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Integrative Learning and Assessment

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Integrative learning is an ambitious student learning goal, long espoused in higher education and in the world at large. It is also a goal that for too long has depended upon serendipity rather than planning in its achievement and is often not included as an element in assessments. But if a college or university is committed to integrative learning as an expected outcome, it must create intentional approaches to providing integrative experiences and assessing the quality of student integrative achievement.
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Integrative Learning and Assessment
By Ross Miller, director of programs, Office of Education and Quality Initiatives, Association of American Colleges and Universities
IIntegrative learning is an ambitious student learning goal, feedback to students. As with any complex learning,
long espoused in higher education and in the world at
repeated experiences over time, with expert formative
large. It is also a goal that for too long has depended upon
feedback, are likely needed to foster integrative learning.
serendipity rather than planning in its achievement and is
(Teachers will also benefit from repeated experiences in
often not included as an element in assessments. But if a
assessment, which over time will improve the validity
college or university is committed to integrative learning
and reliability of integrative learning assessments.)
as an expected outcome, it must create intentional
The development and use of rubrics for scoring
approaches to providing integrative experiences and
complex student work is gaining acceptance. Grant P.
assessing the quality of student integrative achievement.
Wiggins suggests that rubrics used for any purpose
For learning in virtually all disciplinary and skill
acquire meaning for students when they see the rubric
areas, as high levels of achievement are reached, discrim-
in use on actual examples of work (1993, 53). If work is
ination of levels of quality becomes increasingly difficult.
assigned to students with integrative outcomes as an
What is good writing or a good musical performance
expectation, instructors must have thought through
according to one expert is, according to another, average
what those outcomes will “look like” in enough detail to
or poor. Such differences in assessment may derive from
be able to separate the high-quality work from the
tacit differences in standards or the elements considered
lesser, and to explain their judgments in ways that will
during the assessment—differences that must be
help students to improve. Leading students through a
resolved for more consistent judgments to be made.
sample scoring process of an actual piece of work will
Evaluation experts pursue reliability in measure-
contribute to student understanding and success.
ment through clear definitions, training of evaluators,
and well-designed problems that elicit evidence of learn-
Clear Definitions, Shared Expectations
ing. Approaching the intentional achievement and assess-
The term “integrative learning” represents many differ-
ment of integrative learning (or any other complex learn-
ent behaviors that can range from the simple and com-
ing outcome) requires similar care. Those fostering the
monplace to the complex and original. “Making connec-
learning should agree upon clear definitions and desired
tions” among learning experiences begins in early child-
outcomes and share their expectations with learners; cre-
hood and continues throughout life. During college-
ate engaging, authentic assignments ripe with integrative
level study, integrative learning can involve
possibilities to gather evidence of student accomplish-
? usefully blending knowledge and skills from
ment; and hone their skills of discrimination and expla-
different disciplinary areas, as in a learning
nation to provide meaningful formative and summative
community;
Summer/Fall 2005 peerReview
AAC&U 11

? putting theory into practice, as in a
planning and implementing intentional
? Unsatisfactory: connection among
student teaching semester or nursing
learning and assessment.
readings, experiences, etc., rather
clinical practice;
general (Oates and Leavitt 2003,
? considering multiple perspectives to
Assessment Tools for Different Kinds
24–25.)
advance collaborative problem solv-
of Integrative Learning
ing, as in a senior capstone project
A few examples of assessments and concep-
Multi-Definition Rubric
completed by a team of students
tual frameworks used by different campuses
Bowling Green State University provides
from different majors;
will illustrate how some are defining and
faculty and students with rubrics to be
? adapting the skills learned in one situa-
fostering integrative learning. Because each
used (or adapted) for assessment of univer-
tion to problems encountered in
campus or program will likely define for
sity learning outcomes. “Connection” itself
another, as when a business student
itself what integrative learning means, these
is not specified as a learning outcome—it is
conducts market research to help a
assessments are offered as potential models
viewed as an important means of achieving
community agency estimate the poten-
for adapting, not simply adopting. Aligning
specified outcomes. The “connection”
tial client load for a new branch office;
local assessments with the educational expe-
rubric begins with a definition:
? reflecting upon connections made
riences that students have is required to
“Connecting” is the essence of creative
over time among academic, cocurric-
assure reasonable validity of assessments.
problem solving, shown in synthesizing
ular, and preprofessional experiences,
knowledge within and across courses,
as when a student writes reflective
Modest Beginnings
integrating theory and practice, linking
essays in a multiyear portfolio;
Checking for the presence of integrative
academic and life experiences, and
? “Across-the-curriculum” integration
thinking or action in student work and rating
relating one’s self and culture to
of skills with learning in disciplinary
its quality is a simple tactic for assessment.
diverse cultures within the U.S. and
or interdisciplinary settings, as when
In this case, assessment of integration
globally. (See www.bgsu.edu/offices/
writing and quantitative skills are
becomes one element within a longer assess-
provost/Assessment/Connect.htm.)
used in history or women’s studies.
ment rubric. The assessment checklist for
The rubric presents four levels of
Given the variety of behaviors represented
the introductory essay of a portfolio created
achievement with descriptive statements
by the concept of integrative learning, a first
in a learning community at New Century
for each level that cite elements of the def-
step toward assessment of student outcomes
College at George Mason University
inition (although not verbatim). The rubric
must be to define what a particular campus
includes a check box for “connections
also allows multiple kinds of integrative
or program actually expects students to do
across” course experiences as one element
behavior to contribute toward a particular
as integrative learners. A professional pro-
among six assessed. The portfolio assessor, in
level. Levels 1 and 4 are shown in figure 1.
gram might commit to “putting theory into
reviewing the essay, would check one of the
The full rubric also includes levels 2
practice,” while a science program might
following statements to match his or her
(novice) and 3 (proficient). For a more
focus on connections among science disci-
assessment of the quality of student work:
analytic approach, one could alter the
plines. Institutions might commit to one
? Excellent: consistently makes insightful
rubric and scoring instructions to have the
kind of integrative learning for all students,
connections across course
assessor indicate both the kind(s) and the
while programs might have additional, dif-
? Satisfactory: makes insightful con-
quality of integration observed. Such an
ferent integrative goals specified for their
nections across course experiences
assessment could then guide formative
own graduates. Defining goals for integra-
? Adequate: makes connection
conversations and work about improving
tive learning is a vital first step toward
between/among ideas/experiences
specific kinds of integrative behavior.
12 AAC&U
Summer/Fall 2005 peerReview

Integration During Performance
? Lessons incorporate insights from
advancement . . . in ways that would have
Observing students during field placements
other disciplines (State University of
been unlikely through single disciplinary
often results in seeing them integrate theory
New York at Stony Brook)
means,” she selects three dimensions as the
with practice. Student teaching assessment
Observation forms often contain Likert-
foundation for assessment:
forms may list a variety of desired teaching
style rating scales along with spaces for
1. Disciplinary grounding (Have
behaviors, many of which are integrative.
written comments that guide a coaching
appropriate disciplines been
Following are some examples of how differ-
conversation following the observation.
selected for the work and are the
ent institutions describe these behaviors:
concepts used in accurate ways?)
? Connects lessons to learning stan-
Authenticity, Analysis, and Synthesis
2. Integrative leverage (Has a new
dards (State University of New York
In an insightful analysis of students’ interdis-
understanding been generated that
at Stony Brook)
ciplinary work, Veronica Boix Mansilla sug-
would not have been possible using
? Articulates connection among con-
gests using three factors to assess the quality
a single discipline?)
cepts, procedures, and applications
of integration (2005, 18–21). Working from a
3. Critical stance (Is the goal of the
(Pennsylvania State University)
definition of “interdisciplinary understand-
work significant and does the inte-
? Demonstrates the ability to integrate
ing” as “the capacity to integrate knowledge
gration withstand critique?)
content across the curriculum
and modes of thinking drawn from two or
Mansilla argues that a student’s think-
(University of Delaware)
more disciplines to produce a cognitive
ing must be “made visible” in order for
assessment of integration to be possible,
suggesting that writing about the knowledge
produced and reflecting on the work are
Figure 1. Levels of achievement with descriptive statements
two possibilities. Given the generic nature
Level 1 Connection (Beginner)
of the areas suggested for assessment, this
? Describe similarities and differences in a collection or set of items
model could be developed for many differ-
? Categorize items or observations into groups
ent kinds of integrative work. While
? Recognize simple links among topics or concepts in a course
Mansilla suggests that “the goal of quality
? Offer accurate definitions of terms and concepts
interdisciplinary student work is to produce
? Describe the setting (e.g., context, environment, culture, domain) in which
a cognitive advancement,” the affective and
connections are being made
aesthetic outcomes of student integrative
Level 4 Connection (Advanced)
learning can reinforce and motivate stu-
? Identify ways to reconcile diverse or conflicting priorities, viewpoints, or options
dents to persist or even increase their learn-
? Call attention to something that has not been adequately noticed by others (e.g.,
ing efforts and should not be ignored.
a subtle or deep relationship, novel findings or interpretations, the context or
frame of reference)
More on Writing
? Apply frameworks from multiple domains of knowledge and practice to create
Christopher R. Wolfe and Carolyn
something (e.g., business plan, musical composition, thesis, capstone paper,
Haynes (2004, 126–169) developed the
research project)
“Interdisciplinary Writing Assessment
? Integrate diverse elements into a product, performance or artifact that fits its
Profiles” to delve deeply into the quality
context coherently
of interdisciplinary student work. They
view this tool as having potential to guide
See www.bgsu.edu/offices/provost/Assessment/Connect.htm
Summer/Fall 2005 peerReview
AAC&U 13

students in planning interdisciplinary writing
three categories assessed in interdisciplinary
www.units.muohio.edu/aisorg/pubs/reports/
as well as providing data for program assess-
integration appear in figure 2.
InterdisWritingProfile.pdf.
ment. The detailed procedure includes four
Clear scoring instructions guide the
dimensions, two of which could be adapted
details of the assessment process developed
Toward Intentional Learning and
to assessment of integrative learning: multi-
by Wolfe and Haynes. The profiles, along
Assessment
disciplinary perspectives and interdiscipli-
with scoring instructions and validity and
A well-written assessment tool represents a
nary integration. Scoring statements for the
reliability information, can be found at
substantial amount of analytic and strategic
thinking, all of which, when shared in
Figure 2. Excerpted Scoring Instructions from “Interdisciplinary Writing
thoughtful ways among students and fac-
Assessment Profiles” (Wolfe and Haynes 2003)
ulty, can contribute to improved learning
INTERDISCIPLINARY INTEGRATION
and teaching. The examples and conceptual
Creating Common Ground (Category 1)
frameworks presented here provide inter-
? Presents a clear rationale for taking an interdisciplinary approach.
esting possibilities for creating assessment
? Assumptions from more than one discipline are made explicit and compared.
tools for integrative learning of many kinds
? Compares and/or contrasts disciplinary perspectives.
that will serve individual campus needs.
? The problem is explicitly defined in neutral terms that encourage contributions
While developing assessments is difficult
from more than one discipline.
analytical work, that work can be greatly
? Creates a common vocabulary that can be applied to the object of study.
leveraged to improve teaching and learning
New Holistic Understanding (Category 2)
by using the assessments to alert students
? One or more novel metaphors are presented.
at the start of an assignment to precise
? A preexisting metaphor is used or applied in a novel way.
expectations for their work and elements
? One or more novel models are presented.
critical to assessment. Assessments can also
? A preexisting model is used or applied in a novel way.
provide formative advice as students
? A new theoretical interpretation or understanding is presented which explicitly
develop their projects. Finally, campuses
draws on more than one discipline.
can use assessments to inform students and
faculty of the achievements to be celebrated
Application of the New Holistic Understanding (Category 3)
and the deficiencies to be improved. ?
? The new metaphor, interpretation, or model is applied to a new situation or
phenomenon.
References
? The new metaphor, interpretation, or model is applied in a novel way to an
Mansilla, V. B. 2005. Assessing student work at
established “text,” situation, or phenomenon.
disciplinary crossroads. Change 37
(January/February): 14–21.
? The new metaphor, interpretation, or model is explicitly tested through observation,
Oates, K. K., and L. H. Leavitt. 2003. Service-
data collection, or lived experience and reflection.
learning and learning communities:
? The new metaphor, interpretation, or model is used in a significant way to guide
Tools for integration and assessment.
Washington, DC: Association of American
inquiry.
Colleges and Universities.
? The new metaphor, interpretation, or model is tested by using it to solve a problem.
Wiggins, G. P. 1993. Assessing student perform-
?
ance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Interdisciplinary theory is used to assess the approach taken.
Wolfe, C. R., and Haynes, C. 2003.
Note: If credit was not given for any category 2 [above] items, then credit is possible
Interdisciplinary writing assessment profiles.
Issues in Integrative Studies 21, 126–169.
only for the last point (Interdisciplinary Theory).
14 AAC&U
Summer/Fall 2005 peerReview

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