Kristen Smith, a second year assessment and measurement doctoral student at James Madison University, interviewed distinguished assessment scholar, Dr. Trudy Banta. For decades, Banta has helped shape higher education assessment practice through scholarly publications and by serving on national advisory panels. From 1992 to 2006, Banta was Vice Chancellor for Planning and Institutional improvement at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). As Vice Chancellor, and now as Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, she oversees both accreditation self-studies and a robust internal program review process for academic and administrative units that assists deans and directors in evaluating the effectiveness of their programs and services.

Dr Banta

Currently, Banta serves on numerous editorial review boards. Along with her colleagues, Banta encourages faculty to engage in student learning outcomes assessment at IUPUI. Thanks in part to her work, all programs on campus, including the law school, have articulated student learning outcomes and most have created plans for assessing them.

In 2010, under Banta’s leadership, IUPUI assessment practitioners asked every faculty member to evaluate their students relative to the 6 Principles of Undergraduate Learning. First articulated in 1998, these principles (e.g., core communication and quantitative skills, critical thinking, integration and application of knowledge, etc.) have now proliferated into nearly all general education courses. Thanks to assessment processes at IUPUI, Banta noted, faculty better understand student weaknesses and can adopt specific strategies to improve targeted areas.

In addition to discussing her work at IUPUI, Banta spoke about new directions in assessment and commented on changes in higher education that have influenced assessment practice. For example, technological advances such as electronic portfolios, Banta noted, “…can serve as repositories of student development from freshman to senior year.” It is now feasible to administer classroom tests at various locations around campus (assessment centers) where students can complete assessments “when they feel that they are ready and when they are feeling in their best form.” For professors, this means more class time dedicated to instruction, activities, and learning.

Although technological advances have helped progress data collection, there are still notable impediments to quality assessment practices and evidencing higher education’s value. To help faculty overcome these “assessment obstacles,” in 2009, Banta and colleagues published Designing Effective Assessment: Principles and Profiles of Good Practice. In her interview with Smith, Banta stated that if she were to detail profiles of good assessment practice again she would use essentially the same principles from the American Association of Higher Education (1992) because they are still applicable today. In addition, she would place more emphasis on “making use of the evidence to actually improve teaching and learning and academic programs and services.” Banta continued, “it would be wonderful if we had better measurements of student learning that would serve to impress and convince our stakeholders that students are benefitting immediately and that we can look longer-term to their career success.” According to Banta, to demonstrate higher education’s value, we must:

  • Track performance indicators that are related to our strategic planning goals,
  • Make accessible reports to show stakeholders evidence of student learning, and
  • Highlight things we are doing well and actions we are taking to improve student learning and development.

In preparing to write Designing Effective Assessment: Principles and Profiles of Good Practice, Banta and colleagues scoured the literature for quality examples of using assessment results for learning improvement. However, only 6% of institutions that participated could demonstrate such use—a finding that shaped her future work. In 2011, Banta and Dr. Charlie Blaich from the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College co-authored an article for Change Magazine, “Closing the Assessment Loop.” In the article, several barriers to using assessment results for improvement are identified (e.g., external mandates that don’t facilitate campus engagement, high turnover rate in faculty and administrative leadership, unrealistic timelines for change, etc.), which might explain why only 6% of institutions could demonstrate use of assessment results for improvement.

As Banta described, assessment processes can facilitate learning improvement: If students tend to struggle with writing, universities can “institute a writing center to help the students” or “help faculty teach writing skills better.” Banta further stressed the importance of “good faculty development to strengthen assessment skills.” She mentioned that at large, research-oriented universities, some of the best assessment work stems from the work that teaching and learning centers do with faculty members.

When asked how practitioners can help faculty overcome barriers to demonstrating learning improvement, Banta offered Smith one word of advice, “collaboration.” “Become a good collaborator and know that building strong collaborations will be key to your success in the field,” said Banta. She further explained that there is no way to do outcomes assessment without collaboration between assessment centers, programs, and faculty. Student Affairs professionals, as Banta mentioned, should also be part of the collaboration.

Throughout the interview, Banta stressed the importance of collaborating with faculty from centers of teaching and learning that have unique skills; skills that are crucial for helping faculty improve student learning. In addition to working with the right stakeholders, Banta explained that practitioners must possess strong measurement skills, suggesting that aspiring educational researchers and assessment professionals learn survey research and analytical tools including both qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques. She also emphasized the importance of celebrating successes: “as you experience successes hold those up as examples, communicate about them and make yourself available for meetings with faculty and staff so that you’re spreading the word about assessment practice and when you do that you’re encouraging others to become involved.”

Smith concluded her interview with Banta by asking her to describe what assessment might look like in an ideal world. She responded with a mention of more faculty involvement and buy-in to the assessment process. Her hope was that key members in the assessment process, such as faculty members and staff, would see assessment as part of a continuous improvement process.

Throughout the discussion, Banta provided valuable insights regarding IUPUI’s innovative assessment initiatives, quality assessment practices, and “closing the assessment loop.” She also offered strategies to overcome impediments to using results for learning improvement. Lastly, Banta emphasized the importance of building interdisciplinary collaborations and strong working relationships with faculty and offices across campus. Insights Smith is sure to remember as she works toward becoming an assessment practitioner herself. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Center for Research Studies or James Madison University.

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