Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Asssessment and Assessments and More Assessments.

If you buy into the concept that we learn from experience, then it is an easy step forward to accept that there is much value in assessments that objectively measure what we have done in the past.  Objective assessment distinguishes between what we have done and what we believe we have done.  It is an integral component of Quality and learning and improvement.  
Today we are heavily engaged in the assessment process, in a variety of aspects.  

A few weeks back I mentioned that we at CMPT has screwed up and were found to have a non-conformance in our assessment for compliance to ISO9001:2008.  We have re-organized and got our internal audit completed.  We identified the areas that need improvement and submitted our records and plans for going forward.  
Today we were notified that our evidence has been accepted and our certificate for re-registration has been granted, recognizing that we will have a visit to demonstrate that the action plan is indeed an action action plan.  Hooray for us.

In many situations, (see above for example)  we can and should do our own internal assessments and learn our own lessons.  But there are some times when external assessments work better.  
Consider for example, in the area of education.  When students, including adult learners, take courses, before we can say they have studied and absorbed content, we do an assessment, sometimes referred to as an examination.  We don’t leave it up to the students to do their own personal assessment and then get back to us (at least most of us don’t do that!).  We measure their knowledge through pre-tested questions, and determine if their responses are consistent with the new knowledge that we expect them to have learned.  Internal personal assessment is an important self-learning tool, but when it comes to certification, personal evaluation is not enough.  We base assessment on external evaluation.  
I mention this because we are about to go into final exam season for our Certificate Course in Laboratory Quality Management.  
We are confident that everyone will demonstrate their new knowledge in exemplary fashion.

But just as we don’t rely on students to evaluate their knowledge, we don’t depend on ourselves to evaluate the course that we teach and the manner in which we teach it.  Our certificate course is in its eighth year, and has reached a level of mature stability.  We are confident that we know what we are doing.  It is now time for use to find out if others agree.
In part we have done this regularly throughout because we have done student surveys after each module and at year’s end almost from the beginning.  And we have made changes each year, in large part, based on the surveys.  But at some point, that approach is not enough.  Student participants tend to have a short term view, and their assessment as valuable as it may be, is an immediate reaction and may be biased if they perceive our process is not totally anonymous.  So they may be telling us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear.
So this year we have brought in the expertise of a group that spend a lot of their time doing external evaluations of courses and programs.  They look at content, and delivery, and interview faculty and students.  They look at course objectives and determine if we are meeting what we committed to meet.  
All of this is voluntary.  We don’t have to do this.  The university does not require it.  Our department does not require it.  But we require it.  How can we give a message of commitment to Quality if we are not prepared to go to the next step. (I know this appears to be inconsistent with Quality is defined as "meeting expectations".  More on this later.)

So I am looking forward to the exercise, and expect that we will do well.  I will be surprised if we are deemed as so perfect that we have no areas for improvement, and will be similarly surprised (perhaps hugely surprised) if we end up at the other end of the spectrum.

All this takes time and effort and energy and money (TEEM expenses).  It  is all part of the Quality exercise. 

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