Assessment Culture at the University of Calgary

Institution-Wide Assessment Culture Shift

“The way that culture changes is through conversations at every level” –Dr. Leslie Reid

Dr. Leslie Reid has a rich background as a Teaching and Learning advocate and leader at the University of Calgary. Currently, she holds the position of Vice-Provost, Teaching and Learning. She was previously a teaching professor in the Department of Geoscience, as well as the associate dean, teaching and learning for the Faculty of Science. Dr. Reid says that she has witnessed important shifts in the way teaching and learning is discussed at the University of Calgary over the past few years. She notes a few factors that have been instrumental to this change, and some that must be adopted to a greater extent to continue this shift.

Supporting Effectiveness

Dr. Reid highlights how some academics have been very successful with new and innovative assessment practices. There are also instructors across the campus who are interested in trying to improve how they assess student learning. Supporting and providing resources, such as funding, learning spaces and teaching assistants, to these efforts is imperative. They can provide evidence how effective different practices are, and can create conversations with their peers and administrators. They can also guide and help other instructors implement new methods in their classrooms. Supporting those who are already focused on teaching and learning helps demonstrate its value to those who have not yet given it much thought.

Spreading the Conversation

Dr. Reid notes that shifting the culture of assessment has been a group effort across campus. Administrators, academics, teaching assistants and students all play a huge role. Many of the beliefs that are preventing changes in assessment, such as the idea that making the fewest mistakes demonstrates the most learning, are widely held in society. Conversations about student assessment need to be spread in order to change these preconceptions. These need to occur at every level: institutional, faculty, program and even within individual classrooms. The culture of the institution will not change if the ideas are not changing at each level.

Dialogue about assessment is particularly important at both the program-level and the course-level, where small and large shifts can start. Dr. Reid notes that department-wide discussions about teaching and learning are broadening from the basic practicalities, such as how to structure a program to fit all of the prerequisites, to consider more in-depth ideas such as signature pedagogies. By starting the conversation about assessment within courses and programs, she believes there could be an enhanced focus on effective methods of assessment throughout.

Looking to the Future

Dr. Reid says she has an optimistic view for the future of student assessment at the University of Calgary. She describes the current culture of teaching and learning as “thoughtful and intentional, and willing to take risks”. She says that departments and faculties are incredibly supportive of new initiatives, and she sees them doing their best to support academic staff who want to try new practices in their teaching. Colleagues, students and department heads always recognize the efforts that instructors are making to improve their teaching, and Dr. Reid knows that she will continue to see more of this. She is excited to see what the future of student assessment will look like and knows that the current changes already are only the beginning.

-Ashley Weleschuk