Assessment and Educational Research

Bok Assessment

Assessment is an integrative process, one of design, implementation, evaluation of success facilitated by reflection, and practical integration of what has been learned into the next iteration of a course or program. At Bok we view assessment as an integral piece of instruction, curriculum building and university strategic planning. Anchored within a Center for Teaching and Learning our work is deeply connected to the practice of teaching and scholarship and we are committed to:

1) Collaborating across the disciplines

Universities have generally arranged themselves into units that reflect academic disciplines, their attendant cultures, and their specialized ways of knowing. While a great deal of research has focused on learning and instruction, only a limited attempt to understand how disciplinary context affects how students learn, how and what we teach and what and how we measure has been made. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to assessment without providing discipline-specific translation and appropriate modification to methods serves as a barrier to faculty adoption of assessment into the instructional process. At Bok we consciously try to root the practice of assessment within the disciplines. This begins with familiarizing ourselves with discipline-specific distinctions in philosophical approaches, intended learning goals and content. Most importantly, at Bok the design of an assessment process for a particular course/program/curriculum is driven by what is most important to the faculty member/program, and our work is always a collaborative endeavor.

2) Bringing Research to Practice

Traditional top-down models for the development and dissemination of educational research are limited in that the focus of such studies does not often address practitioner needs and/or is not translated in ways that are meaningful for users. Also, while many universities have established assessment offices or staff dedicated to facilitating the process of assessment, these units are mostly viewed by faculty as administrative as they are disconnected from the practice of teaching and scholarship. At the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, we offer a new educational space where research and assessment and practice intersect. In expanding our role to incorporate research and assessment, the Center is uniquely positioned to serve as a model of how to bridge the gap between research and practice and to disseminate knowledge. Faculty have direct dialogue with expert teaching staff and educational researchers and assessment specialists to collaborate, co-construct ideas and translate findings into best practices. We also offer professional development opportunities, which serve as a venue for disseminating the most current knowledge to incoming faculty members and graduate students-the future generation of educators. Such a collaborative model serves to advance educational research and improve undergraduate education at Harvard.

3) A Highly-Centralized Approach

Assessment works best in an office that is independent, impartial, and insulated from the influence of programs that are being evaluated. This approach avoids conflict of interest. The Bok Center reports into the Dean of FAS, which allows for more objective evaluation of programs in the College. Assessment also works best when it is highly centralized and avoids a number of apparent liabilities including: 1) the cost escalation as few economies of scale can be realized and each lesson learned must be repeated in every assessment case; 2) the inability to ensure that uniform and comprehensive implementation occurs across the FAS; 3) an absence of coordination with reporting requirements and 5) the inability to focus the best expertise on assessment issues. Finally successful implementation of assessment in the academic sector should be tied to the scholarship of teaching and learning, which cannot occur as effectively under the reporting structure of a line administrator or administrative office. If line administrators become to directly involved with setting academic policy, then many groups of faculty will become quickly disengaged with assessment. At the Bok Center, our focus is on teaching and learning, our Center is overseen by a faculty director and our assessment team works closely with pedagogy experts in the disciplines and the Graduate School of Education.

4) Building Knowledge Networks

In many universities, graduate students constitute the largest teaching resource. Incorporating integrative assessment training into their professional development opportunities can address local challenges in cultivating the adoption of more self-reflective processes into instruction within Harvard departments and programs as well as having broader impact in enhancing the teaching practice of the future professorate. The Bok Center is committed to the professional development of Harvard graduate students as effective college/ university teachers. Currently the Center offers relevant training to prepare graduate students to address issues they will face in their teaching. We have expanded our professional development and training role to enhance research skills among graduate students and others who want to produce and use assessment and education research in their teaching, grant work or research. We provide professional development opportunities including training courses and workshops (in both on-line open-source and live formats), and a Bok Center Fellow’s program, where graduates from the GSE gain practical experience working closely with faculty and administration in evaluating their courses and programs.

What we do in the Bok Center:

In keeping with the aspirations of integrative assessment, our team’s primary objectives include:

• Communicating to our faculty and the university community the value and intentions of assessment in a way that is meaningful to them.

• Partnering with faculty, academic and co-curricular programs to help them build and integrate systematic process of self-reflection into their teaching and programming.

• Enabling continuous learning and development by organizing and promoting assessment and evaluation materials and workshops and internship opportunities for both faculty and graduate students.

• Accumulating, generating, and disseminating best practices in educational research as a means to promote dialogue across FAS about student learning.

• Providing timely information to decision makers to facilitate strategic planning, direct and allocate resources that support the FAS mission 

Please note that the Assessment and Educational Research Program is located at our office on the 3rd floor of 125 Mt. Auburn Street.