Thirty-five years ago, Drs. Trudy Banta and Peter Ewell catalyzed outcomes assessment measures in higher education. The administrators, and prolific scholars, were the first to coordinate efforts that addressed national and international inquiry regarding university effectiveness and the value of an academic degree. Banta and Ewell’s early work still resonates in assessment and institutional research offices across college campuses nationwide.

On April 2 - 4, 2017, the scholars sat around tables in a Washington D.C. classroom with 20+ assessment leaders from more than 16 different states.  Prominently represented organizations LISincluded AAC&U, AALHE, C-RAC, ETS, NILOA, SCHEV, and VAG.  Two assessment practitioners from Tokyo and Kyoto Japan, Drs. Satoko Fukahori and Kayo Matsushita, joined the group as attendees of the inaugural Learning Improvement Summit.

James Madison University (JMU)’s Center for Assessment and Research Studies (CARS) and
Drs. Charlie Blaich and Kathy Wise from the Center of Inquiry at Wabash College co-sponsored the event, which developed from a proposal executed by two CARS faculty: Drs. Jeanne Horst and Allison Ames. JMU’s Vice Provost for University Programs, Dr. Linda Halpern, and CARS Executive Director, Dr. Keston Fulcher, grew the summit idea by supporting the conference. The objectives for the summit, Breaking New Ground: The Role of Assessment in Higher Education Learning Improvement, included:

1)     Empowering the higher education community by moving the assessment needle beyond meeting accountability demands to emphasizing student learning as the goal; 

2)     Developing and refining working definitions of learning improvement that include the role of assessment at the university program level;

3)     Developing a community of, and dialogue among, higher education professionals focused on assessment’s role in promoting evidence of student learning at the program level; 

4)     Discussing and addressing issues, such as how to embed learning improvement efforts into institutional/organizational cultures; and

5)     Strategizing about how to most effectively disseminate learning improvement efforts to the broad higher education community, so that all can benefit. 

Various leaders shared their own experiences and good work during the two-day meeting. JMU doctoral students facilitated group discussions as all hypothesized how individual efforts can and do contribute to national initiatives to improve student learning.

Quick, seven minute, presentations summarized the difficulties and opportunities each leader encountered inLIS their own careers and experiences; diverse stages and roles that ranged from improving analytical writing skills; to becoming advocates for students and faculty; to creating and defining learning improvement models; to developing a culture of assessment; to incorporating faculty and educational development offices in the assessment process; and so on.

Each keynote, presentation, and panel explored complex areas of higher education learning and assessment. Rather than finding a solution to incentivizing faculty, meeting accreditation and accountability demands, solving the riddle of how learning improvement should be defined, or creating a one-size-fits-all model for every institution, summit participants listened to their colleagues and agreed that multi-university and organization conversations have just begun.

Participants and presenters returning from the learning improvement summit are better equipped to frame assessment and improvement as inquiry-based process that, ideally: balances the realistic and the optimal, appeases accreditation demands, includes collaborative efforts from faculty/educational development offices, is a balanced responsibility, and has a well-supported institutional infrastructure.

Individual aspirations for continuing the conversation include: developing models to train and integrate assessment and learning improvement initiatives across campuses, attending conferences such as Virginia Assessment Group's conference, discussing ideas and sharing successes with other thought leaders, crafting a strategic and universal language, documenting and disseminating improvement successes and lessons learned, and including data visualization technologies to communicate with and relate to diverse stakeholders.

Although the inaugural summit has ended, discussion and efforts to create more synergistic learning improvement initiatives are underway. April’s meeting of minds brought incredible leaders in higher education together. It is now up to institutions to continue supporting the diverse and oftentimes underappreciated work; to continue the work that Banta and Ewell began.

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