Article review: Learner-Centered Assessment in US Colleges and Universities

Article review: Learner-Centered Assessment in US Colleges and Universities

In the Use of Learner-Centered Assessment in US Colleges and Universities, Webb describes a utopia where instructors have given (through learner-centered assessment) “ a mechanism for prompt feedback to students, fosters collaboration with peers and faculty; and results in increased student-faculty contact.”  (Webb, 2012, p 203) I agree with the need for multiple drafts of written work and constructive feedback. Getting other students involved in group work and providing feedback is also a great idea. This is just not something that happens quickly.

The article includes an excellent description of what learner-centered assessment is. The data collection and discussion is thorough and intriguing. Unpacking just those two sections could take a whole semester! But by the end of the article review section—even though I had seen some great comparisons that reminded me what we are doing in iTeach—I was beginning to lose focus.Everyone has their personal bias. When reading through research I look for larger study groups, longer timeframes (that the study persisted during), and clear visual representations of findings.I’ll share some of what I felt was beneficial as well as what did not appeal to me.

Good: Data collection

  • This study examined two series of response data from the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty in 1993 and 2004.
  • Only institutions with associate degree granting and above were included.
  • Degree categories differed between 1993 and 2004 with 2004 having more categories.
  • Instructors needed “faculty status, identified teaching as a principal activity, spent at least 50% of their time on instructional activities, and taught at least some undergraduate courses for credit.” (p. 208)
  • The 1993 dataset was comprised of responses from approximately 13,000 faculty members; in 2004 there were responses from approximately 12,000 faculty.

Great focus on data. I found it interesting that the response rate was included: 87% for 1993 survey and 76% for 2004. This showed me exactly how many faculty were included originally. A huge undertaking.

Bad: Multiple trails that seem to dissolve

This article was difficult to wade through. There was so much information that was very good. But, time and again, I found the details regarding who was included (age of faculty, sex, areas of study, rank) pulling my attention. It’s not bad that it was included. In fact, I wanted to know more about some of the different break-downs, but because of this distraction I almost missed the following buried within the Variable section: “No other items in the 1993 data were consistent with Huba and Freed’s definition of learner-centered assessment.”  (p. 208)

Of the five techniques for learner centered activities—multiple drafts of written work, oral presentations, group projects, student evaluations of each other’s’ work, and service learning/co-op interactions with business—only three were consistent across the two surveys. Wait. Which three? Answering that meant going back over almost everything to find this in the Discussion section, “Two new techniques that fit the definition of learner-centered assessment were included in the 2004 survey.” They are group/team projects and service-learning. (p. 219) To be fair I should also say that “comparable items for 1993 are not available” (p. 214) was a clue that I’d need to pay closer attention to which learner-centered activities were being analyzed.

Author’s note: I read these materials at the same time that I read Stop Talking: Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education. That made for interesting comparisons that I have tried not to include in this review.

At times I feel like a ferret going after the obscure points in these research articles. (Reflection)

Also good: this particular article has materials about faculty satisfaction, job satisfaction, longevity at institutions and in the career field. It would be valuable to revisit at a later date when not focused on learning-centered activities. There is MUCH MORE to glean from this document.


Webber, K. (2012). The Use of Learner-Centered Assessment in US Colleges and Universities. Research In Higher Education, 53(2), 201-228.

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