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Collaborative Assessment for Liberal Learning (CALL):

An Inter-Institutional Initiative
in Mission-Driven, Meaningful, and Manageable Assessment
The CALL initiative is a three-year assessment project undertaken by a consortium of four liberal arts institutions (Carleton, Grinnell Macalester, and St. Olaf), funded by a grant from the Teagle Foundation.

Project purpose: To sustain and strengthen liberal arts education on our respective campuses by working together to review, generate, and use meaningful information about student learning.

Project description: This project will engage each campus in assessing four student learning outcomes: effective writing; critical thinking; quantitative reasoning; and global understanding. These outcomes were selected because they are essential to the liberal arts education each institution provides, yet are fostered in distinctive ways on each campus. Over the next three years, the four participating institutions will coordinate their assessment activities such that by the end of the initial funding period, the consortium as a whole (though not necessarily each institution) will have used and collectively evaluated at least two assessment strategies for each of these four learning outcomes. In some cases two or more institutions will use the same instrument, while in other cases each institution will take a different path to assessing the same outcome. The project will allow each campus to refine or expand some of its existing assessment strategies, experiment with new approaches, and learn from the experiments of other consortium members.

Key project activities: Collaboration through inter-institutional Learning Outcome Teams: The consortium will establish a sixteen-member team for each of the four learning outcomes, with each institution contributing four faculty and staff members to each of the four teams. Team members will work with one another and in consultation with relevant constituencies on their respective campuses to:

  • Develop a shared understanding of the learning outcome for which it is responsible;
  • Coordinate the selection and use of assessment instruments within and across campuses;
  • Analyze both the process of using the instruments and the results they yield; and in light of that analysis,
  • Evaluate the usefulness of the instrument for strengthening liberal learning.

Each institution is providing leadership for one of the four teams; Carleton will take the lead on effective writing, Grinnell on global understanding, Macalester on quantitative reasoning, and St. Olaf on critical thinking. Most of the 2005-06 academic year will involve team members working with faculty and staff “stakeholders” on their own campuses in preparation for an inter-institutional conference in April 2006 that will bring all the teams together and broaden the discussion beyond each individual campus.
  • Administration of the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA): As part of the planning for the Teagle grant, and thanks to additional funding from the Lumina Foundation, St. Olaf, Carleton, and Macalester are participating in a four-year national study of the impact of college on student learning through the RAND Corporation’s Council for Aid to Education. The study involves the repeated administration of an innovative assessment tool known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), intended to measure the contributions of college to student learning in three of the four learning outcome areas targeted by the CALL consortium: critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and written communication. The CLA engages students in a three-hour on-line writing experience, structured by two kinds of tasks. First, students are provided with a series of writing prompts, intended to elicit their ability to examine claims and evidence, articulate complex ideas, support ideas with relevant reasons and examples, sustain a coherent discussion, and use standard written English. Second, they are provided with a complex policy problem and an array of relevant documents and data, and asked to prepare a policy recommendation to address the problem. The students’ written work is then used to construct measures of their thinking and writing abilities.

Under the auspices of the Teagle and Lumina grants, the CLA will be administered at Carleton, Macalester, and St. Olaf to a representative sample of first-year students in the fall of 2005, and will then be re-administered to these same students at the end of their sophomore year and again at the end of their senior year. This approach will allow us to examine learning outcomes over time for individual students as well as for each campus as a whole, and to compare our results with the results of the other members of the CALL consortium and the other 22 schools participating in the longitudinal study. Most important, it will allow the CALL consortium members to evaluate the usefulness of the CLA as a meaningful assessment tool for liberal arts institutions.

Indicators of project success: We will know this project is successful if each member of the consortium experiences one or more of the following by the end of the funding period:
  • Increased availability of meaningful assessment data to faculty and staff;
  • Broadly-shared understanding of the strengths and limitations of at least two different assessment approaches on each campus;
  • Increased faculty and staff interest in and conversation about assessment results and their implications for teaching and learning in a liberal arts institution;
  • The use of assessment results to inform at least one specific decision in any area related to teaching and learning (curriculum, pedagogy, faculty development, resource allocation).

We believe this collaborative approach to fostering mission-driven, meaningful, and manageable assessment will strengthen the ability of each campus to use assessment to support liberal learning.

January 2006