outcomes clear and transparent over the course of the educational path.  We are responsible not only for inclusivity in access but also in success.  If you’d like to read more about AAC&U’s work in the area of equity, the free web publications Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence and Step Up and Lead for Equity are good places to start.

This invigorating conversation got me thinking about the role of examining and ensuring equity as part of—what else?—our Middle States self-study process, so it was timely that another AAC&U publication appeared in my inbox the next day.  The current issue of Liberal Education takes as its theme, “What Happens to Quality in an Age of Disruption?” and it focuses on the importance of articulating learning outcomes that are explicit, understandable, demonstrable, and assessable.  What does this mean for accreditation and for those higher ed leaders and politicians who express dissatisfaction and skepticism towards the process?  According to Debra Humphreys and Paul L. Gaston, learning outcomes that are explicit, understandable, demonstrable, and assessable

can provide essential prompts for curricula that are coherent and cumulative, encourage student persistence, and offer a platform for programmatic and institutional accountability. These carefully delineated and assessed outcomes must become the most important priority in any new reforms of policy and any new approaches to quality assurance.

These authors suggest that a focus on learning outcomes that “address assessable student demonstration of attainment; clearly reference the importance of integrative, cross-disciplinary study; and include both applied and ‘liberal” learning’ is the key to mission-driven assessment that makes sense.  They also argue (rightly, I think) that any discussion of accreditation reform needs to take the learning outcomes movement seriously.  I’d add, in light of Dr. McNair’s comments, that a clear path through college defined by meaningful learning outcomes is essential to making sure all students have not only access to higher education but success once they get there.

Humphreys and Gaston ask, as part of their examination of whether and how to reform accreditation:

Is regional accreditation less concerned with student learning outcomes and less explicit in its expectations of accredited institutions than it should be? Or does regional accreditation remain our most promising avenue to achieving genuine reform in higher education through a developing consensus on such outcomes?

It seems that the work Middle States has done to revise the standards, and implement those standards through the Collaborative Implementation Project, is on track to answer that second question with a “yes.”  The new standards are mission-driven, and focused on student learning, success, and transformation.  They call for a clear path through coherent programs with carefully delineated outcomes.  As we undertake to write our self-study over the next few months, it might be worth keeping this bigger picture in mind, and asking ourselves how well we are meeting our mission to create a clear educational path for all students and to help students achieve meaningful learning outcomes.

Why Are We Assessing?

We’re about halfway to our next Middle States deadline:  April 1, for final drafts of Working Group reports.  We’re also about halfway through the spring semester.  In the midst of managing the tasks of self-study and re-accreditation, not to mention our usual cycles of assessment, it can be good to stop and ask, why are we assessing?

This piece by Linda Suskie, former VP for Middle States and author of Assessing Student Learning:  A Common Sense Guide, was published several years ago, but its call to reflect strikes one as still bearing relevance.  (Dr. Brigitte Valesey, in her guest post, also notes Suskie’s work.)  Suskie suggests we ask some straightforward questions about student learning:  what have our students learned?  are we satisfied with what they have learned?  if not, what are we doing about it?

She addresses the usual claims underlying demands for assessment, arguing that we cannot ask the people we serve to take the value of a college education for granted, especially in the current political and economic climate.  But I found this section of the essay to resonate particularly, because it gets at the real value of higher education when it works the way we want it to:

The most important purpose of assessment should not be improvement or accountability but their common aim:  Everyone wants students to get the best possible education.  Everyone wants them to learn what’s most important.  A college’s mission statement and goals are essentially promises that the college is making to its students, their families, employers, and society.  Today’s world needs people with the attributes we promise.  We need skilled writers, thinkers, problem-solvers, and leaders.  We need people who are prepared to act ethically, to help those in need, and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly diverse and global society.  Imagine what the world would be like if every one of our graduates achieved the goals we promise them!

Of course, we don’t have to wait for Assessment Day or the final version of our self-study to ask these questions.  As we embark on the second half of the semester we can each ask:  what have our students learned so far, and are they well on the way to achieving the goals we’ve set?