New Honors Course Exposes Assessment, Research Methods to Undergrads

CSUF University Honors Program assessment scholars
Assistant Vice President for Assessment and Instituational Effectiveness Dr. Su Swarat, left, Marianne Escalante, Neel Deshpande, Elissa Saucedo, Nayelie Benitez, Kristy Nguyen, Shivani Patel, and Dr.   Ioakim Boutakidis attend the Student Assessment Scholars presentations.

June 18, 2018

By Christina L. Cardenas
Communications and Marketing Specialist
Office of Academic Programs 

In a brightly lit conference room in McCarthy Hall at the end of the spring semester, a group of undergraduates took turns presenting the results of their yearlong journey into the world of research and data analysis, becoming the first cohort to complete the inaugural Student Assessment Scholars course.

Student Assessment Scholars, HONR 499, was designed to help students develop skills to understand and assess learning from an institutional perspective. Six students, who are all part of the University Honors Program, enrolled in the course.

“I wanted to be on the ground floor of a new program, to have a hand in the formation and development of something totally one-of-a-kind that could shape students for years to come,” said Neel Deshpande, a dual major in accounting and information systems. “The program aligned closely with my primary major, information systems, and allowed me to practice my skills in analytics and assessment design.” 

Led by Assistant Vice President for Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness Dr. Su Swarat and Dr. Ioakim Boutakidis, chair for Child and Adolescent Studies Program Assessment, HONR 499 was designed to bring students to the center of the discussion about their own learning, and cultivate research and assessment competencies through hands-on projects.

“Student perspective is very valuable when assessing student learning outcomes,” Swarat said. “This is why we wanted to engage them an active way.”

During the course of the yearlong class, students learned more about student learning assessment in higher education; research and assessment basics; research ethics; quantitative and qualitative data analysis; and project design, data analysis and presentation.

“Honors 499 has … given me an extra unique research experience,” said health science major Nayelie Benitez. “I was … able to take part in collecting data, as well as learn about a different type of research experience, such as student assessment.” 

At the end of the year, each student presented their projects to the class and a group of campus partners. The presentations included:

  • Perceptions of Accounting Programs on Student Success by Neel Deshpande
  • The Pipeline to Higher Education by Nayelie Benitez
  • Student Preferences Concerning Single Subject Matter Preparation Program (SMPP) and California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET) Pathways by Elissa Saucedo
  • Exploring the Impact of Faculty Mentorship on Student Success Within the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics by Kristy Nguyen
  • Effects of Co-Curricular Involvement on Academic Performance Within the College of Health and Human Development by Marianne Escalante
  • Academic Planning and Time to Graduation for Natural Sciences and Mathematics Students by Shivani Patel.

"I was extremely impressed with the sophistication and depth of these research projects," said Associate Vice President for Academic Programs Dr. Pamella Oliver, who was in the audience. "The students were given access to meaningful data and their results will be helpful for their programs."

Each of the projects and  findings will be provided to the colleges and departments that were studied as a complement to their own assessment of student learning outcomes and assessment.

“We were … taking a bit of a gamble that students would be able to collect or gain access to the kind of data they needed in fairly short order,” Boutakidis said. “But people across campus, deans, directors, faculty, etc. were really cooperative and tried to be helpful.”

“[P]eople across campus, deans, directors, faculty, etc. were really cooperative and tried to be helpful.” -- Dr. Ioakim Boutakidis, Chair, Child and Adolescent Studies Program Assessment

A survey of the students taken at the end of the course showed 100 percent of them strongly agreed that they can explain why assessment in higher education is needed; and 100 percent agreed that they can describe the steps in a typical student learning outcome assessment process.

The students also noted that they can use basic vocabulary in discussing learning assessment processes; can describe the purpose and types of direct and indirect  assessment methods; can analyze quantitative and qualitative data; can explain the importance of using data to inform programmatic improvement; can effectively report and present data; and can articulate why student voice matters in assessment.

“I truly believe this class has taught me the importance of assessment as a means of studying ways in which the quality of the service provided can be improved,” Patel, a biology major, said. “For the university, it is important to improve access to resources, courses, or other things to ensure student success. As a future physician, I hope to use the same methods to improve the care and services I provide to patients.”

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