Assessment: Purpose & Possibilities

Assessment: the systematic collection, review, and use of information about educational programs undertaken for the purpose of improving student learning and development. (Palomba & Banta, 1999, 

Assessment is essential not only to guide the development of the learning of individual students, but also to monitor and continuously improve the quality of programs and the conditions (and places) for learning. Assessment is essential to demonstrate accountability, to document if and how policies, practices and programs are making the anticipated difference. 

“Assessment” is not synonymous with “research”. Generally, research focuses on the creation of new knowledge, testing an experimental hypothesis or documenting new knowledge, while assessment guides good practice and usually has implications for a single institution, focusing on collecting data to demonstrate impact, planning for improvement, demonstrating accountability, and guiding decision-making and budgeting into the future.

Assessment begins with the question: What do you need to know?

For example, in shaping and reshaping learning spaces:

  • What do you need to know about the pedagogical practices of faculty stakeholders—current and wished-for? 
  • What do you need to know about how (and if and where) spaces on your campus encourage students to become engaged, collaborative learners?
  • What do you need to know about how students use different spaces on your campus for formal and informal learning, to accommodate diverse learning experiences and approaches? 
  • What do you need to know about student motivation, persistence and success in particular courses to determine if ‘space is the problem?’
  • What do you need to know about student motivation, persistence and success to determine if space is a ‘solution’ to the problem?
  • What do you need to know about your campus culture for planning, experimenting, assessing and advancing new approaches to deepening the learning experience of students?
  • What do you need to know about expectations for what your learners are to become—within your institutional context, beyond campus within the societal context?

Assessment is an iterative process that involves: asking questions, gathering data and evidence, analyzing results, using results to inform iterative planning. 

- Adapted from Jillian Kinzie, LSC 2011 National Assembly