Summative Assessment Data from a Single Course-Embedded Artifact: The Senior Capstone

Author

Mary Kay Jordan-Fleming

Academic Assessment Coordinator and Associate Professor of Psychology

Mount St. Joseph University

Citation

Jordan-Fleming, M. K. (2014). Summative Assessment Data from a Single Course-Embedded Artifact: The Senior Capstone. Mount St. Joseph University.

Description

This assignment is the final scholarly paper in a core capstone course entitled “The Human Costs of Inequality,” which surveys economic, racial, and gender-based inequality within the US and across the globe.  It asks students to identify a form of inequality not discussed in the course and to propose/critique possible solutions.  It has proven powerful in moving students to new levels of passion about social justice, a central goal of the institution’s core curriculum focused on the common good.

Background and Context

Last year, Mount St. Joseph University, a private Catholic institution of 2200 students, implemented a new liberal arts and sciences Core Curriculum focused on the common good. All students begin with a 1st Year Seminar focused on service, leadership, and our common humanity. This is complemented by courses on ethics and Catholic Social Teaching, one or more field-based experiences, and 40+ hours of liberal arts and sciences courses. In the senior year, the sequence is completed by one of several Core Capstone courses, each of which is specifically crafted to address a significant global problem (e.g., human rights, climate change, health disparities, industrial food production, immigration). All Capstones share the following generic course description, to be augmented by one or two sentences tailored to the particular course topic.

The Core Capstone is a culminating interdisciplinary course with a three-fold purpose: (1) to facilitate substantial new learning about a complex global problem; (2) to encourage integration of knowledge, skills, and values from the entire liberal arts and sciences Core Curriculum, including experiential learning, to address that problem; and (3) to strengthen concern and action for the common good as habits of mind.

The assignment described here is the final scholarly paper in a Core Capstone course entitled “The Human Costs of Inequality.” (This assignment is one of three artifacts from which we derive summative assessment data.) The course surveys economic, racial, and gender-based inequality within the US and across the globe. In this assignment, students identify a form of inequality not discussed in the course–perhaps one related to their majors or special interests—that they find intolerable, and propose/critique possible solutions. Past students have explored topics as diverse as maternal mortality, public education, sex trafficking, and access to mental health services. The course is offered in a blended format with significant online components and extended face-to-face meetings every other week over a 16-week semester.

Reflections

The assignment described here is the culminating project of a senior Capstone course. The full text of the assignment is attached, along with the grading rubric used by the course instructor. Note that the grading rubric is not identical to that used by faculty raters during our annual assessment process. Extensive rubrics for institution-wide learning outcomes are available to Mount faculty on our intranet. The assessment-rubric language was patterned after the AAC&U VALUE rubrics. Nevertheless, the attached grading rubric holds students accountable to the same standards of evidence as the assessment rubrics, while being customized for the multiple curricular purposes of the course. Point values are assigned to the various grading criteria at the discretion of the course instructor.

This assignment was developed and revised over a several-year pilot. Despite the ambitious number of learning outcomes to be addressed by students, the assignment works quite well and students enjoy indulging their personal interests and educating the rest of us about new dimensions of social injustice. The assignment requires them to take an expansive perspective, identify and use source materials that typically include international publications, and integrate learning across disciplines. A particularly helpful aspect of this assignment has been the incorporation of two peer-review activities in class periods leading up to final paper submission: (1) an informal oral presentation of each student’s idea with vigorous questioning and critique from other students; and (2) a 3.5-hour class period devoted entirely to peer review of rough drafts. The latter requires that every student’s draft be critiqued by at least two class members. Reviewers are instructed in how to conduct peer review and are given a rubric that requires them to pinpoint the passage within the text where the writer fulfilled the grading criteria. The specificity of that requirement has helped reviewers to avoid vague or unhelpful comments, and to direct writers on how and where to clarify their writing.

On the second page of the assignment are the institutional learning outcomes and performance indicators (LOs and PIs) which this assignment must meet for summative assessment. While these are specific to the Mount’s Core Curriculum, they map to DQP 2.0 proficiencies in the areas of Intellectual Skills, Broad Integrative Knowledge, Specialized Knowledge, Applied Learning, and Civic and Global Learning. That correspondence is shown in the table below.

MSJU Learning Outcomes Best-Match DQP 2.0 Proficiencies
(bachelor’s level unless otherwise indicated)
COMMUNICATION (WRITTEN) PI 2.

Write using language that is clear, fluent, and consistent with conventions of Standard English

INTELLECTUAL SKILLS:  Communication Fluency

(Associate Level) Develops and presents cogent, coherent, and substantially error-free writing for communication to general and specialized audiences.

COMMUNICATION (WRITTEN) PI 3.

Use and document sources appropriately

INTELLECTUAL SKILLS:  Use of Information Resources

[Locates, evaluates, incorporates, and] properly cites multiple information resources in different media or different languages in projects, papers, or performances.

COMMUNICATION (WRITTEN) PI 4.

Develop compelling content to fulfill the assignment

INTELLECTUAL SKILLS:  Communication Fluency

Constructs sustained, coherent arguments, narratives, or explications of issues, problems, or technical issues and processes, in writing and at least one other medium, to general and specific audiences

CRITICAL THINKING PI 1.

Describe the complexities, factors, and scope of a problem

INTELLECTUAL SKILLS:  Analytic Inquiry

(Associate Level) Identifies and frames a problem or question in selected areas of study and distinguishes among elements of ideas, concepts, theories, or practical approaches to the problem or question

CRITICAL THINKING PI 2.

Use appropriate scholarly evidence to support a position

INTELLECTUAL SKILLS:  Use of Information Resources

Locates, evaluates, incorporates, and properly cites multiple information resources in different media or different languages in projects, papers, or performances.

CRITICAL THINKING PI 5.

Formulate an opinion or draw a conclusion based on a questioning of assumptions, an analysis of relevant evidence, and a synthesis of scholarly perspectives

SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE

Constructs a summative project, paper, performance, or application that draws on current research, scholarship, and techniques in the field of study.

BROAD, INTEGRATIVE KNOWLEDGE

Defines and frames a problem important to the major field of study, justifies the significance of the challenge or problem in a wider societal context, explains how methods from the primary field of study and one or more core fields of study can be used to address the problem, and develops an approach that draws on both the major and core fields.

CULTURAL COMPETENCE PI 3.

Contrast the diversity of history, values, politics, and economic conditions in developing and developed nations

INTELLECTUAL SKILLS: Engaging Diverse Perspectives

Frames a controversy or problem within the field of study in terms of at least two political, cultural, historical or technological forces, explores and evaluates competing perspectives on the controversy or problem, and presents a reasoned analysis of the issue, either orally or in writing, that demonstrates consideration of the competing views.

CIVIC AND GLOBAL LEARNING

Explains diverse positions, including those of different cultural, economic and geographic interests, on a contested public issue, and evaluates the issue in light of both those interests and evidence drawn from journalism and scholarship.

INTEGRATIVE LEARNING PI 2.

Apply knowledge from more than one discipline to address a complex issue

BROAD, INTEGRATIVE KNOWLEDGE

Defines and frames a problem important to the major field of study, justifies the significance of the challenge or problem in a wider societal context, explains how methods from the primary field of study and one or more core fields of study can be used to address the problem, and develops an approach that draws on both the major and core fields.

The Capstone course, and this final paper in particular, have proven extraordinarily powerful in moving students to new levels of passion and advocacy about social injustice—key learning for a Core Curriculum focused on the common good. I am honored to share this assignment with NILOA readers, and welcome your questions and feedback as you pursue your institution’s goals and the DQP proficiencies. It is a fine line we tread between the faculty’s interest in creatively pursuing course objectives and the institution’s interest in pursuing institutional objectives via course-embedded assessment. As both faculty member and assessment coordinator, I join you in this challenge and invite your conversation.


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