NIU Assessment: Past, Present, Future

NIU Assessment Past and Present

     From the beginning (1970s – 2003)

     Assessment Since 2003

     Current Forms, Guidelines & Timelines

NIU Assessment Endeavors / Initiatives

     Alumni Survey

     Annual Updates

     Capstone Course Development

     Critical Thinking Project

     Expo

     Funding Opportunities

     Methods Matrix

     New-Faculty Forum

     Portfolio Development

     Smart Classroom Survey

     Toolkit

     Workshops

     Writing Projects

Panels and Committees

      University Assessment Panel

      Campus Assessment Network

      General Education Committee

Future Vision

      Future Vision

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NIU Assessment Past and Present

From the beginning (1970s – 2003)

Excerpt taken from NIU’s Higher Learning Commission Assessment Plan 1994-2003. Find the full plan here.

In the late 1970s, the provost initiated a campus-based program review process conducted under his direction by the university’s Academic Planning Council as a means of systematically evaluating the quality of instructional programs, their processes and outcomes, and their resource allocations and needs. These program reviews are also used as the basis for reporting to the university’s governing board and to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which were created in the 1960s as the state-level oversight agency for higher education. Since its inception, the program review process has undergone numerous modifications to meet the changing needs of the university’s academic planning processes and the requirements for reporting to external constituencies. Based on reporting requirements to the higher board, the cycle for program review changed from a five- to a seven-year cycle, then to the current eight-year cycle. The criteria for the review of programs have continuously evolved, shifting emphasis from processes and inputs to program and student learning outcomes.

In the 1980s Northern Illinois University initiated the development of formal assessment plans initially for its undergraduate programs, and later for its graduate and professional programs. The provost created the position for and hired an assessment coordinator to provide support and assistance to programs in the development of their plans and to coordinate assessment practices within the Division of Academic Affairs. The assessment plans were developed by the faculty in the academic programs, and then were reviewed and approved by the college curriculum committees and the appropriate university level curricular bodies: a subcommittee of the Undergraduate Coordinating Council for the undergraduate program plans, and the curriculum subcommittee of the Graduate Council for the graduate and professional programs.

In the 1990s the departments and schools initiated the assessment plans for their programs, and began to incorporate the findings from the assessment activities into processes for improving learning outcomes. Funding from the Provost’s Office was made available for specific program-based assessment activities. The Office of Assessment Services also began working with the General Education Committee to develop methods for assessing the general education program. During this period the reporting line for the assessment coordinator was changed from the associate provost to the assistant provost for academic planning and development to create a clearer articulation between assessment activities and program review. In addition, the administration of the undergraduate and graduate alumni surveys became a coordinated effort between the Office of Assessment Services and the Career Planning and Placement Center. This change was made to meet the need of the university to better track alumni satisfaction with their programs and experiences at NIU, and to develop a process for the university’s participation in the statewide alumni survey coordinated by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which issues an annual report on the composite results of the alumni surveys. Ultimately, the responsibility for the alumni surveys was assumed by the Office of Assessment Services.

In 1996, higher education in Illinois moved from a system of coordinating boards to individual boards for each of the public universities, and the NIU Board of Trustees was created. The NIU Board of Trustees exercises broad oversight of the university’s human and fiscal resources, operations, programs, and faculty and staff. Based upon the board’s analysis of the university’s existing governance structure, a newly designed organizational model was implemented, creating four divisions: Academic and Student AffairsAdministrationFinance and Facilities, and Development and University Relations.

In 1997 the provost commissioned a taskforce to define the roles and responsibilities for a university-level committee to provide oversight of assessment practices for the newly created Division of Academic and Student Affairs. The interdisciplinary University Assessment Panel, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, was initiated in 1998. Since its inception, the University Assessment Panel assumed responsibility for the review of the assessment plans for the academic programs, recommends funding to support the implementation of assessment initiatives, and approves proposals for participation in periodic portfolio workshops and the creation of capstone courses. In 2000 the panel developed a process for the systematic review of the outcomes of the academic- and student-support units in collaboration with the vice provost, the vice provost for student affairs, and the assistant vice provost for academic support services. As a result of the redesigned program review process initiated by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the panel revised its requirements and the schedule for the review of the assessment plans and status reports from the academic programs and the general education program. The panel also reviews the findings from the university’s centrally administered assessment projects, and makes recommendations for the development of the university’s annual Results Report (upload results report pdf) to the higher board.

The Results Report, initiated in 1999 by the higher board, provides the university with the opportunity to identify the ways in which initiatives that fulfill the university’s mission also contribute to the six goals of the statewide plan for higher education, the Illinois Commitment. Through this mechanism the university reports on best academic and financial / administrative practices, the programmatic outcomes achieved during the fiscal year, and its plans for achieving additional outcomes of import to the university that also contribute to the statewide goals for the upcoming year. The findings from the university’s review of its academic programs are appended to the Results Report each year. The findings from the institutional Results Reports are used by the higher board to develop its annual statewide Results Report.

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Assessment Since 2003

Following the release of NIU’s Higher Learning Commission Assessment Plan 1994-2003, assessment at NIU  has continued to progress.

Higher Learning Commission Site Review

The following information is from NIU’s CCHLC Progress Report, July 2007:

In February 2004, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools sent a site team to NIU for the purpose of conducting a comprehensive evaluation for continued accreditation.  The site team conducted its review by examining the extent to which NIU complied with federal regulations, general institutional requirements, and specific commission criteria.  As a result, NIU’s accreditation was renewed and NIU continued to strengthen and improve upon assessment practices.  

One key area of strengthening has been in the area of the review of general education courses and data.  NIU’s General Education Committee has developed a comprehensive assessment program and continues to review the general education goals on an ongoing basis.  The General Education committee and Office of Assessment Services have worked together to strengthen and increase university-wide assessments of writing and technology skills, and used data from focus groups and surveys to determine students’ perceptions of learning as they relate to the general education goals (goals listed below). To meet the goals, students are required to demonstrate competency in the core areas of Mathematics, English, and Communications, and to take a minimum of 29 hours in the four distributive studies areas; Humanities and the Arts, Sciences and Mathematics, Social Sciences, and Interdisciplinary Studies.

The 4 General Education Learning Goals:

  1. Students develop habits of writing, speaking, and reasoning necessary for continued learning.
    1. Students communicate clearly in written English, demonstrating their ability to comprehend, analyze, and interrogate critically.
    2. Students communicate in a manner that unites theory, criticism, and practice in speaking and writing.
    3. Students perform basic computations, display facility with use of formal and quantitative reasoning analysis and problem solving, and interpret mathematical models and statistical information.
    4. Students are able to access and use various information resources.
  2. Students develop an ability to use modes of inquiry across a variety of disciplines in the humanities and the arts, the physical sciences and mathematics, and the social sciences.
    1. Students demonstrate knowledge of the historical and pre-historical development of societies and cultures, and of the relations of such development to the present.
    2. Students demonstrate an ability to articulate the significance of the arts and an ability to apply analytical and interpretive skills to the critical examination of the social/cultural values and aesthetic qualities found in the arts and popular culture(s).
    3. Students demonstrate knowledge of the cultural traditions and philosophical ideas that have shaped societies, civilizations, and human self-conceptions.
    4. Students demonstrate an ability to use scientific methods and theories to understand the phenomena studied in the natural and social sciences.
  3. Students develop an understanding of the interrelatedness of various disciplines by integrating knowledge from several disciplines and applying that knowledge to an understanding of important problems and issues.
  4. Students develop social responsibility and preparation for citizenship through global awareness, environmental sensitivity, and an appreciation of cultural diversity.

Strengthening the review of general education courses and data

The cyclical review of general education courses has been strengthened since 2003.  The General Education Committee continued with their assessment of each category of the general education curriculum. To see the cycle of reviews for the past 20 years, view Table 1. The general education review process has always involved submission and resubmission forms that outline: the core competencies and distributive areas the courses are designed to address, how the courses will and do meet the general education goals, what assessment tools will be and are being used in the courses, and details of course delivery. The committee reviews the forms and the courses are either approved for general education credit, not approved, or returned to the department for additional information and/or assessment results.

Data from the general education assessment program were reviewed by the general education committee in 2005-2006. Such data included: course-level data provided by the departments, and data from the NIU Baccalaureate Follow-Up Survey, the First Year Initiative Survey, Your First College Year Survey, and the College Student Survey. Based on review of these data, the committee determined that students were generally satisfied with their knowledge and skills as they related to the general education goals. The committee further determined that, in addition to existing survey data, general education assessment should focus on those direct assessment measures that were expanded from existing measures and/or created as new assessment measures.

In additional to survey data, an analysis of student focus group data was used to examine NIU’s four general education goals. To assess students’ perceptions of the general education program, focus groups lasting 1-1.5 hours were conducted with students enrolled in general education courses in fall 2006 (N = 79), and spring 2007 (N = 150). These focus groups were developed, conducted, and videotaped by teams of three-to-five undergraduate students as a project for a marketing course. The questions addressed three areas: overall impressions of their general education courses, the impact of their general education courses in terms of specific general education goals, and suggestions for improvement of the general education courses and curriculum.

To assess change over time, the fall 2006 results were compared to those of a 2003 series of focus groups with students (N = 143) from across lower- and upper-division courses and the colleges. Highlights of the assessments from 2003 and 2006 are presented below.

In the overall impressions of their general education courses, several themes emerged from the focus groups. Students reported positive and negative aspects of general education courses in 2003 and 2006 (see Table 3). 

Positive and Negative Aspects of General Education Courses 

Focus group participants were asked to comment on the extent to which the general education courses aided them in achieving the general education goals. The following comments, some positive and some negative, were noted (See Tables 4-7):

Positive and Negative Aspects Related to Goal A - Writing, Speaking, and Reasoning  

Positive and Negative Aspects Related to Goal B - Develop Modes of Inquiry

Positive and Negative Aspects Related to Goal C - Integrate Knowledge

Positive and Negative Aspects Related to Goal D - Social Responsibility

The focus group results have informed the following: The true value of the learning that occurs in general education courses may not be fully realized until students have had sufficient time and experience to put this learning in perspective.

The NIU Baccalaureate Follow-Up Survey, conducted each year by the Office of Assessment Services, is an effort to understand how this learning is perceived by alumni. An analysis of five years of survey data suggest that alumni often appreciate the value of their general education experiences as evidenced in several findings highlighted below.  The weighted average of responses from 2001-2005 indicate that alumni believe that NIU was helpful in:

  • Helping them develop the ability to think analytically and write effectively (Goal a).      
  • Encouraging them to challenge their own ideas and those of their peers and thinking critically (Goal b).
  • Defining and solving problems and being able to adapt to change (Goal c).
  • Learning to work cooperatively and developing an appreciation for diversity (Goal d).

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Current Forms, Guidelines & Timelines

Faculty, staff, and administrators can access forms, guidelines and timelines necessary for Program/Unit assessment plans and Annual Updates here.  

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NIU Assessment Endeavors / Initiatives

Alumni Survey

NIU is interested in staying in contact with its alumni because they have important things to tell us about their student experiences. The Office of Assessment Services (OAS) administers the Annual Alumni Survey each year to all graduates from the past calendar year. In accordance with requirements of the Illinois Board or Higher Education, the OAS also administers a Baccalaureate follow-up survey to graduates 5 and 9 years out on a rotating cycle. The information gleaned from these surveys is helpful in making improvements in programs and services, as well as helping to measure the value of earning a degree at NIU.

Download the results here.

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Annual Updates

Each academic program submits an Annual Update Report to track progress on the implementation of the assessment plan. View sample report, the Annual Update form, and the Annual Assessment Update Report 2010-2011.

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Capstone Course Development

Capstone experiences can be a very viable part of authentic course assessment. A capstone experience typically is a part of an upper-level course, where students are expected to demonstrate their mastery of program objectives in a culminating project. To foster the development of capstone experiences, Assessment Services offers a stipend to faculty who submit a proposal to develop a capstone course/experience – half of the stipend is paid on acceptance of the proposal, the other half on the successful course/experience fruition. The process is competitive. Related materials and requirements are available to the right.

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Critical Thinking Project

As a part of the ongoing assessment program at Northern Illinois University, a decision was made in academic year 2000 to assess the critical thinking skills of enrolled students. The critical thinking project was active during the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 academic years. See the reports.

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Expo

In March 2012, NIU held their fifth Annual Assessment Expo. The Assessment expo was designed to highlight successful assessment practices on campus and create an opportunity for NIU faculty & staff to share assessment methods and outcomes. At each Expo, ten academic programs are recognized by the University Assessment Panel (UAP) as having outstanding assessment practices.

See the 2012 Assessment Expo presentations
See the 2011 Assessment Expo presentations

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Funding Opportunities

The Office of Assessment Services provides funding opportunities to faculty who would like to develop new portfolio or capstone course assessment plans.

Portfolio Development 

Capstone Course Development 

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Methods Matrix

The Methods Matrix is an Excel document created by the Office of Assessment Services to track the Methods of Assessment used at NIU. The methods matrix is broken into direct (link to term in glossary) and indirect assessment methods by degree program. View the Methods Matrix.

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New-Faculty Forum

The Office of Assessment Services holds an annual New-Faculty Forum. The forum orientates new faculty to the OAS and provides information on what the OAS does and how it can provide faculty with assessment assistance.

For more information about the New-Faculty Forum, contact the OAS at 815-753-8659.

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Portfolio Development

One method that can be used in the authentic assessment process is the development of student portfolios. Portfolios typically contain student work that is representation of the student's demonstrated ability to meet articulated, student learning focused objectives. Portfolios may be hard copy or electronic in nature, a choice which is often dependent on the program subject matter.

The Office of Assessment Services periodically offers a portfolio workshop. Interested individuals are required to submit a proposal to participate in this weeklong workshop. The proposal is typically due in early February; selected individuals/teams are awarded a stipend on satisfactory completion of the workshop. Should a departmental team approach be utilized, the stipend is to be shared by the team members. The process is competitive.

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Smart Classroom Survey

During fall 2000, a survey was conducted to evaluate the performance and the use of "smart classrooms" at Northern Illinois University. For the purposes of this survey, "smart classrooms" were defined as those classrooms that were equipped with a large screen projector, video player, and an ELMO Visual Presenter, and which may also include Internet connections (including web surfing, faculty's own Web site, and chat rooms), audio players, video conferencing and laptop connections.

The survey results include responses from two groups, faculty and students. The population surveyed included 845 students and 232 members of the faculty, representing six colleges within the university: Visual and Performing Arts, Business, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, Education, Engineering and Engineering.

View 2000 Report

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Student Focus Groups

During the 2007-2008 academic year, the Campus Assessment Network partnered with the NIU College of Business (COB) to conduct 16 student focus groups to get a sense of the level of student awareness regarding assessment practices, the ways in which students monitor their learning, and how they perceive responsibility for learning.  The focus groups were conducted in an effort to develop a common message of assessment, increase the visibility and transparency of assessment practices on the NIU campus, and to further engage students in the assessment of their learning.

Each of the focus groups was led by students enrolled in a marketing research class in the COB.  Of the 16 groups, 9 groups were recruited from the COB, 7 were recruited from the College of Health and Human Sciences, and 1 was recruited from the Asian American Center in the Division of Academic and Student Affairs.  Analysis of data is currently underway and will be posted on the Office of Assessment Services website when completed.

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Toolkit

In October 2002, NIU published the first issue of Toolkit: The Nuts and Bolts Newsletter from Assessment Services. Since Toolkit’s first issue, until it's last in the Spring of 2012, it has been a quarterly publication at NIU. The newsletter emphasizes a practical, hands-on approach towards assessment, specifically focused on developing a culture of assessment awareness. The toolkit audience is the entire NIU community, with particular usefulness for NIU faculty and administrative staff.

Excerpt from:

Askins, D. L. (2006). Toolkit: the nuts and bolts newsletter from assessment services. Assessment Update, 18, 8.

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Workshops

The Office of Assessment Services holds annual workshops to raise awareness about Assessment related issues. View upcoming OAS events and look at past workshops.


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Writing Projects

Junior-Level Writing Project

The NIU Junior-level writing project was established in 2000 to measure Junior writing ability. The results of these assessments showed that students demonstrated a range of writing skills, with an average slightly below the desired criterion of 8 on a 12-point scale. Over time, participation in the project declined and the Junior-Level Writing Project was redesigned in 2004 to create the current University Writing Project.

View results of the Junior-level writing project from 2000-2003

University Writing Project

The University Writing Project is a modification from the Junior-Level Writing Project (discussed above) and was developed in conjunction with the ACT CAAP Writing Essay. Over time, the University Writing Project has evolved into an in-house assessment of student writing that utilizes course-embedded assignments to assess both early and late stage student writing skills.

The purpose of the University Writing Project is to assess the writing ability of upper-level undergraduate students. This gives the university an opportunity to assess how well NIU students are writing and provides important information that can lead to improvement in the quality of students’ writing abilities.

View results of the University Writing Project 

First Year Composition Assessment

First Year Composition Assessment was developed in 2006 in conjunction with the English department. The project consists of assessing writing abilities in English 103: Rhetoric and Composition I and English 104: Rhetoric and Composition II. By the end of their first year, students are expected to be able to demonstrate rhetorical knowledge, critical thinking, reading and writing, knowledge of conventions, and proficiency in writing processes. Essays are evaluated by English faculty members using a scoring rubric to determine writing skill.

View results of the 2011 First Year Composition Assessment Report

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Panels & Committees

University Assessment Panel

The University Assessment Panel (UAP) was created in fall 1998 to provide oversight for assessment activities within the Division of Academic and Student Affairs. The UAP's specific responsibilities include reviewing the University Mission Statement, the Illinois Board of Higher Education focus statement for Northern Illinois University, and the goals of the Illinois Commitment as a context for assessment; coordinating assessment activities at the undergraduate and graduate levels and in academic support units; promoting campus-wide assessment activities to improve learning; supporting departments in preparing the assessment component of discipline-specific accreditation reviews; helping position the university for the next Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation process; and reviewing departmental assessment activities in conjunction with program review.

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Campus Assessment Network

The Campus Assessment Network, established in July 2006, is a group of individuals across campus involved in assessment as part of their professional role at NIU. Included in this group is the director of assessment services, director of assessment and training for student affairs, assessment coordinator for teacher certification, several assessment coordinators for individual colleges, associate deans for several colleges, and other interested parties. The Campus Assessment Network was established for the purpose of bringing together assessment professionals and other interested parties across NIU to better enable these individuals to:

  • Communicate and network with one another on assessment issues.
  • Share information and assessment tools with one another to increase effectiveness in our assessment practices.
  • Develop a shared culture of assessment and common messages of assessment to better engage and support the broader NIU community in their assessment needs.

Members of the network meet five times a year and discuss a variety of assessment topics such as technology assessments, web-based portfolio systems, design of standardized exit surveys for students, and the importance of building a culture of assessment.

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General Education Committee

The General Education Committee is comprised of faculty and student members. The duties of this committee are to:

  • Monitor and evaluate the university general education program
  • Recommend policies and procedures which will provide continuing evidence which can be used to evaluate both the program as a whole and individual components of that program
  • Make suggestions to colleges and departments regarding improvements that can be made in the general education curricula
  • Recommend additions, modifications, and deletions of courses which are a part of the general education curriculum
  • Make recommendations regarding the improvement, including the redesign, of the general education program and of individual components of that program
  • Perform such other duties as the UCC may prescribe. Recommendations regarding policy changes shall be forwarded, together with a written statement of the rationale for such changes, to the UCC for further action.

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Future Vision

NIU has incorporated Assessment into the general education curricula, within every department and degree program, as well as the assessment of NIU alumni. Our hopes for an even great culture of assessment remain.

Future possibilities for Assessment at NIU may entail:

  • Reading Circles.  Providing faculty with books/tools/access to interactions with other faculty interested in promoting assessment within their colleges. 
  • NIU Assessment Summer Institute (ASI). A summer institute to further faculty efforts using course-embedded assessment.
  • Additional outside speakers. Arranging a series of seminars with outside speakers.  Presentations could be videotaped and made available for faculty and staff to reference.
  • Collaboration with the Faculty Development and Instructional Design center. Collaboration to develop seminars on assessment-and-technology and assessment-and-teaching effectiveness.
  • An Assessment Mentor Program (AMP). Helping to amp people up for assessment on campus!
  • Common Assessment Tool Set. Developing common tools to measure outcomes pertaining to the university’s learning goals.  Have those tools available on-line.
  • Standardized Testing.  Measuring the attainment of general education core competencies via a standardized test.

Information obtained from:

Douglass, C., & Swanson, A. (2007) Culture of Assessment. Office of Assessment Services.

Douglass, C., & Swanson, A. (2008) Culture of Learning. Office of Assessment Services.

NIU’s CCHLC Progress Report, July 2007