Wabash Study assesses liberal arts on campus

Brandeis welcomes team and invites community to information sessions

How should colleges and universities assess the quality of a liberal arts education? That’s what Brandeis and 48 other institutions nationwide are attempting to understand through their participation in The Wabash Study of Liberal Arts Education. And partial results are in.

A four-member team from the Wabash Study will be on campus this week for three days of meetings and discussions with students, faculty and administrators about the preliminary findings.

The campus community — especially the student body — is encouraged to take part in talks Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 6 and 7. On Wednesday, a series of open, hour-long sessions between students with the Wabash Study visitors will take place in Shapiro Campus Center, room 317, at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. A dinner meeting with interested students is scheduled at Sherman from 6 to 7 p.m. On Thursday, a town-hall-style meeting will take place from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Carl J. Shapiro Theater at Shapiro Campus Center. It is not necessary to sign up to attend any of the open meetings or the dinner.

Provost Marty Krauss said assessments such as the Wabash Study help schools improve, and are part of a national trend. “Universities are being asked by their accrediting agencies to assess how they are doing on all sorts of outcomes. There are standards that we have to meet for our NEASC accreditation.”

Brandeis’s participation in the Wabash Study started in 2008 with the arrival of the incoming class that fall and mid-years in January. The class of 2012 was assessed twice during that first year, and will be assessed again during their senior year.

The Wabash study is large-scale, and looks at factors that affect outcomes of a liberal arts education. It aims to highlight best teaching practices — programs and institutional structures that are working — as well as methods that are not as effective.

According to the provost’s office, the Wabash study looks at seven specific areas identified with a liberal arts education: critical thinking, integration of learning, leadership, moral reasoning, interest in and attitudes about diversity, need for cognition, and integration of learning and well-being .

The study looks for patterns, over time, of student development of these seven desirable characteristics, and aims to identify what it is that the university is doing – and not doing – to contribute to students’ growth in these areas.

Highlights of the initial data gleaned from that first year assessment of the class of 2012, which will be discussed with students, faculty and staff this week, show that:

  • Brandeis students grew on two outcomes: moral reasoning and critical thinking.
  • On average, Brandeis students gained more on critical thinking than students at other small college.
  • Brandeis students reported higher levels of meaningful interactions with diverse students, faculty and staff than students at other small colleges.
  • Brandeis students felt that faculty were genuinely interested in students but were less satisfied with the quality of non-classroom interactions with faculty.
  • Our students reported faculty had a good command of what they were teaching but said that they were less often academically challenged than their peers at other similar institutions.
  • Our students reported a mix of high-impact experiences, with more experiences writing multiple drafts and longer papers, but fewer experiences working on problem sets, class presentations, and integrating ideas from different courses in assignments.

Krauss said the Wabash study organization is very well regarded, and she looks forward to the upcoming meetings. “I’ve asked them to come in and point out where there are ‘actionable results’,” she said. “These are things we might be able to do something about. I hope we take full advantage of their time on campus to probe these preliminary results and to develop strategies for addressing those findings that surprise us. These meetings should illustrate for all of us what the value is of engaging in assessment activities designed to improve our educational programs and practices.”

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, Student Life

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