I. AN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY STATEMENT
The Major’s General Response:
The economic reality of the past year has pushed us to consider a clear link between the College’s mission and career possibilities for our majors. The addition of new faculty has allowed us to think of additional ways to achieve and assess this goal. The current academic reality has motivated us to require our students to attain a higher level of proficiency written work, quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, communication skills, and critical thinking. In addition, we are increasing our requirement that students gain proficiency in one or more substantive areas in sociology or anthropology. Our goal is to have our students to experience the depth and breadth of a liberal arts education and also gain expertise in specific areas of the major – communication, criminology, urban sociology, archaeology, ethnography, sociology of education – that will provide a foundation for future careers in social welfare, law, education, medical sociology, applied anthropology, and so forth.
The Major’s Specific Response:
(In particular response to recommendations from II. Measurable Learning Outcomes, IV. Planning for the Future, and V. Using Feedback):
The major used feedback from last year’s assessment results and committee and followed up on the recommendation that the major pick one thing specific to work on and collect the needed data to make informed action steps. We have picked the senior thesis project as our focus area, particularly because our primary means of assessment has been the senior capstone experience, the senior thesis, and the senior comprehensive exam.
This focus assessment of the senior thesis and senior experience as led us to consider changes to the way the senior thesis project and our methods of assessing it. In addition, in part, this focus has caused us to propose some significant restructuring of the major’s categories of courses, the addition of a portfolio requirement, and a more incremental structuring of 100 to 400 level courses.
The major is in the middle of some significant restructuring (see documents A and B). This restructuring will be significance for our Means of Assessment of Outcomes.
An increase in an incremental structuring of the major from 100 level courses to the 400 level senior thesis will mean that assessment begins at the introductory level. Changes in curriculum are considered in light of our strategies to better assess our majors; that is, the major is currently discussing and developing more complete means of assessment. We are currently expanding this focus to include all levels, beginning with the introductory courses. For example, for the 100 level, we are assessing writing skills, library research skills, problem-solving skills, and comprehension of foundational concepts. To give just one example, Anthropology 161: Introduction to Anthropology has added a library workshop component that is directly tied to two library research writing projects that involve providing solutions to major problems for specific cultures. This addition allows the faculty member to more easily assess library, research, and writing skills while also assessing grasp of foundational concepts.
We are also seriously considering requiring a portfolio, starting with our 100 level courses, as part of the major’s requirements. The portfolio would contain the full range of materials from research papers, quizzes, exams, field notes, and so forth). In addition, we are considering more encouragement and supervision of 190 internships that complement the goals of the major.
We are currently working on a better assessment strategy for our 200 level courses. It should be noted that at the 200 level we are attempting to offer basic coverage (in the future, we would like to do better with a fuller range of courses) of the major subfields within sociology and anthropology (sociology = social psychology, criminology, social institutions, urban sociology, public sociology, sociology and the media) (anthropology = cultural anthropology, archaeology, museum studies, linguistic anthropology, physical anthropology, and applied anthropology). We are also talking of ways to better incorporate (and then assess) internship experiences (with their service learning and experiential learning components) that tie into these subfield areas.
Our revision of the major’s categories 1-4 (for sociology and anthropology) as distinct subfields or areas of concentration should allow us a better way to assess SPECIFIC areas of concentration – archaeology, social inequalities, social deviance, and so forth. We are working to ensure that students are thoroughly exposed to method and theory in all of our 200 level courses. We argue that this will allow us adhere to the mission statement of the college AND prepare students for career pathways within the disciplines of anthropology and sociology and beyond. (We are currently revising our curriculum to possibly include a 200 level sociology methods and theory course to complement the 200 level anthropology course on research methods in order that all students will be REQUIRED to take one or more of these courses BEFORE the student can enroll in most 300 level seminars for the major).
This is a strategy to build on knowledge and skills already learned in 100 level courses and also prepare our students for the more rigorous demands of our 300 level seminars. We also feel that this will be a better means of providing students with the ability to assess THEMSELVES in terms of interest and aptitude for the disciplines of sociology or anthropology.
We are discussing how to best use the portfolio as a means of assessing individual performance at this critical stage and of tracking incremental progress (particularly in regard to assessing performance in those 200 level courses taught by faculty outside of the major). Along with discussion of a portfolio, we are considering ways in which students enrolled in 200 level courses – via poster sessions, panel discussions, and so forth – can get an early sense of their interest and aptitude for the major. It would also allow faculty another tool for assessment that takes into consideration the individual student.
We are currently working to provide better assessment of outcomes at the 300 level. We are strongly committed to seminars that strongly encourage discussion and high level engagement with theory and method. The plan is two-fold: allow faculty to teach their particular areas of interest (particularly of research interest) and encourage faculty to make connections to the primary goals and mission of the major. Of importance to student outcomes, original research will be required and judged by a standardized rubric within the major. Our more incremental approach means that all 300 level courses will have 100 and 200 level prerequisites. For example, sociology 394 students will have a 200 level course as a prerequisite. Our goal is to have a full range of theory and method at the 300 level that BUILDS on what the student has learned at the 200 level. To give one example, the Sociology 394 Research Methods (Prof. Renfrow) course syllabus is a good example of our efforts to build assessment into the very structure of the course AND do a better job of reaching our goals for incremental increases in student proficiency.
As already stated, our assessment work this Fall Semester of 2009 has been rather top-down: consideration of new global economic realities, the college’s mission statement, last year’s Assessment Committee’s response, and the presence new faculty expertise, and, finally, consideration of the senior experience as a means of implementing assessment all the way through the major. This Fall Semester of 2009, we continued our assessment of student performances in the senior thesis and continued to use a rubric designed in the fall of 2007. We have discussed and are moving toward some modification of this rubric in order to more fully assess the senior thesis experience and senior level abilities in regard to quality of research methodology, analysis, literature review, findings, and conclusions. Also, partly in response to the assessment committee’s suggestions, we have created a new requirement for the seniors; all seniors must now create computer-generated poster of their thesis project and give a public presentation based on the content of the poster. This new requirement will be completed this spring semester and will be an additional means of assessment of each student by all faculty of the major.
A significant challenge for Sociology 401 is the increasing diversity of senior thesis projects; for example, next fall we anticipate topics in archaeology, psychological anthropology, criminology, sociology of education, and so forth. This diversity may move us to more fully incorporate faculty from outside the major to serve as second readers. We also are thinking of ways in which students can be better prepared (and more fully ASSESSED) in the 300 level courses. We are discussing the possibility of it a requirement that a senior thesis project MUST originate in a 300 level major course. In that way, a senior thesis project will go through a process of assessment for feasibility and quality before the senior seminar.
As we consider the importance of the senior thesis the major is seriously considering making internships a required part of the major. This suggestion clearly articulates with the mission of the college and the mission of the major. We want to more fully incorporate service learning and experiential learning, longstanding aspects of our major, into our major. Of course, we are also thinking of better ways to assess that experience, particularly as found in the senior thesis.
III. THE GROUP’S PLAN FOR WHAT IT WILL FOCUS ON IN THE UPCOMNG YEAR = WORK FOR NEXT SEMESTER
The major will undertake its initial assessment of the senior’s posters and their presentations. This will require the designing of a new rubric.
The major will continue its effort to revise the comprehensive exam so that it is a better, more accurate measure of students’ proficiency meeting the goals of the major and the college. It should be noted that less than satisfactory results from the comprehensive exam, as well as the senior thesis, have motivated the faculty to revise the comprehensive exam, revise the senior thesis seminar, AND implement the suggested incremental development of the major from 100 to 400 level courses. That is, feedback from the Assessment Committee AND from senior performance is pushing us to make these changes.
IV. AN UPDATED ASSESSMENT PLAN
The major will continue its development, as suggested by Prof. Renfrow, of developing a rubric that measures CUMULATIVE COMPETENCIES from year one to year for the sociology and anthropology concentrations for the major.
The major’s individual faculty members will also continue to revise each course to better fit the major’s mission and better assess the student’s learning experience.