NEean Supports Assessment for Student Success

Interview by Marlene Clapp, Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Massachusetts Maritime Academy

S​teven Bloom is Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Lasell College. He has served on the Board of Directors of the New England Educational Assessment Network (NEean) since 2009 and is the current president. Dr. Bloom has held both teaching and administrative positions in higher education. A scholar of the American dramatist Eugene O'Neill, he taught within the English Department at Emmanuel College in Boston for 19 years, including 10 years as department chair.

Bloom.pngeAIR: What is NEean? Please briefly describe its history, mission, and leadership.

The purpose of the New England Educational Assessment Network (NEean), is to support the best possible assessment practices across all higher education institutions in New England. I always like to emphasize the word,” network,” in the title. NEean’s founders purposely called it a network instead of an organization or association. This reflects NEean’s founding in the mid-1990s as a gathering of people who were responsible for accreditation and other kinds of accountability efforts for student learning within their institutions, and reached out to each other about how to oversee those efforts effectively.

NEean’s founding coincided with a time in the history of higher education when we were being held more accountable as public institutions by state legislatures, or, as private institutions by students and their parents, who were paying higher and higher tuition. We were being asked by these groups to demonstrate what our different student populations were getting for their money. At the same time, there was the challenge of some faculty resistance to assessment. Assessment was a dirty word in some quarters of higher education. While there are still pockets of resistance, they have softened. I think that the mandated connection to accreditation has been broken, which is a good thing. In the old days, faculty and administrators saw assessment as something that had to be done because of accreditors. Now, they see it as a good thing that just happens to help with accreditation. Assessment is really all about improving teaching and learning.

NEean leadership has always consisted of a few dedicated people who have chosen to serve on the Board and bring to the table their own expertise, questions, and challenges. They have embraced assessment in one way or another, and they all want to learn more to be effective in their roles. The Board is very inclusive in that it brings together both faculty and administrators from all types institutions across New England. There is a camaraderie among the Board that extends to our members.

eAIR: How has NEean evolved since its establishment to adapt to the current needs of its members?

We continue to provide support for assessment beginners, while also keeping in mind those more advanced in their assessment efforts. We strive to address the specific needs of different types of schools. Another big way in which we have evolved and continue to do so is our increasing emphasis on technology, especially to enhance our online presence. Part of our vision for the future is that we become savvier with technology so that our online presence – whether it be on our website or through social media – is more user-friendly and useful to our members.

eAIR: Please share one success story where NEean supported its members’ work in assessment.

Schools that regularly come to NEean events and send substantial groups to those events have realized improvements in their assessment work, pedagogy, and curriculum on their campuses. I can share the example of my own institution. When I was asked to oversee assessment at Lasell, I was looking for help and resources. I am not a trained assessment person. I am an English Ph.D., though I have spent many years working as an administrator. I learned about NEean around 2005 or 2006, and I attended the 2006 Fall Forum with a group from Lasell. Dr. Susan Hatfield was the keynote speaker, and we found the entire Forum experience really valuable. We invited Susan to come to our campus to help jump start our assessment process. We attended NEean’s Summer Institute with department chairs who were going to lead assessment efforts within their departments. We also sent faculty to Dialogues in the Disciplines the following spring. Within a few years, when we were revising our general education curriculum, we sent a team to the Summer Institute to work on revision plans there. We now have a strong and healthy assessment culture on our campus and a new outcomes-based core curriculum, which we partly attribute to our affiliation with NEean.

eAIR: Please share your vision for NEean in the next one to three years.

The big thing is that we want to continue to do what we do well. Over the last year or so, we have had some financial constraints and transitions in leadership that posed challenges for us. However, we regrouped and have a plan in place to move forward. We just held a very successful Summer Institute this past June, and we’re currently busy planning for our Fall Forum, and working on the next issue of our journal, both of which we continue to strive to improve. We also want to increase membership. Expanding outreach more locally within the New England region, formalizing the campus visit consulting initiative, and organizing smaller, more locally focused conferences are all possibilities for the future. The emphasis will be on continuing to provide a strong, helpful, and inclusive network that makes us the go-to organization in New England for better assessment to improve the learning experience of our students.

You can register for the NEean 2017 Fall Forum to be held on Friday, November 3rd at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA.  



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