The department of sociology has focused on ‘closing the loop’ throughout our decade of assessment experience. To prepare this report, the department met and reviewed its full assessment results. To describe how the department has closed the loop, this report has two parts – the first part outlines the meanings we associated with our assessment results, and the second part outlines changes the department undertook and is considering as a result of our assessment program.
What was found through our assessment program and what do these findings mean?
The department of sociology was one of the first departments on campus to adopt learning outcomes and identify fundamental skills to be taught in each of the required classes. Perhaps as a result, our assessment results without exception have demonstrated success in achieving our learning outcomes.
Our assessment results show that because of department efforts, students (1) value inquiry of social inequality, and are able to (2) apply the sociological imagination to contemporary social issues, (3) identify a research question and appropriate methods for answering that question, (4) write a research report addressing a research question, (5) write effectively, (6) understand the basic theoretical positions of Marx, Durkheim and Weber, (7) understand contemporary debates in sociological theory, (8) demonstrate an understanding of the types of social research, (9) demonstrate knowledge of basic descriptive statistics, multivariate analysis, inferential statistics, and use of statistical software, and (10) develop an understanding of how sociological analysis could inform policy.
Because the ability to apply the sociological imagination is a central learning outcome, we assessed our efforts on this outcome in two different semesters using different sorts of samples. Our assessment of this outcome has provided confidence in the success of our program.
What specific changes has the department made as result of our assessment activities?
When we assessed our students’ abilities to write a research report and their abilities to write effectively (learning outcome #5), we found a substantial minority (of around 20%) that lacked solid writing skills. This is perhaps not surprising as the department serves substantial numbers of underprepared students. Because communication ability is so essential to sociologists (and college graduates), we tightened our major requirements, requiring a C- (rather than a D) in writing-intensive theory courses and requiring that students re-take these courses no more than once. The latter requirement was designed to encourage students to take advantage of faculty consultation and college-wide writing resources so that they develop adequate writing skills. After the requirement changes are fully phased in, the department intends to re-assess our successes at teaching student writing. If a substantial minority continues to underachieve, we will consider requiring that students who are identified as having writing difficulties, get writing coaches. We might also consider requiring such students take a one-unit class in concert with one of our writing-intensive classes, in which students would work with individual faculty as they draft their essays.
Our assessment also indicated a similar substantial minority (of about 23%) do not develop sharp statistical skills (learning outcome #9). As a result, we added a tutoring program to assist underperforming students. We expect to re-assess student abilities in this area in the next year in order to measure the success of our efforts.
Finally, assessment of what students learn in the course designed to provide students with an understanding of the types of social research (learning outcome #8) suggested some students who come into the Social Research Methods course with substantial statistical knowledge gained only modest incremental increases in understanding. Although we considered providing some students with a waiver for this course, we instead decided to redesign the course to focus more on qualitative research methods. An assessment of whether the course provides more value-added to well prepared students than it previously did is currently being planned.
The department of sociology is committed to assessing one or more of our learning outcomes on a yearly basis, as we have found them to be quite useful in our deliberations on improving student achievement and curriculum reform.