Michael Arnush, Rachelle L. Brooks, and Kenneth Scott Morrell
This presentation will discuss a project to assess the cognitive outcomes of undergraduate students who major in classics, which has been underway since 2005. During the first phase of the project (2005-2007), “Measuring Undergraduate Cognitive Outcomes from a Disciplinary Perspective,” a group of faculty members in classics representing both undergraduate and research institutions, in consultation with a social scientist, identified a set of intellectual skills associated with the study of classics. Broadly speaking, these skills fall into categories of critical thinking and postformal reasoning. The group then collaborated on the design of an instrument to measure those outcomes. This instrument comprised essay questions, portions of the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test, and a survey of demographic and educational information. In the fall of 2006 the project administered the instrument to a group of forty-six undergraduate students and developed an evaluative rubric.
This work formed the basis for a second phase (2008-2013), “A Longitudinal Study of Critical Thinking and Postformal Reasoning: Assessing Undergraduate Outcomes Within Disciplinary Contexts,” which differed from the first in four ways: (1) it included majors in political science to determine whether instruments that feature disciplinary content can better measure the ability to think critically than interdisciplinary methods such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment; (2) it called for administering the instrument at two times, once during the students’ first or second years and again during their senior years to measure change in the development of their cognitive abilities; (3) the initial cohort of participants expanded to include students at twelve colleges and universities; and (4) the study explored the connection between critical thinking and postformal reasoning through the use of the Reasoning about Current Issues (RCI) questionnaire.
In the fall of 2009 the study administered the assessment to over 900 students. To maintain contact with the initial group of participants and maximize the response rate for the second administration, the project collected information annually in the spring and spring about the types of courses the students had completed and other campus-based educational experiences, which could account for changes in the cognitive outcomes. In the fall of 2011, the project re-assessed those who were sophomores in 2009, and in the fall of 2012, those who were first-year students at the time of the first administration. To compensate for attrition among the initial group of participants and allow for cross-sectional analysis, the project recruited additional senior students in 2011 and 2012. This group of respondents included majors in classics and political science who had not participated in the first administration.
This presentation will address three topics. First, we will discuss the process of identifying the outcomes and formulating the essay questions, which were to provide novel stimuli and require students to make interpretations, derive meaning, draw conclusions, and make persuasive arguments, but did not assume any prior knowledge of the discipline. We will also describe the steps in developing rubrics for evaluating the essays. This will be of particular interest for those who wish to collect baseline information about their students. The second topic will concern issues associated with administering the assessments, such as complications related to institutional review boards, calibrating incentives, the participants’ levels of interest, engagement, and “assessment fatigue.” Finally, we will present some of the findings from the study, offer a few interpretive observations, and comment on potential directions for further research.