LAAS Assessment

 

1. Document any significant changes made as a result of prior reports,

The initial assessment plan for the LAAS major has proved to be effective in providing insights into how well we are meeting our primary goals:

1) To provide a basic introduction to the cultures and societies of Latin America

Assessment includes evaluation of the studentÕs basic acquaintance with Latin American cultures and societies, past and present, through successful completion of Hist 1601 and Hist 3601; participation each semester in a discipline seminar (LAAS 3100 Contemporary Latin America); students maintain a journal to demonstrate the level of sophistication achieved and a list of all essays read; these are retained on file by the discipline coordinator for assessment purposes; completion of LAAS 4101 which requires majors, based on assessment of their prior studies, to complete a series of readings that will fill in gaps in their previous course work—the primary goal of this senior tutorial is to round out the studentÕs preparation by involving them in reading and research on previously unstudied or understudied geographical areas, after which they undertake readings of book-length works in each of these areas; because this is a tutorial, the instructor and student work closely together, providing ample opportunity for assessment of the studentÕs progress.  All of the above-identified materials are on file in discipline coordinatorÕs office; student transcripts document the range of courses completed and disciplinary perspectives attained.

2) To provide the means essential to gain an understanding of Latin America and its diverse peoples.

Assessment includes evaluation of the studentÕs acquisition of the means necessary to successfully study and understand Latin America and its diverse peoples through successful completion of LAAS 3201; participation each semester in a discipline seminar (LAAS 3100 Contemporary Latin America); students maintain a cumulative list of periodicals and reference sources used in preparing LAAS assignments; completion through Intermediate level Spanish; frequent use of Spanish-language materials in LAAS 3100, as evidenced by students journals; completion of relevant course work in at least 3 different disciplines; study abroad is strongly encouraged and study abroad experiences are documented as testimonials of their experience.

3) To place Latin America in a comparative perspective.

Assessment includes evaluation of the studentÕs ability to meaningfully compare Latin America with other world areas and for students to be able to empathize with Latin Americans through completion of 20 elective credits in 3 different disciplines to assure the development of a comparative perspective.  All course work focusing on Latin America implicitly and sometimes explicitly, stresses comparisons between different Latin American nations and subcultures, and between these and other national or world cultures. In particular, LAAS 3100 does so. Students invariably move from an ethnocentric position to varying degrees of empathy.  Empathy is not easily measurable, but students in LAAS 3100 are repeatedly challenged to consider, then adopt, an empathetic point-of-view.  Evidence for the development of comparative and empathetic perspectives is documented in LAAS 3100 journals and through instructor's observations of students' progress in LAAS 3100, which employs the Socratic approach.  I have instituted a new tool for assessment for the LAAS major.  Each graduating senior now completes an exit survey that will become the basis for assessing progress in learning about and understanding Latin America, evaluations of the program, and requests a report on post-graduation education and work-related experiences.

 

Because we find successful class completion, student journals and other collected materials, and our senior tutorial to be extremely effective, we have retained our assessment strategy.

 

One of the issues that did appear to evade assessment was the frequent turnaround in LAAS majors.  We also needed to track how they had put their knowledge to work beyond graduation.  Thus in 2005, an exit survey was implemented.  All graduating majors respond and are asked:

1.  Why they chose to major in LAAS

2.  To rate how much you learned about Latin America based on classes taken as an LAAS major

3.  How helpful the LAAS faculty was in enriching their learning about Latin America

4.  To evaluate the overall program

5.  To suggest improvements to the program

6.  To state their plans after graduation (work, graduate school, internship, etc.)

7.  To keep the discipline coordinator informed on how they use their LAAS major in the future and what they do after graduation

The responses thus far have been overwhelmingly positive and demonstrate that our majors often go on to graduate school, work in international settings, or put their learning into practice in a variety of ways.  Cuts and changes in faculty positions generate the majority of suggestions for improvement.  Loss of faculty who teach LAAS and thus a wide variety of electives in the major has discouraged students; today, ÒchoiceÓ in electives is severely circumscribed.  Unfortunately, this issue is one of enrollments and hiring practices, beyond the scope of the discipline.

 

2.  Document the evaluation of the effect of these changes

 

Implementation of the exit survey demonstrates our primary need to be strengthening the program through more diverse course offerings.  Faculty members have discussed the fact that our study abroad field school in the past attracted more students to the major.  We continue to discuss the possibility of implementing a field school in Latin America in the future.

 

3.  Assess the General Education contributions and contribution to UMM's overall mission and curriculum

 

The Latin American Area Studies major at UMM is a small but important major, and an indispensable one for meeting UMMÕs mission.  LAAS is an interdisciplinary major whose objectives support a rigorous, liberal arts education that spans the social sciences and humanities.  Those objectives include:  1) to provide students a basic introduction to Latin American cultures and societies; 2) to provide students the means essential to gain an understanding of Latin America and its diverse peoples; and 3) to provide students with a comparative perspective on Latin America.  Faculty in the Anthropology, History, Sociology, and Spanish disciplines offer required and elective courses in Latin American Area Studies that fulfill Gen Ed requirements for ENVT, Hist, HUM, IP, and SS.  An LAAS major enriches student education and provides students with knowledge about the history of our Latin American neighbors, sensitivity toward Latin American cultures, empathy for the peoples studied, and understanding of Latin American economics and politics.  In support of UMMÕs efforts to internationalize its curriculum and promote study abroad, we encourage study abroad for our LAAS majors.  Students not only gain linguistic competence in Spanish and Portuguese, but the knowledge and understanding to interact with our Latin American neighbors as culturally informed global citizens.