- Revisiting Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education
Editors Peter Hernon, Robert E. Dugan, and Candy Schwartz expand on the theme of assessing outcomes in higher education, particularly in academic libraries, that Hernon and Dugan introduced in the collection, Outcomes Assessment in Higher Education (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2004). Rather than revising or updating the earlier volume, published only two years previously, the editors state that Revisiting Outcomes is intended to complement it. A comparison of the tables of contents reveals that, although Hernon and Dugan heavily contribute to both volumes, many of the authors in this work are new. The editors include a cross-section of authors from higher education—accrediting bodies, administration, associations, IT, librarians, and professors—to discuss the widespread impact of outcomes assessment. Additionally, several chapters review efforts in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom to provide a global context. (Non-English speaking countries such as Germany, Japan, or Brazil are not addressed in this volume.)
Readers may already be familiar with standards established by accrediting bodies that compel institutions to set and assess student-learning outcomes. However, various contributors explain that institutions of higher education are also obligated to provide outcomes, or outputs, that will satisfy governmental or legislative bodies, future employers of graduates, future students and their families, and other stakeholders. This reminder should help readers to understand why outputs such as number of volumes in the library, wired classrooms on the campus, faculty-to-student ratios, and graduation rates are still collected. While several chapters explore the multiple points of accountability, the case study chapters primarily focus on assessing learning outcomes, particularly in regard to information literacy.
Terrence Mech, library director at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, PA, writes an enlightening chapter "Developing an Information Literacy Assessment Instrument." Institutions searching for such an instrument will gain both an overview of existing instruments and the processes involved in designing a statistically valid instrument. Readers with minimal backgrounds in statistics and assessment instruments, as well as those with some expertise, will find this chapter educational due to its clarity and thoroughness.
The inclusion of Martha Kyrillidou's chapter on LibQUAL+TM, the commonly used instrument for assessing library service quality, may be perceived as overly tangential. Yet, Kyrillidou, director of ARL [End Page 477] Statistics and Service Quality Programs, posits, "It may well be that service quality and student satisfaction with library services produce a positive impact on students' learning." (p. 352) That is, students who are dissatisfied with library services are less likely to use them and so may not develop information literacy skills or a breadth of knowledge in their subject areas. Kyrillidou notes that such a claim cannot be substantiated now, but research in the coming years may offer an answer. If so, a correlation between service quality and student learning may have an impact on the entire university in terms of technology, advising, counseling, and teaching, in addition to the libraries.
Due to its heft and subject matter, it is unlikely that the editors intend this volume to be read in one sitting. However, the foundation that is set in the first third means it cannot to be dipped into weeks or months apart. A reader might wish that the editors defined essential concepts in an early chapter to save every author the effort of redefining outcomes, outputs, assessment, and goals. Additionally, two chapters by Dugan, "Stakeholders of Higher Education Institutional Accountability" and "Assessment Strategies for Institutional Accountability" read as if they were, in fact, one chapter split apart. This leaves the reader with a case of déjà vu, as Dugan re-lays the groundwork in the second chapter that he ably laid in the first.
Despite these issues, this volume serves as a course in assessing outcomes in higher education. Within library literature, the quite logical emphasis is on student learning outcomes and information literacy. Recollecting that other outcomes are measured and that there aresimilarities and disparities in assessing outcomes across a campus can improve the...