ERIC Number: EJ781717
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007
Reference Count: 30
Using Qualitative Methods to Assess Student Learning in Higher Education
Contreras-McGavin, Melissa; Kezar, Adrianna J.
New Directions for Institutional Research, n136 p69-79 Win 2007
Student learning assessment has become one of the central issues of public policy and accountability in higher education. Since the mid-1980s, a number of federal and state commissions and policy organizations have emphasized the importance of assessment for a variety of institutional practices, including student retention, graduation rates, and institutional effectiveness. Most policy efforts have traditionally been grounded in quantitative measurements that emphasize percentages and benchmarks because they are easy to collect, interpret, and distribute. However, leaders in the assessment arena suggest that qualitative approaches such as portfolios are more mature means to assess student learning and best support efforts to improve learning. On the other hand, institutional researchers are likely to be drawn to quantitative approaches for meeting federal and state requirements related to student learning and outcomes assessment because they seem more efficient and easy to implement. In this article, the authors argue that qualitative approaches should also be employed to help develop a richer and more meaningful portrait of undergraduate student learning on college and university campuses. They suggest that leaders focus on assessment activities that best support student learning rather than merely developing measures to placate external agents. They also challenge those in public policy to reconsider their focus on simplistic measures. Here, the authors justify the use of qualitative approaches to assessment; review one of the most commonly used qualitative assessment approaches--portfolios; and describe a set of promising qualitative assessment practices they hope more institutions will consider using in the future, such as self-assessments, qualitative writing assessments, e-portfolios, and collaborative assessments.
Descriptors: Portfolios (Background Materials), Undergraduate Students, Higher Education, Student Evaluation, Evaluation Methods, Public Policy, Educational Policy, Writing Assignments, Cooperation, Institutional Research
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A