Mason Core


Frequently Asked Questions

What is assessment?

Assessment is “the process of collecting and analyzing information to determine if progress is being made toward a desired end” (AALHE, 2020). In the context of higher education, our focus is on learning outcomes assessment, which is an ongoing and reflective process. For the Mason Core curriculum, we assess student learning outcomes for each area, which span across courses and disciplines. The overall goal is to better understand how students are performing so that we can identify ways to better support their learning.

Why should we assess?

Assessment offers important information about student learning and experiences, which can be used to inform meaningful dialogue and decisions about how Mason can further support student success and institutional effectiveness. The process can help faculty to reflect upon their teaching practices and make informed decisions about their curriculum and coursework. Engaging in the assessment process, as well as using the findings for improvement, are required for Mason’s regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); specialized accrediting agencies such as ABET and AASCB; and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to meet external reporting requirements.

Who is required to participate?

ALL FACULTY who are teaching a course that is required for a given Mason Core category are expected to submit course materials for assessment when requested. This includes tenure-line, term, part-time or adjunct faculty, and graduate students who are instructors of record. It is important that all faculty who teach our students are represented in assessment findings. If you have questions or concerns about this requirement, please reach out to Laura Poms (Mason Core Director) in the office of Undergraduate Education / Provost’s Office.

I already submitted course materials last semester. Do I need to submit again this semester?

Yes, if you are still teaching a course in the Mason Core area that is currently being assessed. We collect course materials for each Mason Core area across two years to capture a more representative sample of student performance on the learning outcomes.

Is this an evaluation of my teaching?

Absolutely not. The learning outcomes assessment process is not about evaluating individual instructors or their teaching. Course materials are reviewed using a common rubric, and findings are reported in aggregate across the Mason Core categories. For example, there may be 400 documents across the area of Quantitative Reasoning across 100 sections of courses within the category). Individual course-level data is kept confidential and will not be shared or reported in that way. However, if you would like to discuss your individual course assessment findings, please reach out to Laura Poms (Mason Core Director) to request an individual consultation.

Do I need to get students’ permission to use their work for this assessment?

It is not necessary to get student permission to use their work for the purpose of academic assessment. The Catalog contains a statement in the Student Rights and Responsibilities section about the use of student work for academic assessment. We do not recommend telling individual students that their work has been selected for assessment. Mason does not provide individual assessment results to students, and this type of assessment makes no impact on grades or degree progress. All student work is treated with respect and confidentiality during the assessment process.

How do I submit my course materials for assessment?

Step-by-step instructions are provided at the information sessions, which are held near the beginning of each semester. Instructors are provided a “how-to” document with a submission link, where they can enter their course information and upload course materials for assessment. Documents may include the course syllabus, assignment description(s), and examples of student work (de-identified). and course materials.

Should I submit student work samples with my grading comments, or provide clean copies?

We prefer that you not share your grading comments, just the student work. The idea is that the work will be reviewed on a rubric that is looking for specific learning outcomes, and the reviewer will not necessarily be looking for the same things that you are when you grade the paper. Typically, the assessment has a much narrower focus, such as evidence of critical thinking (rather than everything that you look for to assign a grade).

What do I do about submitting student work samples that are on paper?

Please submit digital copies of course materials for assessment, following the instructions that are provided during the Mason Core assessment information sessions held at the beginning of each semester. If you only accept paper submissions, please scan them and turn them into PDFs.