Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Assessment of Learning, Capstone Courses, and Simulations

If you are familiar with AACSB Assessment of Learning, you know that there is movement toward programmatic assessment. In other words, there is movement toward assessing the business knowledge of business students, rather than the accounting knowledge of accounting majors, the marketing knowledge of marketing majors, and so forth.

I expect to see a growing number of business schools leverage their “capstone” course in business strategy to meet this assessment goal. I see several potential problems with this approach.

First, this approach implicitly confounds the results of the assessment by mixing an educational learning experience with the assessment. While it is true that students may learn something when they take a test (I had a statistics professor wanted this to happen), the primary goal of an assessment is to assess, not to educate. When using he capstone course for assessment, what is really being assessed, the business curriculum or the performance in this class?

Second, some programs will require students to participate in a complex business simulation “game” in the capstone course. This confuses the issue further if the students have no prior experience with the simulation. I ask again, what is being assessed? Is it the student’s business knowledge or the student’s ability to learn the simulation?

Third, in large business schools, the students will probably be formed into teams. Now we have the added issue of whether we are assessing individual knowledge or an ability to work well in groups.

I think integrating a business simulation into a business curriculum is a great idea. But we have learned in management information systems curricula that it is difficult to integrate complex software programs into a course. For example, when students learn database design, the best approaches I have seen have placed learning the use of the database software in a separate course, or at least a separate lab experience. In the best circumstances, the theory and concepts of database design are in separated from where students learn the software.

If performance on a simulation is the basis for assessment of business learning, then I think the ideal situation is for the business students to participate in a business simulation in a manner external to the curriculum, i.e., as an extra-curricular activity. Perhaps it could be done on one Saturday as a graduation requirement. Maybe it is a one-hour course requirement that is done in the final semester. Unfortunately, most business schools will probably find the logistics of implementing this ideal to be difficult.

If the capstone business strategy course is going to contain a simulation that will be used for assessment of learning, I feel the students should be introduced to the simulation in a required course that occurs before the capstone course. (Maybe this is a one-hour course.) At least then, the students have more opportunity to focus on the objective of the strategy course rather than on the problem of learning the simulation’s representation of the objective in the strategy course.

In this case, I’m still not sure the assessment is on the curriculum, however. The assessment remains too confounded by the new content knowledge in strategy for my liking.

1 comment:

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