The American Historical Association Embraces the "Culture of Assessment"

When the faculty in the History Department at Messiah College were told that we needed to start assessing our programs, I balked at the idea.  How can you assess humanities-based learning?  I am still skeptical, but as a department chair I now find myself leading my department assessment efforts. Over the past year I have had meetings with the college assessment gurus, have put together various “grids,” entered information into a computer program called WEAVE, and tried to lead my department in thinking about what kinds of portfolios we need to have from our students in order to better evaluate student learning. It has not been fun. In fact, it has been awful. But I am glad to know that the American Historical Association has joined the culture of assessment.

Last week the AHA announced that it would be engaging in a 3-year “tuning” project to examine what undergraduate and graduate history majors should be learning.  Here is a taste of an article from Inside Higher Ed:

The AHA plans to convene meetings of historians to define the qualities associated with various degree levels, and then to try to help 60 departments at a range of institutions use the results to tune their programs. The development of the degree expectations is being led by historians at six institutions (reflecting the range of institutional missions that the AHA hopes the guidelines will speak to): Cleveland State University, Colorado College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Raritan Valley Community College, University of California at San Diego and Wheaton College, of Massachusetts.

James Grossman, executive director of the AHA, stressed that the effort is about qualities that should be associated with history graduates, not about the history facts or concepts individual students learn. “This is not content-driven,” he said. The effort is not about “who was in, who was out” of history or “how could you teach American history without X, Y or Z…. This is about competencies.”

Some of the qualities associated with graduates may be those that would be associated with other liberal arts disciplines. For instance, Grossman speculated that the tuning document might suggest that someone with a bachelor’s degree in history should be a good critical thinker or a good communicator — qualities that might be associated with other majors as well. Other qualities, he said, might be specific to history majors. For instance, he said that the tuning might support the idea that history majors should “be able to understand how change happens” or “to understand the importance of context.” Or history majors perhaps should “understand the relationship between structure, agency and culture.” Different expectations might be developed for associate and graduate programs.