Heartland Community College: The Cornerstone Project, Developing a Meaningful Gen Ed Outcomes Assessment Culture
Heartland Community College (Heartland) in Normal, Illinois, has taken a progressive approach to General Education Program assessment. Typically, colleges develop standard program outcomes, generate rubrics for measuring those outcomes, ask faculty to use the rubrics and share results, and then report results that demonstrate student performance. These methods are fairly well established, can be employed quickly (some standardized measures and cut and paste rubrics for common learning outcomes are available), and can produce documented results that please Boards and accrediting bodies. The problem is that these sorts of results are often artificial, because people most important to the assessment process—the faculty—don't really believe in their value.
For those reasons, Heartland chose a path less traveled, a little trickier to navigate, and certainly lengthier—all for the promise of authentic and reliable assessment results.
Our project, titled the Cornerstone Project, began inductively at the ground and at the corners with those who ultimately are responsible for learning assessment (faculty) and with our four highest enrolled general education courses (the Cornerstones). Faculty leaders were identified for each Cornerstone course (English 101, Communication 101, Psychology 101, and Sociology 101), and those leaders met regularly with their own faculty cohorts to engage in course redesign. Their discussions focused on integrating appropriate general education program outcomes into each Cornerstone course (e.g., Which critical thinking, problem solving, and diversity outcomes were appropriate for the course?). Sometimes those conversations were contentious, but the key was building consensus for inclusion of the outcomes in the first place.
Cornerstone leaders then had all faculty members teaching the course practice assessment by starting small—reporting on how one class assignment, activity, or exam measured one particular program outcome. And, just like in the classroom, Cornerstone leaders provided instructive feedback to faculty on their assessment efforts. In this manner, assessment was handled like deployment of a new technology, mastered first by the early adopters, but for which training and safe opportunities to practice with the new and powerful tool were provided.
Once faculty members became comfortable with assessment of general education outcomes, Cornerstone leaders moved their deployment of assessment to the course-level, which led to even richer faculty conversations about the power of this tool to transform teaching and learning. The project then expanded beyond the four corners, to the next highest enrolled courses, and to student services and activities that also promote learning related to our general education outcomes.
It is only now, almost four years after the project first began, that we are moving beyond outcome and course level assessment to begin grappling with program level assessment (e.g., How do all HCC students in General Education perform on our outcomes?). We could have started there four years ago and produced pleasing numbers and results, but feel fortunate we took a path lengthier and less traveled as we now have confidence that assessment at the instructor level and at the course level is authentic, and that our program level results will be reliable and grounded in reality that can only be achieved through collaborative development.
Contact: Sarah Diel-Hunt, Dean of Social and Business Sciences, Heartland Community College, 309.268.8593