Values-Engaged Assessment:

Reimagining Assessment through the Lens of Democratic Engagement

Joe Bandy, Anna Bartel, Patti H. Clayton, Sylvia Gale, Heather Mack, Julia Metzker, Georgia Nigro, Mary Price, & Sarah Stanlick


Assessment is always undergirded by values, but which values and who determines them? And do we default to them, let ourselves be pressured into alignment with them, or deliberately choose them? We call for what we have begun referring to as “values-engaged assessment” — by which we mean assessment that is explicitly grounded in, informed by, and in dialogue with the (contested) values of SLCE understood and enacted as democratic civic engagement.

Democratic engagement focuses on relationships as much as results and on effectiveness as much as efficiency. It sees all participants in SLCE as co-inquirers and co-creators. It calls for transformative learning and change — in higher education, in communities, and in ourselves. How might we better walk the talk of the values of such engagement in our assessment work, navigating constraints while empowering all stakeholders through critical reflection on values? Realizing this vision, we believe, requires that we go beyond assessing community and campus outcomes by counting participants, hours, or dollars or by reporting levels of satisfaction; it invites us to inquire into qualities of relationships, the transformation of systems, and the empowerment of all partners over time. As we see it, democratic engagement invites us to reimagine assessment.

We share here our experience trying to reimagine assessment [including] at the 2015 Imagining America (IA) conference [where] we raised the question of how the organization might think innovatively about assessment, specifically by examining assessment practices and dilemmas explicitly through the lens of values. [Such an approach] can, we believe, empower and embolden us — helping us to move beyond frustration with and alienation from assessment, to live out the values of democratic engagement in assessment, and to expand opportunities for democratic knowledge creation and inclusive dialogue. In this way, assessment can better support forms of SLCE that build a more democratic and just society.

JOE BANDY (joe.bandy@vanderbilt.edu) is assistant director of the Center for Teaching and affiliated faculty in Sociology at Vanderbilt University, where he has worked since 2010. In his administrative roles, he supports instructional and professional development of faculty in Vanderbilt’s many social science colleges, departments, and programs. He also supports pedagogical innovation and organizational development across the university in his specialty areas of SLCE, critical pedagogy, diversity and equity, and environmental education. As a sociologist, he has researched widely and taught on issues related to social movements, environmental justice, class relations, economic development, and community building.

ANNA SIMS BARTEL (aws4@cornell.edu) serves as Cornell University’s associate director for Community-Engaged Curricula and Practice in the Office of Engagement Initiatives (part of Engaged Cornell). Once described as “part activist, part administrator, and part academic,” Anna earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at Cornell. Anna’s background includes faculty work, consulting, and public humanities initiatives as well the development of community-engagement centers at several higher education institutions in cold, white places (upstate New York, Maine, and Iowa). Her current research interests are broad and include civic poetry; the U.S. agrarian novel; and of course civic engagement. Her favorite publication (“Why Public Policy Needs the Humanities, and How”) appeared in 2015 in the Maine Policy Review.

PATTI H. CLAYTON (patti.clayton@curricularengagement.com) is an independent consultant and SLCE practitioner-scholar (PHC Ventures) as well as a senior scholar with IUPUI and UNCG. Her current interests include civic learning; the integration of SLCE and relationships within the more-than-human world; walking the talk of democratic engagement as co-inquiry among all partners; and the power of such “little words” as in, for, with, and of to shape identities and ways of being with one another in SLCE. Related to assessment per se, she supports integrated design of SLCE that aligns goals, strategies, and assessment (focused on learning, community impact, partnership quality, etc.); and she works with individuals, programs, and institutions to build capacity for authentic assessment.

SYLVIA GALE (sgale@richmond.edu) directs the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at the University of Richmond. She was the founding director of Imagining America’s Publicly Active Graduate Education Initiative (PAGE) and since 2009 has co-chaired IA’s initiative on “Assessing the Practices of Public Scholarship,” (APPS) which explores and advances assessment practices aligned with the values that drive community-engaged work. She is committed to co-creating opportunities for transformative liberal arts learning far beyond traditional institutional boundaries and has published on innovative assessment, engaged graduate education, and the power of institutional intermediaries to effect change.

HEATHER MACK (impact@hmackconsulting.com) is a planning, tracking, and assessment consultant to higher education institutions, international and domestic NGOs, and philanthropic foundations. She can often be found facilitating the adaptation of highly effective practices to the unique contexts and values of SLCE and social change programs at work on the ground. Her current interests include promoting an SLCE assessment culture that uplifts and enhances SLCE endeavors rather than drains or diminishes them, and fostering SLCE practitioners-scholars’ autonomy and agency to ensure the assessments of their work embody the fundamental standards of utility, propriety, accuracy, feasibility, and accountability.

JULIA METZKER (jkmetzker@gmail.com) joined Stetson University as executive director for the Brown Center for Faculty Innovation and Excellence in June, 2016 after serving as director of Community-based Engaged Learning and professor of Chemistry at Georgia College. She received a B. S. from The Evergreen State College (where she learned first-hand the value of a transformative liberal arts education) and a doctoral degree from the University of Arizona.  She co-founded the Innovative Course-building Group (IC-bG), an inclusive collaboration of higher educators that provide professional development around issues of learning. Her interests include using civic issues to design learning experiences, developing of high-impact pedagogies, and advancing equity in higher education.

GEORGIA NIGRO (gnigro@bates.edu) is professor of psychology at Bates College where she teaches courses in community-based research methods and works closely with the college’s Harward Center for Community Partnerships and regional Campus Compact offices. She joined the Bates faculty after receiving her Ph.D. at Cornell, where she worked with the Consortium for Longitudinal Studies to carry out some of the early evaluations of preschool programs that led to widespread support for Head Start. These early lessons in bridging the domains of research, practice, and policy serve her well today.

MARY F. PRICE (price6@iupui.edu) is an anthropologist and director of Faculty Development at the IUPUI Center for Service and Learning. Mary works with faculty, graduate students, and community members as a thought partner and critical friend to strengthen curricula through authentic partnership, facilitate the creation of actionable knowledge, and enact institutional change grounded in the principles of democratic engagement. Her scholarly interests include community-campus partnerships as craft, community-engaged learning environments, and the social relations of production in higher education.

SARAH E. STANLICK (ses409@lehigh.edu) is the founding director of Lehigh University’s Center for Community Engagement and a professor of practice in Sociology and Anthropology. She previously taught at Centenary College of New Jersey and was a researcher at Harvard’s Kennedy School, assisting the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power. She has published in journals such as The Social Studies and the Journal of Global Citizenship and Equity Education. Her current interests include inquiry-based teaching and learning, global citizenship, transformative learning, and cultivating learner agency.

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