ASSESSMENT OF THE DEPARTMENT AND ITS PROGRAMS

The following details the assessment plan for our English majors, including methods of assessing student progress, as well as our evaluation and revision of our assessment plan.

 

 

Assessment Plan for the Major:

In order to continue to evaluate how well our program meets the needs of our students as well as our goals for their continued growth, we have revised our mission statement and learning objectives. In addition, we have looked closely at how our courses and methods of teaching speak to each of our learning objectives.

Mission Statement

The Department of English helps St. Ambrose students develop their reading, writing, and thinking skills as preparation for their personal, civic, and professional lives. Students study authors, genres, periods, and movements of literature, exploring literature and culture through a range of critical and creative approaches. Emphasizing the richness of language, the English curriculum complements the study of other disciplines in the humanities and supports the Universityís key mission: "to enable all its students to develop intellectually, spiritually, ethically, socially, artistically, and physically in order to enrich their own lives and the lives of others."

Learning Objectives

English and English Education majors should know:

1. Significant periods, genres and works in the literary history of literature written in English.

2. The importance of the interaction between literary texts and their cultural contexts.

3. A variety of critical approaches to literature.

 

English and English Education majors should be able to do:

4. Write clearly and convincingly, with special regard to audience.

5. Read texts analytically and draw conclusions about them.

6. Define and explore a meaningful critical problem, research primary and secondary sources, and formulate a position on a text.

7. Speak effectively.

Methods for Assessing the Majors and Results

Our most effective means for assessing how well our students meet departmental learning objectives happens in our classrooms. Therefore, to assess how well the current curriculum contributes to student learning, we review syllabi and assignments, meet to discuss common courses, such as ENGL 101 and 401, evaluate individually a large number of student responses to assignments, and reflect on our individual courses during program review.

The following list pays special attention to our required courses, but many of our courses demonstrate similar progress in meeting our learning objectives. We have noted representative kinds of assignments that demonstrate majorsí achievements. Courses listed are only some examples of those that meet our objectives.

1. Significant periods, genres and works in the literary history of literature written in English.

Students demonstrate their knowledge of significant periods, genres and works when they complete the survey courses (201, 202, 210, 211) as well as courses focused on specific literary movements (302, 303, 304, 306, 307, 309, 310, 341, 343, 344, 345 346, 347). In these classes students participate in extensive reading assignments and discussion, and they demonstrate their progress through various types of writing assignments, both formal (essays) and informal (journals, response papers). All English classes include assessment through writing. Some include examinations as well.

2. The importance of the interaction between literary texts and their cultural contexts.

Many of our courses focus on the interaction between what the students read and the cultural context of the text. Our survey courses (201,202, 210,211), required of all students, specifically link literature to its historical and cultural contexts, and students demonstrate their familiarity with these links through papers, group discussions, essay exams, and oral presentations.

A representative selection of our 200-level courses (220, 221, 222, 223, 243) reflects the departmentís emphasis on connecting literature to particular groups. These use papers, research, or presentations to explore the cultural contexts of the literature they study. Students become grounded in the historical, political, and social conditions relevant to the texts. In other courses, such as 240 and 242, students discover how literature is interpreted by filmmakers and record their understanding in journals, papers, and creative projects. In many of our 300-level courses (304, 307, 309, 310, 343, 344, 345) students use research to deliver oral presentations or performances as well as write papers demonstrating their understanding of the connections between literature and culture. In 343, 344, and some sections of 360, for example, students analyze the grounding of literature in nineteenth and twentieth-century technological innovation, scientific discoveries, philosophical development and migration, and they trace the ways in which writers were influenced by dance, graphic arts, architecture, music, photography and other innovations as well as by World War I and its aftermath. Finally, students writing on the theme of place (319) or memoir (321) experience literature as rooted in physical and cultural contexts.

3. A variety of critical approaches to literature.

While many courses enable students to understand different critical approaches to literature, especially upper-level courses that include research, two courses in particular focus on this objective: 219 and 401. ENGL 219 introduces students to the critical conversations in the discipline as well as provides historical background on critical movements. Assignments allow them to research and write about literary issues in conformity with disciplinary standards. Students in ENGL 401 continue their study of critical practices through class discussion and writing assignments, culminating in an extensive research paper.

4. Write clearly and convincingly, with special regard to audience

All of our English courses allow students to develop and demonstrate their ability to write through the wide range of assigned writing, but departmental writing intensive courses (202, 210, 219, 303, and 401) as well as elective 200 and 300-level writing courses particularly enhance their skills. In our literature and writing intensive courses, students often write papers explicating complex material, and they learn the value of multiple revisions as they participate in peer review sessions. Frequent response papers, as well, allow them to develop their distinctive style.

All writing courses require that students process papers through peer feedback sessions and revision. Students in 216 demonstrate in their papers their ability to convince a specific audience of their argument. Students in 217 learn to think in terms of the reader and tone as they write to effectively accomplish an action. ENGL 316, which focuses on the teaching of writing, allows students to demonstrate their ability both to write and to facilitate the writing of others. All other writing courses offer students varied opportunities to improve their writing while pursuing topics of interests.

5. Read texts analytically and draw conclusions about them.

Students completing the required courses for the major have ample opportunity to achieve this objective. Discussion, written work, presentations and projects in their elective courses develop their ability to read closely, explicate, compare and contrast, and share conclusions with others. Especially helpful for students is their work in 219 and 401 where they study professional literary criticism and learn how they can enter into the disciplinary discussion.

6. Define and explore a meaningful critical problem, research primary and secondary sources, and formulate a position on a text.

Our 200 and 300-level literature courses help students to define meaningful critical problems and write according to disciplinary standards. Many also require that students research primary and secondary sources and formulate a position on a text. While all formal writing in lower-level courses require that students develop a thesis, many sections of 360 as well as 401 also ask students to develop a proposal, research scholarly articles and create annotated bibliographies from which they develop formal papers.

7. Speak effectively.

While the department does not teach speech as a discipline, many courses give ample opportunities for students to practice this skill by expressing their ideas and research through group discussions, recitations, performance, and oral projects and presentations. Especially notable courses are 201,211, 220, 221, 222, 223, 242, 244, 302, 303, 304,341, 343, 344, 345, 346, and 360. In many of these courses they learn to speak with authority and to engage in collaborative problem-solving.

Assessment of Requirements, Course Sequencing, and Prerequisites for the Majors

The English department requires that all students, including English majors and minors, complete ENGL 101 before they take upper-level courses. We encourage students to take the four survey courses as well as ENGL 219 early in their careers to prepare them for courses that build on their knowledge. In addition, we require ENGL 401: Senior Seminar during the fall semester senior year for English majors. The advising meeting held early in the junior year counsels each student regarding a useful program of courses based on individual needs and interests. We have not discovered evidence to support the need for more elaborate structuring or sequencing. English Secondary Education majors must follow the sequencing required by their education program.

Evaluation and Revision of the Assessment Plan

During this five-year review process, we have looked closely at the effectiveness of our assessment plan. Many of our revisions are based on what we discovered as we assessed the department, but in addition, we found it necessary to review the effectiveness of the plan itself and to revise to make it more useful for the next program review.

Evaluation of Assessment

1. Maintaining course files containing syllabi and assignments. We maintain a file, updated regularly, for all syllabi and assignments. This file is available for individual consultation and for program review. It has helped us to see what students are assigned in our courses, to think about the differences between 200 and 300-level courses, and to avoid repetition of significant readings. This file is especially useful for new faculty and adjuncts attempting to get a sense of the amount of reading required and the level of sophistication of writing assignments for various courses at various levels.

2. Maintaining portfolios for advisees. During the last program review, we revised this requirement. At that time, not enough students had graduated for us to form a good picture of its usefulness. What we have now found is that neither students nor advisors have found this exercise useful. It is difficult to implement because our majors are not a homogeneous group; they include many transfer students as well as students of varying ages and motivation. Building a portfolio is difficult when students come to us late in their careers, and it is difficult to have students put together work at the end of their studies. The portfolio became a mechanical chore and was maintained only as an archive. It did not help us assess student learning in the classroom or modify the direction of our programs.

3. Meeting with junior-level advisees. We found that these meetings are useful for both the department and the student. For program review purposes, we were able to use what we learned at these meetings to help us think about what students want, where they plan to go when they graduate, and how we can better prepare them for their futures.

4. Surveying ENGL 401 students. This method of gaining studentsí feedback proved to have many problems. We discovered that asking for this information while students are still in classes (ENGL 401 is offered in the fall semester) might limit what students are willing to share with us. In addition, this class has a great deal of material to cover, and students may object to using time in this way. While we recognize the need to gain student feedback, we did not think that this method provided enough objectivity as well as security for the student.

5. Maintaining placement records. We did not make use of this assessment tool.

6. Conducting an alumni survey. We see the value of this assessment tool to evaluate graduatesí perceptions of how well the overall program has met its objectives and to obtain additional indicators of job placements, but we did not get sufficient response from our alumni for us to find this tool helpful for this program review.

Documentation of Student Learning in the Major

To improve the effectiveness of the assessment plan, the department will keep the following files for documenting students learning as related to the departmental objectives as well as for assessing future usefulness and direction of the program.

1. The department will maintain a file, updated yearly, for all courses. This file will include all syllabi and assignments. These documents are an important means for us to provide consistency and assess what our students are learning in the classroom.

2. Advisors will hold a junior planning meeting with junior advisees during the first semester of the junior year. The purpose of this meeting is to facilitate a free exchange of ideas to help students assess their progress and formulate a plan for their future studies that reflects their interests and goals. This meeting will include the studentís advisor and another English faculty member of the studentís choice. This meeting will help students think about their future and how their program is preparing then for that future; it will give them time to reconfigure their plan of study if they decide to do so. It also helps the department understand more about the goals of our students and how well we are preparing them to meet those goals. Advisors report to the chair that these meeting have taken place.

3. The department chair will work with Career Development to maintain a file of internships that our students have had each year. This information will show us what skills our students are learning and how those skills will be valuable to prepare students for their futures.

4. The department chair will keep records of information collected by department members about how many of our majors and minors go to conferences, present papers, work in the Student Success Center, participate in service learning, work on Quercus, and are part of any other related campus and off-campus activities. This information helps us assess ways in which our students learn by being active outside the classroom as well as how those activities contribute to their goals for their futures.

5. The department will meet 2-4 times a year to discuss courses we teach in common, especially ENGL 100, 101, 219, and 401. This discussion will include goals for the courses, assignments, how students learn, how we evaluate studentsí progress, and how we meet the needs of the students. This discussion will provide a measure of consistency for these courses as well as help department members give sustained thought to their work by listening and responding to the ideas of colleagues.

6. On a trial basis, the department will keep a file of research papers students write for ENGL 401. We will review these papers as we review papers in our classes to evaluate how well students are able to reach their goals for their papers and our skills objectives for the major: to write clearly and convincingly, read texts analytically and draw conclusions, define and explore a meaningful critical problem, research primary and secondary sources, and formulate a position on a text. This information may prove useful to help us understand how to improve our teaching over the course of studentsí careers.

7. The department will work with Alumni Relations to collect information on our alumni. One option we want to explore is if we could use the Web to gather information. We continue to believe that information about graduatesí perceptions on how well the English program met their goals and prepared them for their futures is important to help us better understand and improve our program.

In addition to the above plan, we are committed to finding an effective way to gather feedback from recent graduates or those about to graduate. We have discussed many ideas such as focus groups and written papers, but we have not yet found a method that we think will provide the information we want in a way that is useful for us and non-threatening for the students.

Use of Assessment Information to Improve Learning

1 and 5. The course database will be updated yearly. Department members will review the common courses at one of the department meetings whose purpose is to discuss these courses. The review will be used to assess the variety of teaching approaches as well as types and numbers of writing assignments and exams, and how they address the departmentís learning objectives. The meeting will also help faculty members find new ideas and ways to formulate and evaluate assignments.

 

2. The junior-level planning meeting will be used as a means for students to think about their own learning and goals. With departmental guidance, they can better match their interests and objectives to the courses they choose and develop their learning in relationship to their interests.

3-4. Maintaining a file of student internships and extra-curricular , English-related activities can help us determine what students gain from these activities and how to establish more opportunities for increased participation.

6. The department will collect papers from ENGL 401 for two years before meeting to read them so that we have a fair sample of student work. All members will review these papers and discuss any patterns of strengths and weakness to determine how we can improve our courses and teaching to meet our departmental learning objectives.

7. Alumni information will be reviewed on a five-year cycle in the year prior to the program review. The department will discuss any trends and perceived needs for changes to the program.

Return to Departmental Assessment Plans