An institution of interest for their assessment practices is Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). SNHU is a nonprofit university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in three delivery options: on-campus, online, or at regional academic centers. Television commercials for the university have featured its military-friendly format, and the university has received recognitions for innovativeness and its great workplace. With these things in consideration, the university must be doing something right to be perceived well by students, employers, and third-parties alike.
SNHU offers both new instructor training and ongoing instructor training. New instructor training is delivered in a three-week online cohort and focuses on “the SNHU philosophy of fostering student learning, engagement, and success” (“Adjunct Faculty Positions,” 2016). Ongoing training and development includes “required training for system and learning resources upgrades and additions” among other developmental opportunities (“Adjunct Faculty Positions,” 2016).
Instructors are expected to provide students with one-on-one support, work with advisors and academic success teams, provide feedback in class, be active in the classroom five days per week and respond to student communications within 24 hours (“Adjunct Faculty Positions,” 2016). Classes can hold a minimum of 8 students and a maximum of 25 or 22, depending on the subject matter. Course design is completed in advance so the instructors focus can be dedicated to fostering student learning, although they are permitted to add additional resources as they see beneficial to student learning. According to Bedrosian (2014), the director of eLearning management for SNHU’s department of Online and Continuing Education, an internal course design team builds courses with outcomes, summative and formative assessments, learning resources, texts, and all assignments into the Blackboard learning platform that serves as the “master course” which is then duplicated as needed for multiple sections in a term, and then delivered to the instructors in an entire process that preserves course consistency (as cited in Raths, 2014). This streamlined process has allowed the university to expand course offerings significantly, while leaving instructors with the role of improving the student learning experience. Prior to the course design, academic and marketing teams determine first determine the programs and courses to launch, and hold a “two- to three-day workshop in which subject matter experts, academic stakeholders and a launch team” determine program curriculum, then turn the plans over to the project management team for course development (Raths, 2014). While the development work takes place, recruiting teams seek out qualified and interested instructors to take the courses. In the design phase, design teams collaborate with “subject matter experts” in the building of the course and selection of texts and resources using the dean’s framework for design and student assessment (Raths, 2014). Although this very complex design process establishes a separation of roles (design vs. instruction), both roles are guided by the desired learning goals and outcomes, and both summative and formative assessments. However, faculty can have input in changing a course after its completion. Faculty can utilize a feedback system regarding course design to report praise, criticism, areas needing improvement, or errors in need of correction so that courses can be updated accordingly (“Adjunct Faculty Positions,” 2016). With the delegation and team structured so involved in this thorough process, it is likely that more specific assessment and goal-driven measures are covered in significant detail within the university boundaries.
In the Consumer Information section of the SNHU website, a section on Student Outcomes offers more information on students. Some information included is the academic success rate and graduate rate of athletes, common data on admissions, enrollment, conferrals, programs, demographics, and other pertinent educational data. However, the data obtained on student learning outcomes as required for regional accreditation provides the only publicly available specific data on student assessment. The document contains the “Inventory of Educational Effectiveness Indicators” with six different categories:
(1) Have formal learning outcomes been developed?
(2) Where are these learning outcomes published? (please specify) Include URLS where appropriate.
(3) Other than GPA, what data/evidence is used to determine that graduates have achieved the stated outcomes for the degree? (e.g., capstone course, portfolio review, licensure, examination)
(4) Who interprets the evidence? What is the process? (e.g., annually by the curriculum committee)
(5) What changes have been made as a result of using the data/evidence?
(6) Date of most recent program review (for general education and each degree program) (“NEASC 2011 Self-Study E-Forms,” 2011).
Each program with formal learning outcomes is assessed against these criteria. This provides an exhaustive list of learning outcomes for many programs, and any measures that have been taken to improve student-learning experiences. For instance, every single program in the college of Education has had formal learning outcomes developed. Another example in the English department is the BA in Creative Writing and English program, where the criteria states:
(1 and 2) Official learning outcomes have been developed and are posted on the English department website.
(3) Assessments within courses and exit interviews help determine the fulfillment of learning outcomes.
(4) The English Department holds annual meetings in the Spring for at least two hours to discuss program assessment, present reports on the efficacy of courses in fulfillment of learning objectives, and discussions of any required actions.
(5) A three-year compressed program was developed as a response to interest expressed by students as well as a significant number of students with high performance and grades/scores.
(6) The date of the most recent view was 4/21/2011 (“NEASC 2011 Self-Study E-Forms,” 2011).
This conveys the pro-active measures that SNHU takes to improve their courses, and keep the public up-to-date on their program reviews. The biggest downfall evident in the document is that not all programs have had formal learning outcomes developed, although these are very few and seem to indicate programs with low interest, such as the AS in Accounting, AS in Computer Information Technology, AS in Business Administration—fields where students typically pursue a higher degree level in a university context. Other programs listed as having no formal learning outcomes provide reasoning, such as outdated or subject to major program revisions, or for the BA in Public Service with the reason “Program developed to serve niche of Continuing Education population of AA/AS-to-BA students [usually in public safety fields]. Lacks faculty champion” (“NEASC 2011 Self-Study E-Forms,” 2011, p. 20). Given the document’s age, it is possible that the programs not originally given formal learning objectives have received some attention in the five years since the document’s publication. As the 10-year reaccreditation date looms, SNHU may utilize their vast course development teams to rectify those issues, since their course development, teaching, and assessment practices seem consistent in their focus on providing significant and meaningful student learning experiences.
“Adjunct Faculty Positions for Online and Continuing Education.” (2016). Southern New Hampshire University. Retrieved from http://www.snhu.edu/about-us/employment/online-adjunct-faculty-teaching-jobs
“NEASC 2011 Self-Study E-Forms.” (2011). Southern New Hampshire University. Retrieved from http://www.snhu.edu/~/media/files/pdfs/neascselfstudyeform.pdf?la=en
Raths, D. (2014, October 15). How Southern New Hampshire U develops 650-plus online courses per year. Campus Technology. Retrieved from https://campustechnology.com/Articles/2014/10/15/How-Southern-New-Hampshire-U-Develops-650-Online-Courses-Per-Year.aspx?Page=1