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The Learning Improvement Initiative

Improvement is the primary purpose of assessment. Assessment is useful only to the extent that we use the results to evaluate and improve our programs and thereby help students achieve important learning and developmental outcomes. Unfortunately, evidence supporting the use of assessment results to improve student learning is severely lacking across institutions of higher education.

Given this context, the Learning Improvement Initiative is a partnership between Student Affairs Assessment Support Services (SASS) and the Division of Student Affairs to promote intentional programming focused on student learning/development improvement. As part of this initiative, up to two student affairs programs will be selected each year for an intensive, collaborative partnership with members of SASS in an effort to demonstrate program effectiveness and learning improvement.

What does it mean to demonstrate learning improvement? Demonstrating learning improvement requires 1) gathering quality outcomes assessment data, 2) thoughtful interpretation of assessment results to make informed changes to a program, and finally 3) an assessment of the effectiveness of those changesThus, learning improvement not only requires sound assessment methodology, but theoretically informed, evidence-based programmatic changes. For more information about learning improvement, click here.

Preparing Your Application

The application process is designed to help us learn more about your program and the learning improvement project you would like to pursue. Although several application questions will ask you to describe previous assessment results and improvement efforts, programs will not be selected based on the number of years they have conducted assessment or demonstrated improvement. Rather, programs will be selected based on the following criteria:

  • Readiness, which includes: 
    • Selecting one or two student learning outcomes that are important to your office and the university
    • Assembling a core group of staff members dedicated to the learning improvement initiative
    • Securing administrative support for the learning improvement initiative
  • Commitment, which includes:
    • Willingness to employ rigorous assessment methodology involving a longitudinal data collection design
    • Willingness to make theoretically informed and evidence-based programmatic changes
    • A commitment of 10 staff hours per week to the initiative (graduate assistants should contribute less than 1/3 of this time)
  • Evidence-Based Programming, which includes:
    • A description of the logic underlying the current programming (i.e., how was the program intentionally designed to achieve the stated outcomes?)
    • A thoughtful discussion of reasons why students might not be achieving the stated outcomes despite the current programming
    • Initial thoughts about potential program modifications or new evidence-based interventions

Before beginning your application, we encourage you to review the examples of completed applications below. These mock applications should help clarify what kind of information we are looking for in each section. If you still have questions about the application, or if you would like to receive feedback on your application prior to submission, please schedule an appointment to meet with a SASS consultant or email SASS Faculty Lead, Sara Finney (finney@jmu.edu).

Example Learning Improvement Initiative Applications

Submitting Your Application

Applications are due May 15th. Please submit completed applications to the Student Affairs Assessment Advisory Council (SAAC) co-chairs: Sarah Sunde (sundesa@jmu.edu) and Kathleen Campbell (campbekl@jmu.edu).

Download Application

Selected programs will be notified by May 31st. Programs may choose to begin work with SASS in either the Summer or Fall. Should any questions arise while completing the application, please contact the Advisory Council.

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