Assessment in Action: March 2020

by Casey Chaviano, Roberta Berry, & Anand Chaturvedi | March 2020

For this month’s Assessment in Action, we checked in with the Honors Program Director, Roberta Berry, about her GT Fire research project. Roberta and Colin Potts, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, initiated the project with their 2018 proposal (as co-PIs) for a GT FIRE grant, “Piloting the Next in General Education: Foundational Learning in Thinking & Innovating.” The GT Fire Research Team has grown to include Justin Biddle (Public Policy, philosophy), Anand Chaturvedi (GRA, MSCS), Casey Chaviano (OUE), Loraine Phillips (OAE), John Tone (Interim Dean, Ivan Allen College, history), and Jason Wang (IRP). This year, Roberta is PI for their IRB-approved research study testing two sections of the first course, “Thinking,” taught by Justin Biddle and Colin Potts. The two instructors, with the support of the team, intentionally designed the course to advance a set of essential learning outcomes defined by the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U): Critical Thinking, Ethical Reasoning, and Oral Communication. The team plans to follow this course with sequential courses on “Virtue” and “Progress.” The three-course sequence aims to cultivate the capacity of GT students to flourish as individuals and as innovators for positive change, both by the content and the pedagogical approach--seminars in which students engage one another and the instructor as “senior learner” and engage in collaborative team projects applying what they learn.

To test the efficacy of the “Thinking” course in advancing the selected learning outcomes, the team designed a pre and post essay assignment for administration in the experimental sections and a control course. The essays will be evaluated by some members of the team—blind as to whether the essays were written pre or post course by experimental or control students— applying an adapted version of the AAC&U Value Rubrics. The team also designed a pre and post survey for administration in the experimental sections, and some members of the team engage in classroom observations, applying the adapted rubric to their evaluations. 

Roberta Berry and Anand Chaturvedi described progress on the project so far:

What challenges have you faced with the project to-date, and how have you managed them?

Roberta: One challenge was bringing everyone together to design and create the distinctive course content and pedagogy—not just a typical disciplinary seminar course. We wanted to design a course in which students learn across disciplinary boundaries, make connections between the readings and their lives, and apply what they learn to problem-solving projects. We know our students have great capacity to think critically, ethically, and be leaders in innovation. We wanted to design a course that would capture our best effort to cultivate and grow this capacity. To meet this challenge, it was important for team members to apply critical thinking to the project and remain flexible and willing to question and learn from each other over the course of several months—behaviors we’ve tried to model by our course pedagogy.

What have you learned in this process so far? How have you been able to use this information to improve your programs?

Roberta: We are still collecting data at this point. We look forward to the results of this first effort, so we can apply what we learn to our next steps to enhance teaching and learning in our experimental course sequence. We’ve learned from the process that Georgia Tech is a place where new ideas and innovations of all kinds are welcomed, embraced—and possible. Georgia Tech is a rich environment for those who are motivated to innovate in “progress and service.”

Anand: As a student, it has helped me understand how professors and Georgia Tech in general try to create a learning environment for their students. It has allowed me to look behind the curtain a bit in the classes I’m taking as a graduate student. This helps me personally learn the material better and communicate with other students when I’m working as a tutor.

If you were to repeat this assessment in the future, what would you do differently?:

Roberta: I think we would do it the same way. The experience has made me more motivated to pursue these ideas and test them, and given me a greater sense of scope and possibility.

Do you have some exciting or useful assessment work going on in your program? Want to highlight your experience so that others may learn from the work you are doing? Send an email to casey.chaviano@gatech.edu.