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Student skills development test focus of $30,000 pilot study

A test of critical thinking and communication skills widely in use in the U.S. will be getting a Canadian workout at UWindsor over the next few months through a $30,000 grant from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

A team of researchers, including:

  • Alan Wright, vice-provost, teaching and learning;
  • Leo Groarke, provost;
  • Erika Kustra, director, teaching and learning development in the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL);
  • Jill Jackson, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and coordinator of the course Foundations of Academic Writing; and
  • Beverley Hamilton, assistant to the vice-provost, teaching and learning;

will be investigating the Collegiate Learning Assessment test as one way to measure student success and development over a four-year course of study.

The pilot study will use a cross-sectional model to test first- and fourth-year students on a voluntary, incentivized basis to assess how basic learning and thinking skills improve over a four-year course of studies.

“If you’re interested in the quality of education at Ontario Universities, one of the things you would like to have at your disposal is some way to measure that quality,” Dr. Groarke says. “We’re not going into this with the assumption that this is the correct way to measure – we’re in this to find out if this is.”

He says the University of Windsor is an ideal choice for the HEQCO study because of the CTL’s pool of exceptional talent and UWindsor’s worldwide reputation as a centre for the study of critical thinking and reasoning.

“This gives us chance to be leaders in this area. Potentially, it’s a great movement forward in terms of accountability,” Dr. Wright says. “This study is nicely academically driven in expertise in the University, in the CTL and in the Provost’s office. We’re pretty well positioned to be one of the chosen few to try this out.”

Other institutions participating in the study are McMaster, Queen’s and Guelph universities and Fanshawe, Humber, Mohawk and Sheridan colleges.

Hamilton says the CLA and CCLL tests control for such factors as incoming grades for first-year students, which should allow institutions to compare the growth of students’ skills more accurately.

“The goal of the assessment is to determine whether the institution is offering an environment that optimizes student learning. In principle, this instrument is intended to evaluate what the institution offers to students, as distinct from the skills and knowledge students bring with them,” Hamilton says.

If the tests are found to be a useful and accurate tool there is the potential for them to be used at universities and colleges across the province as one way to evaluate an institution’s contribution to student learning. Wright says it could provide schools with a way to open discussion about critical thinking and develop ways to enhance development of these skills in students during their post-secondary years.

 “What we want to know through this pilot study,” he says, “Is how does this tool, which is so widely used in the United States – to what extent does it import well into Canada? Of course we think there is potential and we’re going to give it a fair shot and see.”

First- and fourth-year students interested in taking part in the study are invited to contact Hamilton at Beverley@uwindsor.ca.