Image of yellow sunrise beyond the University of Iowa Pentacrest.

When Wayne Jacobson, PhD, Director of the Office of Assessment, arrived at the University of Iowa from Seattle five years ago, one of the first things he discovered was how extensively campus departments were already engaged in a variety of assessment strategies.

“The university has made significant progress in assessment since then, but there was already a strong foundation to build on,” Jacobson says.

During that time, he has made it the main mission of the Office of Assessment to enhance support for departmental and program assessment at Iowa.  The Office has become an important resource for departments wanting to do more to understand learning outcomes for their undergraduate programs and determine how best to organize their curriculum.

This interaction can happen a number of different ways.

Through direct consultation, Jacobson helps departments design an assessment plan that reflects the nature of the discipline, the structure of the program, and the questions faculty members might have about student learning.

In addition, Jacobson and his staff, Matt Anson and Sam Van Horne, PhD, help faculty and departments identify and access relevant institution-level data, and they coordinate campus surveys such as SERU (Student Experiences in the Research University), a national survey that provides departments with information about student engagement both inside and outside of the classroom. 

The Office of Assessment also conducts and provides data analysis of the Senior Exit Survey. Last year, data collected in the survey revealed insights about the Iowa campus undergraduate experience that some people might find surprising.

The 2015 Senior Survey Report, Extending the Classroom, shows that more than four out of five students reported participating in at least one academic experience that took learning beyond the boundaries of individual classes. The data show that many students are choosing experiences such as internships, undergraduate research, study abroad programs, and community-based service learning even if they are not required to do so to achieve their degrees.

“These are learning experiences that are not necessarily required for their majors or represented on official academic transcripts,” Jacobson says, “so until now there has been no way to systematically track participation. This is very important data, because it shows we have highly engaged students across programs choosing to opt into experiences that give them a richer educational experience.”