ETD Guide/Universities/Assessment and Measurement Introduction

I shall consider assessment to include the gathering of information concerning the functioning of students, staff, and institutions of higher education. The information may or may not be in numerical form, but the basic motive for gathering it is to improve the functioning of the institution and its people. I used functioning to refer to the broad social purposes of a college or university: to facilitate student learning and development, to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and to contribute to the community, and the society.

(Alexander W. Astin, Assessment for Excellence, 1991, p. 2)

Electronic theses and dissertations are not only products of student research, but also marks of the students’ preparation to become scholars in the information society. In pursuit of this broader social purpose, this section of the Guide focuses on two separate but related topics: assessment and measurement. Both are important components of an institutional ETD program. The role of assessment in an ETD program is to understand whether the goals and objectives of the program are being met, while issues of measurement focus on the production and use of an institution’s ETDs.

Assessment of a program’s goals and objectives yields information that may be of great value to policymakers and administrators. Higher education institutions are increasingly asked by their boards, by state legislators, and by federal government agencies to demonstrate the effectiveness of their programs, which has led to the development of many assessment programs on campuses. Assessment is often used to provide trend data or to assist in resource allocation, with data helping to make a case for the viability of an ETD program or to determine which parts of the program require the most (or least) resources. Ideally, an ETD assessment program will have ties to overall campus assessment activities.

However, whether or not accountability to administration or government is a driving factor in developing assessment for an ETD program, any new effort can benefit from a systematic way of measuring what it is achieving. Such measures as the number of ETDs produced at an institution each year or the number of times a dissertation has been downloaded from the institution’s web site are frequently cited to demonstrate the success of an ETD program.

The goals of this section of the Guide are:

1. to encourage those involved in developing and implementing ETD programs to think at early stages about broad questions of assessment, and

2. to familiarize individuals working on measurement of ETDs with developing national and international initiatives that are developing standard ways of measuring the use of electronic information resources.

Next Section: Types of Assessment