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Read the thoughts and impressions on a variety of topics written by IDEA staff as well as occasional guest bloggers.

How can IDEA be used to address standards for professional schools?
April 26, 2016
Pat Sullivan, Ph.D.  
Director of Strategic Initiatives  

Accreditation standards for professional schools are intended to uphold the ideals and standards of the profession, and thereby engender public trust by ensuring that program graduates are competent practitioners within their professions. Program accreditation standards typically include a specific body of knowledge that must be learned, skills and competencies that must be mastered, and standards of practice expected of professionals within that particular discipline. While there are many distinct differences among professional standards as would be expected, there are also many common themes. Professional accreditation is outcomes-based… and so is the IDEA Student Ratings of Instruction (SRI) system. Faculty receive feedback that address two fundamental questions 1) to what level do students rate their progress on relevant course learning objectives? 2) What can faculty do to improve teaching and learning? Indirect assessment of student learning outcomes can be used to address criteria related to teaching and learning improvement.

The two recommended instruments that provide specific feedback regarding student learning are Diagnostic Feedback and Learning Essentials:

  • The Diagnostic Feedback instrument is best for comprehensive analysis of progress on relevant learning objectives as well as formative feedback on what faculty can do to improve learning.
  • The Learning Essentials instrument is ideal for use in clinical/practicum/skills-based courses because of the emphasis on learning objectives more so than teaching methods.
Evidence of Program Curriculum Review is typically required in professional accreditation standards. Creating a map that aligns course outcomes and IDEA learning objectives can be used as indirect evidence of curriculum review. It can also document that course objectives represent the three learning domains—Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor, or other professional standards such as the Degree Qualifications Profile. Curriculum mapping can also be used as a dynamic process to engage faculty in reviewing selected course objectives comprehensively at the program level to ensure balance and purposeful inclusion or omission of objectives that align with the program goals. A question that has come up with clients who are working to address professional standards is the need for comparative data. How does my program compare to other programs in my institution? And, how does my program data compare with other programs in my discipline?  IDEA provides national, institutional and discipline-specific norms that can be used in the context of comparison with program-specific data. Aggregate course data files can be requested at the institution level that can be used for program level assessment and comparison. Professional standards often include curriculum plan requirements that include strategic use of a variety of effective instructional methods to maximize student learning. For example, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, PTA Standards 6G states: The curriculum plan includes a variety of effective instructional methods[1] selected to maximize learning. Instructional methods are chosen based on the nature of the content, the needs of the learners, and the defined expected student outcomes. IDEA data on use of teaching methods related to relevant learning objectives can be used as evidentiary support of initiatives to determine and implement effective instructional methods. In addition to individual course reports, Unit Summary Report Data can provide that information at the unit or program level. Perhaps the most important standard shared among accreditors that IDEA addresses directly is related to faculty assessment and development. Each individual Diagnostic Feedback course report has a Formative Tab specifically designed to support faculty development by providing feedback on Teaching Methods strongly related to relevant learning objectives, suggested actions, and links to development material specific to the Teaching Method. 

Data-driven decision making is at the core of accreditation. Collecting data is a wasted effort if those data are not used in making decisions. In addition to the survey items created by IDEA, customized questions unique to your course, program, or discipline can be added to SRI instruments. For example, questions can be added that specifically address the learning environment (i.e. clinical site), adequacy of student learning experiences and resources, adequate supervision, etc. At IDEA, we recognize how important it is for you to access all of your data, so we make data access available to clients in several formats (via a REST API, aggregate data files, and raw data files) so that they can be used at the program level for decision-making, such as where and how to direct resources for faculty development (at the individual and program level); clinical, lab or other resources to support student learning; or other program specific initiatives (focus on diversity, communication, service-learning, community engagement, team-based learning, etc.). IDEA tools provide many benefits to you as you work to address professional accreditation standards. Put IDEA to work!

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