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Anne Willkomm Interview

Anne Willkomm has been at Drexel for less than a year and she has hit the ground running. As the program Director of Graduate Studies at Goodwin College of Professional Studies, Willkomm has been implementing her vast experience into preparing to relaunch for fall of the 2017-18 academic year. In particular Willkomm will implement a simple, but effective form that she had previously used to encourage faculty reflection and evaluation. This form paired with student end of term evaluations provides a more detailed picture of what occurred in a given course. “Student end of term surveys have their place, but they are only a part of review of teaching and learning.” Anne developed the simple format to show that assessment is not punitive. This reflective approach gives the faculty the opportunity to open up about what happened in their course and to assess both courses and the program in order to encourage continuous improvement.

Before coming to Drexel in March of 2016, Willkomm started her teaching career at Philadelphia University without much experience or interest in implementing quality assessment. “When I first started, I honestly hated rubrics, but I changed my tune very fast. I really didn’t understand how powerful that they can be.” She admitted that she saw the value of laying out what students should learn prior to evaluation in order to better assess what they actually learned. In this way, she could get at specific skills rather than broad objectives. Later as the Director of the Graduate Publishing program at Rosemont College, she would develop new skills surrounding the assessment of teaching and learning. “The Dean walked in and told me that we were having an accreditation visit and we needed proof that we were conducting assessment of teaching and learning for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) standards 7 and 14. I basically had to teach myself.” Willkomm admitted. As she was developing an assessment plan and measures, she began to see the benefits to both faculty and students and she is still interested today.

“In my opinion you can’t be a better teacher unless you think about what you are doing? This helps you to further reflect by sitting down and writing about it.” The faculty assessment form is meant as a counter to the results from the student end of term survey. It is composed of the following six reflective questions (add in questions in bullet points).
1. Describe what went well.
2. What challenges did you face? Were you able to resolve those challenges?
3. What might you improve if you teach the course again?
4. List any professional development opportunities you have had or any career achievements since you last completed a Faculty Assessment Report.
5. Respond to the end of the term student survey for this course.
6. List the sample student work that you are submitting and why.

She admits that it can take a little time, but the process of writing down reflection hits on specific points that may have been forgotten. Also, the faculty are asked to keep artifacts of student work to reference point for discussion. “Simple approach. As a program director and as a teacher, it is not too taxing on the teacher especially if they know what they are getting into.” Willkomm believes that without this reflective component, faculty cannot help but view assessment at it as punitive which is what some faculty fear. Instead, faculty with lower student ratings are aided by the contents of this reflection. Maybe it was the first time teaching the course or a new delivery method. Maybe they tried something new? By asking the faculty to connect to the end of term surveys, it guarantees that the faculty will review the student submissions and think carefully about what feedback students are providing. By looking at multiple courses, instructors can identify trends such as struggling at implementing group projects. This is also important for adjunct faculty who are not involved at all, but if they understand how the information is being used, then they would participate more widely.

“Faculty assessment comes from this. Student surveys yield important information, but it may be one sided so unless we give the faculty the opportunity to speak about it then it will always be one sided. This helps faculty to improve and informs the program director.” An example would be a course that kept coming up as suggestion, so we wouldn’t have known it was important to the students unless they said it. Faculty used to just glance at the end of term survey results and then file it away. It is important to take this seriously and also for the students to understand the evaluation themselves. “The fact that it is low tech makes it easier to complete and thus they will be more apt to complete it.”

Taking it to the next level would be to take the result and make them more college based. All faculty forms would be sent to program director who would review the materials to identify trends and submit recommendations to the assessment professional. The assessment professional would then review all the submissions from program directors to look for higher level trends to show to the Department Head or Dean. Program directors can have a conversation with the assessment professional or higher on how to solve any issues “Really this a tool for improvement, recruitment and curriculum enhancement. The information that was received was important for decision making about curriculum, recruiting, and when asking for financial support.”

The program director can utilize the data by facilitating professional development to address any thematic issues. An example of this would be to set up trainings for online course delivery to combat low ratings and faculty frustration in online courses. As seen above, there is a question about professional development on the form. “That professional development question is important because faculty are terrible at telling you what they have done. It is also to promote professional development offerings that are currently available.”

Graduate Studies is a small program which allows a more qualitative approach without the prospect of reviewing hundreds or even thousands of essay responses. The question that needs to be asked is what about scalability. When asked how large colleges could use this more qualitative approach, Willkomm provided some thoughts. “One suggestion would be to parallel the surveys written for students and make them more quantitative. In some of the larger majors, the course work is much more quantifiable then in this program.” Another possibility is that you could organize by class or by different majors to consolidate so as not to overwhelm the coding aspect of it. “Also, larger undergraduate courses could just take a sampling of them, so you don’t overburden someone. You could gather from a class that went well or one that went poorly for comparison.”

Anne Willkomm sees the value in reflection and continuous improvement at the course and program level, but she also recognizes that these efforts are very beneficial for the faculty without being overly time consuming. This course reflection form hits on both points.