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Inquiry-Based Assessment - Overview

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 3 years, 3 months ago

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Inquiry-Based Assessment

Overview  |  Guides  |  Campus Examples  |  Documents to Download

An inquiry-based approach to developing outcomes and assessment is one that enables individuals (staff, faculty, and students) to examine their own examples of work in order to ask questions and learn from the process. This process can be used not only for assessment but also for program design - as a way to build a culture of inquiry and support continuous learning.


The University of Richmond's Bonner Center has developed this approach as a key strategy for defining student learning outcomes. They call the process "data labs." This section will explain more about it and provide helpful examples, steps, and instructions.


In that approach, staff, faculty, and student leaders reflect on examples of student learning (called "artifacts") and creatively ask questions. Such artifacts of student learning might include:


  • Videos of students' Senior Presentations of Learning
  • Essays written by students in service-learning courses
  • Written reflections and blogs
  • Spoken reflections during service immersion experiences
  • Students' written research papers
  • Students' senior theses and capstones
  • Students' e-portfolios


This process and approach is not confined to student work. An inquiry based data lab could also involve faculty work - examining assignment prompts, syllabi, and more. The University of Richmond has started doing this now with faculty in order to ask about their own learning and approaches to teaching.


An inquiry-based approach to assessment can provide fuel a center or campus's ability to be involved in ongoing learning, reflection, and continuous improvement. The University of Richmond, whose work is profiled throughout this section, has walked this path over the last five years, developing and using data labs and other hands-on methods to fuel learning while also developing outcomes and assessment.


Such approaches to assessment can be grounded in the values (such as reciprocity and meaningful action) that are core to the Bonner Program and community service/engagement. Yet, they also do mirror HIPs. These approaches:


  • Involve meaningful effort
  • Help staff and faculty (and students, as they can be involved) build substantive relationships with each other
  • Help engage staff and faculty across differences (getting us out of our programs and silos)
  • Provide staff and faculty with rich feedback about their work
  • Help staff and faculty apply and test what they are learning about student learning to their teaching and programming
  • Provide opportunities for staff and faculty to reflect on the people their students are becoming


This approach to assessment also can overcome typical barriers and frustrations such as:


  • Student learning assessment is often not connected back to teaching and programming, especially when we are measuring the impact of co-curricular activity. We may collect, but we do not always close the loop, missing the chance to make meaning of the data in ways that bring fresh understanding to our work.


  • Assessment is something done to centers by externally driven priorities, rather than owned by centers. Often we assess because we are asked to provide a specific kind of result to someone external to our center/program/initiative. We are “under the assessment gun,” rather than pursuing assessment motivated by our own inquiry about our work and its impact.


  • Assessment can turn up some interesting data but it is definitely not a creative activity. When we present about assessment at non-assessment conferences, attendees often report that they are there because they feel they “should be,” not because they necessarily want to be. Assessment is bitter medicine, separate from the food that sustains us.


  • Assessment is something experts do. Assessment relies on specialized knowledge; therefore, doing it well demands that we outsource it when/if at all possible. 


These slides introduce the approach in more depth.