As a sidebar to the present discussion, I've spent the greater part of this week involved in program assessment and redesign with the goal of supporting my institution's application for a new national accreditation. In this context I reviewed a vision paper on assessment practices at the university, written several years ago, sponsored by the provost, and of which I was a coauthor. We adopted the term "culture of evidence" (which was used heavily this week) and proceeded to adapt it to our circumstances, with the following exerpt providing the core definition -- of which I was pleased to rediscover that the last paragraph has a clearly traceable influence to this forum and its several of its participants.
III Culture of Evidence
One outstanding pattern in models of best practices that appear in the literature, and on the Internet, is the systemic weaving of assessment into the fabric of the institution, as a culture of evidence. Assessment is not simply patched onto extant practices, as an adjunct or summative process, but instead is integrated into day to day routines and operations, and thereby is integrated into the totality of work in the institution. Assessment data provides the basis upon which departments, programs, schools, and individuals evaluate their practices in relation to their stated goals and the university mission, and upon which decisions are then made to support the operations of the institution and to make improvements. Culture of evidence specifically refers, in its ideal form, to the systemic coordination of people in an institution who are:
Identifying and addressing student, faculty, and staff issues,
Consulting about data needs and assessment methodologies,
Planning and designing assessments,
Ensuring sound assessment methodology using current technologies and techniques,
Routinely collecting and analyzing student-oriented data,
Organizing to continually address selected needs and demands of the university,
Providing institutional support for assessment practices and their improvements,
Ensuring that collected data are analyzed, interpreted, and disseminated to all invested decision-makers, who include faculty, advisors, support staff, as well as administrators.
Our use of the term culture is to convey an ideal that is not undemocratic: everyone gets involved, the process is not one of mandated changes, and assessment becomes a shared tool. By definition, each member of a culture necessarily enacts the practices that constitute that culture, and the culture of evidence can be thought in part as the consolidated and collaborative coordination of assessment practices in an institution. Members of the community continuously ask: What do we know? How do we know it? What resources do we have to do something about what we know? Are we constituting and enacting a responsible system?
In contrast to thinking of assessment as an external activity, assessment is recognized as an ongoing ethnography of the balance between challenges and capacities. Assessments help to define and articulate the zone between the everyday actions of the present and new and possible forms of activity. Community members make no distinction between their day to day work and assessment, but rather identify assessment as the process for collecting evidence that will assist them in their continuing and new work. This way of thinking about assessment also constitutes the culture of evidence, where decision-making and planning is based on the data and information created during the processes of learning, teaching, and working. The culture of evidence is both a way of doing and a way of thinking.
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