November 2, 2007
Arkansas State University – Jonesboro

Last Sunday afternoon, I was invited to attend and give a welcome and description of our new Beck PRIDE Center for Injured Veterans ( at a barbecue feed and Stars and Stripes Salute at the Convocation Center for more than 400 returning veterans and their families from the 875th Engineer Battalion of the Arkansas National Guard, which is based at the armory on our campus. I am grateful the other speakers and I did not have to follow Charlie Daniels and his band, which on his 71st birthday entertained with a robust performance for the crowd of 5,000 or so Guard members, families and friends.

That event and recent planning for and implementation of the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ Beck PRIDE program caused me to renew my respect and admiration for the men and women who serve us all in our armed forces. These citizen soldiers and career military professionals, generally without being consulted by our civilian leaders who make the decisions to go to war, volunteer to place themselves in harm’s way, leave their families, and often suffer financially, in order to preserve freedom for the rest of us who continue to go about our daily lives. Our 875th, commanded by Colonel Patricia Anslow, spent a year daily patrolling roads in the Baghdad, Iraq, area identifying and destroying improvised explosive devices. In the process, one of them, Sgt. Eric Smallwood of Trumann, paid the supreme sacrifice and a number of others were injured. We owe them a great debt. They are indeed heroes and heroines!

Support for our Army ROTC program and the new Beck PRIDE program are tangible ways that our campus can do a small part to assist our troops by helping to supply them with new officers and assisting injured veterans with rehabilitation and training for new careers when they return from the battlefield. We are deeply grateful that two former ASU students, Buddy and Charlotte Beck of Fairfax, Virginia, suggested to us the need for a program like PRIDE, and with their family have made a generous pledge to assist with the start-up costs of the Center.

Assessment at ASU-Jonesboro
For a number of years, assessment and accountability have been important words and concepts in American higher education. Accrediting entities have required that institutions of higher learning demonstrate institutional effectiveness in their programs and activities. They are interested in a culture of continuous improvement where programs are regularly assessed and the results of those assessments are used to make improvements in the activities of the units.

In the 2003 report of the visit from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, the Commission noted while assessment plans were in place for approximately 100 programs across campus, these were only in the beginning stages and had not become a part of the culture of the institution. At that time, ASUJ was not uniformly using the data gathered to improve student learning and complete the assessment cycle. Since then, Barbara Doyle, ASUJ’s Director of Assessment, and her colleagues in the assessment office have worked with the campus community to improve our assessment techniques and practices. ASUJ has been given the opportunity to participate in the HLC Academy for Assessment of Student Learning, a four-year commitment intended to help our campus develop an institutional culture and increase institutional commitment to assessing and improving student learning. As a result of our participation, the Higher Learning Commission has taken assessment off the list of topics that will be the subject of the focused visit that will occur next March. Our eight-member assessment academy team began its work earlier this year and will continue to assist our campus in its understanding of assessment as related to the improvement of student learning. However, some of the assessment that has been done has resulted in data that raise some serious questions that need to be addressed if we are to use that information to improve our programs.

One of the assessment tools used on our campus last year was the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) test that attempts to measure institutional contributions to undergraduate student learning. This test, developed by the Council for Aid to Education and the Rand Corporation, addresses critical thinking, analytic reasoning, written communication and problem solving skills. These are capabilities that most agree should be an outcome of a university education. CLA performance is evaluated on the differences between the expected scores of sample students who take the test, and the actual scores achieved. Expected scores of the students who take the test are provided by CLA and are based on a projected relationship between ACT or SAT scores and CLA scores. Our freshman administration of the CLA in the fall of 2006 produced a sample of 84 students, and the senior administration in the Spring of 2007 produced a sample of 91 students. The freshman sample of students performed "at" the expected level on the CLA, but the senior sample performed "below" the expected level. In terms of value added, ASU seniors performed better than only 30% of other CLA institutions. We know we have a superb faculty, excellent academic programs, and good teaching conducted on our campus. However, these "assessment results" are a red flag that need to be analyzed very closely to determine if they are indeed valid, and if so, what we need to do for our students to obtain more "value added" when they matriculate here. Since this is a "low-stakes" test, do our seniors take it less seriously than do our freshman, and thus score lower because of lack of effort rather than lack of ability and skills acquired here? How is our sample chosen? Is it truly representative?

We need to find the answers to these and other questions, and through a united effort continue our quest for an academic environment and student experience that promotes educational attainment at the highest level. If we can effectively obviate this problem we have tentatively identified through our assessment practices, then we can truly demonstrate our commitment to the assessment loop and see its practical results.

Update on Task Force Activities
The task forces appointed this fall are doing good work and we are deeply appreciative of those who volunteered to serve. To keep our campus community informed as to progress each group is making, I asked the chairs of the respective teams to give a short status report for this issue of First Friday. Their snapshots follow.

  • The Instructional Technology-Distance Learning-Online Educational Task Force led by Mitch Holifield is charged (a) to examine the state of the art in instructional technology, distance learning, and online education and (b) to recommend in priority order the actions that ASUJ should take to enhance institutional technology and distance learning. During the Oct. 3 meeting, the task force formed five subcommittees to define pertinent terms and identify target markets, services needed to provide online/distance education, infrastructure issues, and ASUJ’s current technology resources for delivering instruction via distance education methods. At the next meeting on Friday, Nov. 9, the task force will utilize the subcommittees’ information to develop and prioritize action plans and implementation strategies.
  • The Summer Programs and Enrollment Revenue Task Force chaired by Len Frey has met two times with a third meeting scheduled for Friday, Nov. 2. The task force, with the help of Dr. Gail Hudson, developed a student questionnaire which was administered across campus the week of Oct. 22-26. Many of the surveys have been forwarded to Dr. Len Frey, chair of the task force, with more expected early next week. The committee will evaluate the responses to better understand what changes are in order to facilitate greater student participation in summer school. The goal of the task force is to have its initial recommendation by Dec. 31. We greatly appreciate the effort of the faculty who administered the surveys in their classes.
  • The task force on Background Checks for New Hires, chaired by Louella Moore, has collected articles on background check issues, collected samples of background check policies from other institutions, and has made an assessment of what is currently being done on the ASUJ campus. The task force has broken into smaller teams (a) to collect data on cost and potential effectiveness of available background checking services, (b) to compare what is included in an early draft of a potential background policy for ASUJ to that of other universities, and (c) to discuss the proper timing, content, and need for a possible survey instrument. These smaller groups will report back to the overall task force on Nov. 2 and are optimistic of reaching their goal of making a recommendation by the end of the fall semester.
  • The charge of the University Web Design Task Force, chaired by Mark Hoeting, is to establish a consensus in building ASUJ’s website that is coherent, overarching and user friendly. The task force has met three times in person, held online discussions and major steps have been identified to accomplish its charge. The four areas of study to enable the group to conduct a current state analysis, future state analysis and gap analysis are: Best Practices, Customer/Audience Perspectives, Design Guidelines, and Resources. Each of the four focus groups are currently conducting focus sessions and will provide reports by Nov. 9. Expected completion date of the Web Design Task Force is Dec. 14 with outcomes that will include recommending design principles, governance and maintenance of the proposed environment, resources needed to support and maintain the proposed environment, and a timeline for implementing the proposed solution.

It is hard to believe, but the holidays are rapidly approaching. Since the next issue of First Friday will not appear until Dec. 7, I take this opportunity to extend best wishes to each of you from Irene and me for a Happy Thanksgiving, with a couple of restful days off, good food, and family fun! Thanks for your excellent work for our students and campus.

Robert L. Potts

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