English Discipline, UMM
Assessment of Student Learning for 2008-09
The English discipline is in the midst of revising its curriculum
and developing a comprehensive assessment plan. We have begun implementing this plan by focusing our 2008-09
assessment on the English major’s bookend courses: Introduction to Literature
(Engl 1131) and the 4000-level Research Seminar.
Learning Goals for
Note: These goals have
been revised since the 2007-08 Assessment Report.
Upon successfully completing their English degree at UMM,
English majors should be able to do the following:
(1) Read and
discuss in an analytical fashion both primary and secondary texts
(2) Write a
coherent argument, both with and without secondary sources
a sophisticated understanding of the English language
basic knowledge of critical approaches to literary study
basic knowledge of literary history
basic scholarly research and present it in a professional, scholarly setting
a solid foundation for a lifelong appreciation of literature
These goals will be placed on the discipline website [http://www.morris.umn.edu/academic/english/]
in order to be readily available to current students, prospective students, and
faculty. We will also make sure
that they are included in future revisions of the catalogue. Finally, individual faculty members have
been encouraged to include pertinent goals (or versions of them) on their
The attached Assessment Plan explains the English
discipline’s comprehensive plan for assessment (as it has been developed so
far) and contains a rubric indicating the multiple ways in which each goal and
its associated outcomes are measured within individual courses. This assessment report, however,
focuses on programmatic assessment, rather than individual course assessment,
since the latter is done by individual faculty members.
For the 2008-09 year, we took a much more multi-pronged
approach to assessment of the English discipline than we have done in recent
years, combining both direct and indirect assessment measures:
- Checking course coverage of all
learning goals (direct measure).
With reference to the rubric on the Assessment Plan, we check
that all discipline goals are met by the current curriculum. As we make changes to the major
curriculum, we update this chart.
- Evaluating sample essays from bookend
courses (direct measure). We
assess a few components of our program every year but rotate the aspects
that we focus on. This year’s
focus was the bookend courses: Engl 1131 Introduction to Literature and the
4000-level Research Seminar.
To assess these courses, at the end of each semester we collect
sample essays from each course that should reflect the students’ best
ability to execute the primary skills taught in the course; this means
that the sample essays tend to be end-of-term work, though they certainly
do not have to be. We collect
“average” samples and “above average” samples from each course in order to
determine whether the work demonstrates that 1) the goals for these
courses are being achieved and 2) the quality of student work is improving
from Engl 1131 to the 4000-level seminar. Furthermore, since these courses teach and encourage
practice in the skills most essential to the work of English majors,
assessment of these courses should demonstrate whether or not most of our
learning goals are being successfully achieved. Assessment details based on this measure are as follows:
Introduction to Literature:
“average” papers from 2007-2009 from classes taught by 3 faculty
analytical papers with secondary criticism
“above average” papers from 2007-2009 from classes taught by 3 faculty
close analysis without secondary criticism
analytical papers with secondary criticism
on this sample, students are clearly learning how to do the following:
an analytical thesis, even if banal
specific quotations to support a point
awareness of ongoing critical conversations around texts, even if vague
on the details
texts (at the very minimum, they demonstrate awareness that they need to
cite texts and that there are conventions for doing so, though the
mechanics are not entirely consistent or accurate)
based on this sample, students are not as effectively learning how to do
the argument throughout the entire paper (i.e. develop the thesis)
their own ideas rather than plot summary (i.e. produce effective topic
effective analytical paragraphs
close analysis of language,
especially of primary texts
enough quotes from literary texts (as opposed to secondary texts)
analytical methods unique to literary study (i.e. close reading;
analysis through vocabulary, imagery, etc.) (as opposed to responding to
and working with secondary texts)
of these papers raises a few critical questions for our discipline:
much secondary research and/or use of secondary texts is appropriate at
more effective paragraph development be a determining factor in
assigning a “C” grade (i.e. inadequate paragraph development means less
than a “C”)?
there a consensus among faculty about what this class should accomplish?
there a consensus among faculty about what we are trying to accomplish
at each curricular level?
4000-Level Research Seminars:
“average” papers from 2007-2009 from classes taught by 2 faculty members
“above average” papers from 2007-2009 from classes taught by 3 faculty
of these papers suggests that (1) faculty members are in general
agreement about what this course should accomplish and (2) our students
are achieving the skills taught in this class, including the ability
a complex and original argument,
even if not perfectly executed
critical and theoretical terms and concepts or methods in a productive,
an argument in a critical context/conversation rather than “using” or
a nuanced understanding of a topic and the critical conversation around
a text, group of texts, or movement
other voices with their own with relative ease
Conclusions Based on Bookend Assessment:
term “adequate” would be a more useful measure than “average” for the
papers that meet minimum standards.
need to collect sample papers from a greater number of professors,
ideally from every section of Intro to Lit and the Research Seminars.
- We need
a methods class to convey the basic conventions, discourse, and rules of
literary study. The question
is exactly what form this course should take: Intro to Lit in its current
form, Intro to Lit + another course, or some other model.
need to decide, as a discipline, exactly what we want covered in Intro to
Lit and what general approach we want to take to teaching it. For example, do we want Intro to
Lit to convey the basics of literary study by teaching terms in the context
of a limited number of texts and expect that students will learn other
skills and terms throughout the major? One way to think of this approach is as a “Seminar
Jr.” Or do we want Intro to
Lit to convey the basics of literary study by teaching as many terms and
skills as possible with less depth and expect students will develop
comfort and expertise with these skills later in their coursework? Both
can work, but there is currently too much disparity in the kinds of
assignments students in Intro are being asked to write. This disparity links directly to
the larger discussions we are having about the structure of our
major. In fact, after we
make this decision about Intro to Lit, we will more effectively be able
to decide where the surveys fit, among other things.
- Meeting informally with English majors
(indirect measure). Early
in the spring semester, we had an informal meeting with English majors to
discuss their experience of the major and to gauge their interest in some
of the discipline changes we have been discussing. We came away from that meeting
with the following impressions:
would like more drama courses.
would like a Bible as Literature course.
do not seem to be as concerned as some faculty members are about the mix
of lower-level and upper-level students in 1000- and 2000-level courses. On the contrary, many students
believe this is a beneficial situation.
- Administering the annual exit survey
to graduating seniors (indirect measure). This year we received 17 completed surveys, a much
higher return rate than last year’s nine surveys. This year’s surveys suggest the
of our majors plan to go to graduate school, and even fewer go
immediately after graduation from UMM (none of the 17 who turned in
of our majors actually have jobs when they graduate from UMM
of our majors look to careers in writing or publishing/editing
least six of our majors look to careers in entirely different fields
of our majors believe that the English major has given them a solid
foundation in the study of literature
of our majors believe that the variety of course offerings allowed them
to pursue their intellectual interests
of our majors believe that the required courses at lower levels
effectively prepared them for more advanced coursework
of our majors believe that the 4000-level seminar was well-designed as a
of our majors believe that the major challenged them to develop
analytical skills and to think critically
of our majors believe that the major helped them to communicate more
effectively, both orally and in writing
of our students would like a greater variety of course offerings,
especially at the advanced levels
a few of our majors participate in research projects or present research
outside of the classroom
- Discussing possibilities for
restructuring the major (indirect measure). Continued work on our new discipline assessment
plan, assessment findings from the 2007-2008 Report, and an increased
concern about how to increase enrollment in our courses at all levels
while meeting the needs of both majors and non-majors led to a
wide-ranging discussion about revising the English major that will
continue at least into next year.
To more efficiently manage this discussion, which will have
far-reaching consequences for both students and faculty, we created three
subgroups to discuss (1) the writing requirement, (2) 3000-level courses,
and (3) non-major courses. By
the end of the year, the latter two groups had reported back to the whole
discipline. Many of our
concerns revolve around Engl 1131, which is currently serving two very
different functions as the foundational course for English majors and the primary course taken by
non-majors to fulfill General Education requirements. There are also many differences
among faculty members about exactly what should be taught—and to
what extent—in this course.
By the end of the year, we had determined that aspects of Engl 1131
that seem to work include the three-genre approach and introducing
students to theoretical approaches.
However, some faculty members are concerned that too many
non-majors enroll in the course and that Engl 1131 should not be the
first-choice English course for non-majors (though it should certainly be
open to those who are interested).
In terms of the research seminar (our other focus for this year’s
assessment), all agree that the course is functioning well. However, there is a concern that,
in general, English majors do not understand the importance of using
correct MLA format, even at the seminar level, and that we could do a
better job in the seminar of articulating the role of the final
presentation. There was also
a brief discussion about whether the seminar as it is currently structured
is an appropriate capstone for all of our majors, especially those who do
not intend to go to graduate school.
Although our discussion about restructuring the major will continue
during the 2009-2010 academic year, our conversations have already led to
many decisions (detailed below) that will be implemented as soon as
- Collecting reflection papers from
students (indirect measure). One
faculty member collected reflection papers from students enrolled in Engl
1131 during the Spring 2009 term in order to gauge the students’
impressions of the class.
Although this set of papers addresses only one professor’s class, it suggests that the course is
fulfilling its major objectives.
Students note an improved ability to think critically, analyze
texts, write analytical essays, use correct terminology when talking about
literary texts, scan poems, and look at texts from a variety of critical
perspectives, in addition to an increased respect for writers, especially
Based on all of these measures, we believe that our major is
accomplishing our basic goals. That
said, we also believe that structural changes in our major may allow us to do
an even better job of meeting the needs of our students, both English majors
and non-majors, and that coming to firm conclusions about the precise nature of
Engl 1131 will allow us to move forward with this restructuring.
Examples of Changes
Based on Assessment:
Note: Some of these
changes were also mentioned in the 2007-08 Assessment Report submitted earlier
this spring, since it included changes up to that point.
- As a
result of continued work on our new discipline Assessment Plan, we reduced
the number of learning goals for English majors and simplified the goals/outcomes/measures
rubric in the Assessment Plan.
These changes will enable more manageable assessment while still
accurately representing discipline goals for the major.
response to a tightening budget, we increased the maximum enrollment in
selected 2000-level courses.
will recommend a least a minor’s worth of English courses on the UMM
campus in order for us to favorably recommend a student for teaching
added courses with a writing focus, including Topics in Writing: Editing
and Proofreading (Engl 2121) and Sports Literature and Writing (Engl
2022). These additions help
meet the needs of majors, who consistently ask for more writing courses
and who often pursue careers in writing after they graduate.
a range of concerns about College Writing (Engl 1011)—including
impressions that students are not familiar enough with writing in other
disciplines and that many students who test out of College Writing who
would be better served by taking the course—we have begun a discussion about revising
the writing requirement at UMM, and some faculty have already taken new
approaches to College Writing.
One example is a gender-focused College Writing course offered by
Tisha Turk and Brook Miller during the Fall 2008 semester. This course offers a model for how
we might create a variety of College Writing classes (perhaps with
different course numbers) that will focus on different topics and/or more
effectively foreground issues of disciplinarity.
- In an
effort to offer a greater variety of courses and satisfy the curricular
interests and needs of our students, we continue to request permission to
hire an early American literature specialist, and we believe that we could
use a drama specialist (especially given UMM students’ interest in theater
and courses in dramatic literature).
- As a
result of our year-long (and ongoing) discussion about restructuring the
major, we made the following decisions.
will change the name of the foundational course for the major, Engl 1131,
from “Introduction to Literature” to “Literary Study.” We will file the necessary
paperwork for this change early in Fall 2009.
will revise the course description for Engl 1131 to emphasize the role of
this course as a foundational course
for English majors, one that introduces the fundamental skills of literary
analysis, entails intensive practice of these skills, and generally prepares
majors for the work they will do at more advanced levels of the
major. This new description
will not only convey more clearly our intentions for this course but also
dissuade non-majors who are not interested in this kind of in-depth,
skills-based course. Such
students will have many other 2000-level options if they want to take a
will reconsider which courses we allow students to use to place out of
our Engl 1131, such as College in the Schools versions of “Introduction
will require all students enrolled in Engl 1131 to buy a handbook of
literary terms, and we will recommend that all students enrolled in the
historical surveys buy one.
- We will
develop a non-restrictive list of “Best Practices” for Engl 1131. There is tentative agreement that
Engl 1131 will introduce students to the following:
literary terms useful for study of each of the three genres
will continue to brainstorm about how to create and/or offer more courses
with broad coverage to non-majors at the 2000-level, especially given the
findings of a follow-up study of UMM graduates (recently shared with
faculty by Gary Donovan) that suggests that graduates do not perceive “broadened
acquaintance with important literature” as a significant benefit of their
will continue to discuss increasing the number of credits in the major in
order to allow English majors to count more than one 2000-level class
toward the major. This is
clearly something our majors would like to do, but the ultimate decision
will depend on how we restructure the major.
will revise the names of 3000-level courses to make them more appealing
and—as much as possible—create greater variety in the
3000-level course offerings.
One goal with these changes is to increase enrollment in 3000-level
will introduce a World literature course into our curriculum, though we
have not yet determined whether the course will be a 1000-level or
will work harder to teach our majors the logic behind MLA and to convince
them that following MLA conventions is important.
will continue to reduce the number of 4000-level seminars offered each
year as necessary in order to accommodate lower enrollment numbers and
allow faculty to teach other classes with more students. Recent experience suggests that 3
seminars per year (rather than 4) are enough.
will use the different course levels to more clearly denote types of classes (as associated
skills) as follows:
College Writing and the current 1131, courses that expose students to
literary analysis, literary conventions, and critical approaches.
Surveys of both literature and writing that provide breadth rather than
depth in a historical period, genre, or topic. These shall include all current 2000-level literature
and writing courses and possibly what is currently 1131.
Courses that provide depth in a subject or author (rather than the
breadth of 2000-level courses) and fall into one of four categories:
Texts in Conversation, Identity, Author-based, and Writing &
Language. How much students
in these courses will engage in conversation with critics has not yet
been determined. But
courses should expose students to the conventions of scholarly
conversation and provide practice in analyzing those conventions (such
as with an annotated bibliography assignment).
Research Seminars, which require students to practice actually executing the scholarly
conversation—finding and reading sources and situating an argument
in relation to them.
Improving Assessment Processes:
Continue to develop the Assessment Plan (see
attached document), with particular emphasis on General Education courses
offered by the English discipline, including College Writing (Engl 1011).
Encourage faculty to get in the habit of saving
sample papers for each class, especially Engl 1131 and 4000-level
seminars. We need more sample
papers from more faculty members for the most effective assessment of bookend
Label sample papers for assessment purposes
“adequate” (rather than “average”) and “above average.”
Continue to encourage faculty to include the
pertinent discipline goals that are met by a particular class on course
Designate an assessment meeting for the late
spring semester (but not the last
meeting of the year) and make sure that no other topics are discussed during
Continue to increase the return rate of senior
exit surveys. Providing this
survey by email (as we did at the very end of the spring semester) may help, as
will asking the student representative to send a reminder email to graduating