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Assessment

Learning communities and the collaborative pedagogy that underlie them offer another powerful innovation that can benefit students and transform higher education practice. The future of this reform strategy, like the innovations that preceded it, depends in part on the capacity of its assessments to provide data that both improve practice and warrant continued institutional support.
Vincent Tinto

Intentional and ongoing assessment is a critical aspect of doing learning communities well at both the classroom and the program level. The most common reasons for engaging in assessment of learning community programs are to:

  • improve the quality of the program, particularly
    students’ experiences in the program;
  • provide direction for professional development; and
  • demonstrate the learning community
    program's value to students and to the institution.

Washington Center's 1991 newsletter, Assessment and Learning Communities: Taking Stock After Six Years, demonstrates early interest in using a range of methods to assess learning community work. Learning community programs make use of a range of qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method tools. Most campuses draw on course completion data and information on student persistence to track the overall effectiveness of the program. In addition, many schools use national surveys of student engagement like the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) or the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) to track students’ perceptions of their experience over time, including their experiences in learning communities.

The Online Survey of Students’ Experiences of Learning in Learning Communities provides a closer look at the nature of students’ experiences. Still, the most immediate strategy for assessing the quality of students’ experiences and the depth of their learning in learning community classrooms is through the use of formative classroom assessment techniques which create opportunities for immediate shifts in teaching practice.

Because integrative and interdisciplinary learning are signature practices for learning communities, all learning community programs need to develop strategies for assessing this type of learning. Many campuses use versions of the Collaborative Assessment Protocol to examine the integrative and interdisciplinary nature of student work. In turn, this collective examination of student work becomes a privileged opportunity for professional development.