Geography Assessment Activities: Closing the Loop
In response to annual assessment results and to ensure a quality program for its majors, the Department of Geography has engaged in continual examination and modification of its program. In recent years, the department has implemented multiple changes based on assessment feedback; the department has altered the Geography curriculum, reviewed and revised its assessment program, incentivized faculty efforts aimed at improving learning outcomes, and improved contact with Geography alumni. These changes are outlined below.
1. Curriculum Changes
A. Creation of a new capstone course requirement: GEOG 374: Geographic Thought
In a broad discipline like geography with diverse faculty expertise, it was proving difficult to achieve Learning Outcome 7, which requires majors to “ be aware of the major developments in the field, have an understanding of the evolution of the discipline, and demonstrate knowledge of the central debates in the discipline of Geography.” In response to this, the department created Geog 374: Geographic Thought, now a required capstone course for senior geography majors. This course synthesizes diverse formal and informal geographic learning the students have accumulated through their time in the program at Geneseo. This new requirement ensures that students are provided an opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of the evolution of the discipline, central debates, and an awareness of advancements across this broad discipline. The course is restricted to senior geography majors, so we are assessing this important outcome at a time when student knowledge and understanding of the field should be at its peak in the degree program.
B. Institution of new field course requirement: GEOG 375: Field Experience
In response to faculty discussion of issues related to Learning Outcomes 4 & 5, the department began requiring its majors to take a 1-credit field experience course. This addressed two areas of concern identified through assessment: 1.) a need for more opportunities for students to learn field methodologies; and, 2.) a need for concrete opportunities for students to demonstrate an ability to locate, evaluate, synthesize, and convey geographic information in the field.
C. Creation of new upper-level slot course: GEOG 386 Applications in Geographic Information Science: (subtitle)
Based on information from Geography alumni surveys conducted as part of our assessment program, we learned that many of our alumni would have liked more offerings in the realm of geographic information technologies. Informal discussions with our majors confirmed this desire among current students. With this in mind, department faculty created a slot course at the 300-level for applied geographic information science topics. This gives us the flexibility to offer applied methodology course topics as limited faculty personnel and schedules permit.
D. Implementation of an “Advanced Methods” course requirement
In examining our results for Learning Outcome 5, we recognized a deficiency in our required methods courses. Each item listed in in Learning Outcome 5 represents a course that is listed in the Geography curriculum, but only cartography and quantitative methods were being required of all majors. To increase the number of students meeting this objective, we began to require an “Advanced Methods” course of all majors. For this requirement, students may choose either GEOG 295: Intro to GIS or GEOG 379: Geographic Field Methods. We expect to further revise this requirement as we proceed with program revisions, likely requiring GIS methods courses for all future majors. Field methods may continue as a class on its own or may be embedded as a key component in other courses.
2. Revision of Program Assessment :
As we proceed with desired curriculum changes in the next two years, we will also continue to evaluate assessment itself, reconfiguring learning outcomes and measurement practices to ensure that they suit departmental goals and needs related to student learning. Discussions of such assessment revision remain ongoing in the Department of Geography, however, we expect to formalize the revision in the coming semester. For example, in spring 2010, we discussed the appropriateness of our mission and learning outcomes. The discussion yielded concerns that some of the outcomes were too similar and perhaps needed to be revised or eliminated. APAC comments on some of our outcomes and their respective measures of success provide some additional guidance as we embark on this revision, particularly in terms of direct and indirect measurement of each outcome. In future department meetings this academic year, we plan to reevaluate our learning outcomes, the usefulness of present assessment methods, and, most importantly, the value of the results to our program.
3. Incentivize faculty efforts toward achieving learning outcomes:
In examining the results of Learning Outcome 1 over the last seven years, the department discussed ways of improving student engagement in co-curricular geography activities, a key component of our department goals. Discussions among faculty on how best to promote and improve learning opportunities for this assessment outcome led to the creation of a Discretionary Salary Increase (DSI) award system that incentivized teaching activities in need of improvement. In short, financial incentives were created for faculty to increase their contributions toward deficient outcomes, particularly in the area of independent research supervision and professional presentation.
4. New modes of alumni outreach:
Alumni provide us with valuable feedback related to their experiences with the program. We learn from alum what components of our program have proved most useful to them and what they wished they had learned during their time at Geneseo. Through 2010, we have gathered data for Learning Outcome 1 by surveying Geography alumni 3 years after their graduation. While the alumni surveys provided valuable feedback to the department on student success after graduation, we did not have current contact information for all alumni and survey response rates varied year-to-year. In addition, we also discovered that alumni desired greater opportunity for continued interaction with the department. To address these issues, the department created a new social networking page for alum on Facebook. The site is titled Alumni Geographers of Geneseo (AGOG). The number of alumni connected to this site has surpassed 200. The site provides an informal yet vital connection to our alumni and it has facilitated more dialogue on alumni experiences in our department. In addition to increasing alumni feedback on our program, the site is also proving to be an excellent fundraising tool.
While the Geography department continually uses data from learning outcome assessment to improve its programs, revisiting and revising learning outcomes themselves is also critical to strengthening our program. We plan to change, combine, and delete some of our learning outcomes as we move forward in order to better assess the knowledge and skills students learn as geographers at Geneseo. How we achieve this will depend somewhat on whether or not the college decides to pursue a systematic change to 4/4 courseloads. In any case, the Geography Department is moving forward with plans to revise its curriculum. Over the next two years, as we revise our program and learning outcomes, we also plan to consider the best methods of direct and indirect measurement of these learning outcomes. Together, these efforts will ensure that we continue to produce well-rounded geographers.