Book by Marilee J. Bresciani
Review by Jacqueline M. Slaughter
First Year Experience
Norfolk State University

Bresciani highlights best practices for general education assessment utilizing case studies from a variety of colleges and universities. Institutions featured are from a cross section of states including those in the Midwest, the Northeast, and the South, and from community colleges, comprehensive state institutions, private institutions, and research institutions.

Authors provide an exhaustive discussion of assessment of general education courses across the curriculum. They note that the key to the delivery of a robust general education curriculum is to make certain that it is faculty driven: that faculty “own” the general education curriculum, its courses and assessment. 

One of the most salient points made in the text is that it is critical that the importance of general education be stated and demonstrated by the institution. Regrettably, not all constituents at our institutions understand the importance of general education courses. Instead of simply being a “holding pattern” for students as they decipher their majors, general education courses must be delivered with a specific purpose and allow students to achieve particular outcomes as a result.

The general education curriculum must be intentional. In this way, it is incumbent that faculty determine how to address each of the components of the curriculum. In addition, outcomes based assessment is helpful in communicating the value of general education as long as the purpose and the resulting design is thought through and well executed.

In addition, institutions must make a commitment to integrate assessment of co-curricular experiences into the outcomes based assessment culture. In this way, the “inside and outside” of the classroom components become well infused so that learning outcomes are supported and reinforced by student experiences. One such institution that does this well is Alverno College, an independent institution in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Alverno utilizes what is known as ability based curriculum. Here, faculty make it clear that students should be able to do something with what have learned. As the students are mastering knowledge they must develop critical thinking processes as a result of this knowledge that can be demonstrated. In addition, co-curricular professionals collaborate with faculty in the design of initiatives that serve to enrich the general education program. Events related to the first-year experience and “Community Day” are executed with students, staff, and faculty alike. In this way, all constituents are involved in making certain that students are involved in their college experience in rich and innovative ways.

Another institution cited is James Madison University (JMU), a comprehensive public coeducational institution in Virginia. JMU believes that a meaningful college experience should be future-oriented and grounded in understanding one’s own culture. JMU has ensured a strong connection between their General Education Program and Assessment by collaborating with (CARS), the Center for Assessment and Research Studies, on the clarification of objectives and development of assessment design. JMU enjoys the fact that they have an assessment culture, as opposed to simply an assessment climate, a distinction duly noted. Every first year student participates in Assessment Day before classes when their entry-level skills are assessed in subjects that include mathematics and science, fine arts, history, and global studies. In addition, when students reach a particular number of hours they are assessed again in order to inform faculty regarding their growth and development in all program areas. This ensures that JMU’s administration and faculty are committed to quality assurance and institutional accountability.  

The text provides case studies for 11 other institutions that includes rich details on how faculty, staff, and students are a part of rich general education assessment climates.  
Authors note that tenets to keep in mind as institutions prepare to do general education assessment are:

1) Use institutional mission statements to frame general education thus ensure structural and ongoing commitment.
2) Determine the purpose of general education for the institution.
3) Align learning outcomes to the delivery of general education
4) Understand how the co-curricular learning opportunities contribute to general education
5) Build consensus at each step
6) Explore additional opportunities to collaborate for the improvement of student learning in general education.

I found this an excellent text for those directly involved with assessment of general education courses. This text, however, would not be as helpful for academic advisors not involved in course embedded outcomes or responsible for specific learning outcomes. As assessment and the infusion of general education coursework is integrated with the effectiveness of academic advising, this could be a helpful text. I thoroughly recommend this text to those involved with general education planning, assessment, and design, and for academic advisors involved with curriculum planning and development.

Assessing Student Learning in General Education. (2007) Book by Marilee J. Bresciani (Ed.). Review by Jacqueline M. Slaughter. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 280 pp. $40.00 (hardback), ISBN # 978-1-933371-20-7

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