To foster both external and internal accountability, universities seek more effective models for student learning outcomes assessment (SLOA). Meaningful and authentic measurement of program-level student learning outcomes requires engagement with an institution’s faculty members, especially to gather student performance assessment data using common scoring instruments, or rubrics, across a university’s many colleges and programs. Too often, however, institutions rely on faculty engagement for SLOA initiatives like this without providing necessary support, communication, and training. The resulting data may lack sufficient reliability and reflect deficiencies in an institution’s culture of assessment.
This mixed methods action research study gauged how well one form of SLOA training – a rubric-norming workshop – could affect both inter-rater reliability for faculty scorers and faculty perceptions of SLOA while exploring the nature of faculty collaboration toward a shared understanding of student learning outcomes. The study participants, ten part-time faculty members at the institution, each held primary careers in the health care industry, apart from their secondary role teaching university courses. Accordingly, each contributed expertise and experience to the rubric-norming discussions, surveys of assessment-related perceptions, and individual scoring of student performance with a common rubric. Drawing on sociocultural learning principles and the specific lens of activity theory, influences on faculty SLOA were arranged and analyzed within the heuristic framework of an activity system to discern effects of collaboration and perceptions toward SLOA on consistent rubric-scoring by faculty participants.
Findings suggest participation in the study did not correlate to increased inter-rater reliability for faculty scorers when using the common rubric. Constraints found within assessment tools and unclear institutional leadership prevented more reliable use of common rubrics. Instead, faculty participants resorted to individual assessment approaches to meaningfully guide students to classroom achievement and preparation for careers in the health care field. Despite this, faculty participants valued SLOA, collaborated readily with colleagues for shared assessment goals, and worked hard to teach and assess students meaningfully.