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NEEAN’s Spring 2009 “Dialogues on Assessment in the Disciplines”

The Spring 2009 meeting of the New England Educational Assessment Network (NEEAN) was held at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on Friday, March 27, 2009. NEEAN's Spring meetings typically select three academic disciplines for focused attention. This year's foci were economics, psychology, and sociology. FCS faculty members from all three disciplines attended the conference sessions. Dr. Bornali Bhandari represented economics; Drs. Sara Levine and Thomas Schilling represented psychology, and Dr. G.L. Mazard Wallace represented sociology. Dr. Wall-Smith also attended.

In previous years, sessions have been limited to half-day formats. This arrangement permitted attendees to go take in two of the three offerings. This arrangement limited presenters' depth of coverage and was perhaps better suited to administrators than faculty. Hence, starting in 2009, attendees were invited to focus intensively on a a single discipline.

Short plenary introductions be Dr. Martha L. A. Stassen, NEEAN President, and Dr. G. Earl Peace, Jr., NEEAN Program Director, were followed by dismissal to the first break-out sessions.

The economic facilitator was Dr. W. Lee Hansen, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Co-author of a five-year study on improving teaching in economics, Dr. Lee emphasized the inextricably interconnected relationship between assessment of student learning and improvement in teaching. He noted that the climate of economics education -- certainly at the graduate level, but just as certainly reflecting changes at the undergraduate level -- has changed dramatically within the last decade. Faculties are static or shrinking in many places, however, and teaching methods are not changing to engage the interests and abilities of today's actual and potential economics majors.

One of Dr. Lee's paper's on economics assessment and teaching initiatives may be downloaded here.

Dr. Dana S. Dunn, the psychology facilitator, is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Learning in Common (LinC) curriculum at Moravion College in Bethlehem, PA. Dr. Dunn was not only chair of the Psychology Department for many years, but Acting Chair of the Department of Philosophy. He is President Elect of the APA Division 2 Society for the Teaching of Philosophy.

Dr. Dunn is a strong proponent of writing across the curriculum and of assessing content knowledge and writing simultaneously, arguing that it is impossible to separate clarity of thinking in a content area such as psychology from its means of expression. An interview with Dr. Dunn in which he expresses his views on this topic may be downloaded here.

Dr. Jeffrey Chin, Professor of Sociology and former chair of the Anthropology, Criminology, and Sociology Department at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, NY, was the economics facilitator. He directed attendees to disciplinary resources on curriculum planning and assessment (download his handout in PDF format here). He urged an integrated approach to planning curriculum and assessment together, with an emphasis on sustainability; there's no sense having an "assessment plan" that's so cumbersome to execute that faculty won't commit to it for the long haul.

His presentation notes, in PDF format, may be downloaded here. The LeMoyne College Sociology Assessment Plan is available in PDF format here.