Curricular Aims: Assessment of University Capstone

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Curricular Aims: Assessment of University Capstone

Albert North Whitehead (1929) believed that the raison d’etre of universities was neither for the imparting of knowledge nor for the opportunity for research. Cheaper alternatives for both were and are available to achieve those functions. Instead, he asserted.

The justification for a university is that it preserves the connections between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning. The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively. At least, this is the function which it should perform for society. A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence (p. 93).

When Whitehead described the purpose of education in his text, The Aims of Education, he had the luxury of his assertions without the burden of proof. The Academy today, while equally as passionate about the aims of education as Whitehead, must not only describe its reason(s) for existence, it must also provide evidence that those aims which it described as important are ultimately attained by its students. This evidence must be considered and presented both for ourselves (The Academy) and for our “constituents” (i.e. students, accrediting bodies, employers, donors, and society).

The authors assert that three issues are paramount to any assessment of a curriculum in higher education. The first deals with the “reason for existence” issue raised by Whitehead (i.e. Are we doing the right thing?). The second issue has to do with examination of whether we are accomplishing our goals (i.e. Are we doing the right thing right?). The final issue involves how we can assess whether we are doing the "right thing right."

Doing the right thing?

Several years ago, Millikin University embarked on the difficult challenge to create a seamless curriculum that provided for intentional connections -- connections between the major and the non-major, connections between the curricular components at each level, and connections between the curricular components over the course of four years. In the development of this comprehensive and cohesive curriculum (dubbed the MPSL -- the Millikin Program of Student Learning), the faculty identified "common threads" of the MPSL. Those common threads are 1) Student learning goals, 2) Core questions, values, and means, and 3) Proficiencies. (See the student learning goals in Table 1 for the specific elements defining each one). The faculty vision for the University is actualized through the effective implementation of these common threads within the curriculum.
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