General Education Assessments & the Faculty Collaborative

Austin Community College has six general education competencies—the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that characterize the educated person. The competencies are taught in many different courses across the Core Curriculum, reflecting relationships across programs and between classes. As such, they help to shape the experiences of nearly every student.

Six Education Competencies

Communication Skills

Develop, interpret, and express ideas and information through written, oral and visual communication that is adapted to purpose, structure, audience, and medium.

Critical Thinking Skills

Gather, analyze, synthesize, evaluate and apply information for the purposes of innovation, inquiry, and creative thinking.

Empirical and Quantitative Skills

Apply mathematical, logical and scientific principles and methods through the manipulation and analysis of numerical data or observable facts resulting in informed conclusions.

Personal Responsibility

Identify and apply ethical principles and practices to decision-making by connecting choices, actions and consequences.

Social Responsibility (Civic and Cultural Awareness)

Analyze differences and commonalities among peoples, ideas, aesthetic traditions, and cultural practices to include intercultural competence, knowledge of civic responsibility, and the ability to engage effectively in regional, national, and global communities.


Consider different points of view to work collaboratively and effectively in pursuit of a shared purpose or goal.

Meaningful assessment of these general education competencies promotes continuous improvement and helps guide faculty and staff in pursuing strategies to help students to succeed. Every competency should be assessed every year. Moreover, there is an expectation that the assessment data will be used to develop action plans, which will, in turn, be evaluated to determine their impact.

At the same time, there is a critical need to not overburden faculty and department chairs with demands that are overwhelming. As such, the following schedule has been created to promote less frequent but more meaningful assessment, while simultaneously meeting the expectations of both SACSCOC and the Coordinating Board. Wherever possible and appropriate, disciplines may address two competencies with one assessment, e.g. a writing assignment that requires critical thinking.

* courses that are co-requisites or cross-listed in another Component Area follow the requirements of those areas.  Otherwise courses in the CAO address all competencies except for Empirical & Quantitative Skills. Green boxes are those in which every course in a given component area must address that competency.  Gray-brown boxes are those in which at least half of the courses address that competency.  White boxes indicate that relatively few courses in that component area address that competency.

The chart in the assessment schedule document above illustrates which general education competencies are taught in which areas and the years that they are assessed. The three years of assessment are labeled, respectively, “1,” “2,” or “3.” Courses in each component area will assess the stated competencies in the designated year if they teach them. For example, in Year 1, every discipline that addresses Critical Thinking and Communication (i.e., everyone) should assess these competencies.  In Year 2, disciplines teaching Empirical & Quantitative Skills or Personal Responsibility will assess those. In Year 3, disciplines assessing Social Responsibility and/or Teamwork will assess those competencies. 

In each case, only those courses in which the designated competency is identified as being addressed will be expected to assess it. So, for example, only those courses in the Life & Physical Science that teach Social Responsibility will be expected to assess it in Year 3.

General Education Competency Assessment Schedule

Faculty Collaborative FAQ

What is the Faculty Collaborative?

ACC has a set of general education competencies, developed by our faculty, addressing what we expect all of our graduates to know, think, or be able to do. Many other schools have similar, broad learning outcomes regarding communication, critical thinking, and other skills that are expected of any educated person.

Beginning in 2014, the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the State Higher Education Executive Officers’ association (SHEEO), twelve state higher education systems, and 88 two- and four-year public schools to create the Multistate Collaborative to Advance Learning Outcomes Assessment (MSC). In brief, this effort collected student artifacts, ties them to demographic information, and has them evaluated by trained faculty reviewers using the VALUE rubrics developed by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. By pooling student work from multiple courses and colleges and having them reviewed by trained individuals using the same criteria, meaningful results regarding students’ performance were obtained for each campus and compared to that at other institutions.

The Faculty Collaborative being implemented here at ACC remains an internal process but follows these same guidelines. Student work, also referred to as artifacts, is collected through the BlackBoard assignments tool and is randomly collected from multiple Core Curriculum courses and campuses. Trained faculty reviewers on the Assessment Task Force (ATF) score these artifacts using a common rubric. Because the student work is tied to the students’ ACCeIDs, this approach allows the disaggregation of data to identify any potential patterns associated with ethnicity, gender, credit hour completion, or other demographic parameters. Identifying such patterns is the necessary first step to addressing concerns about equity and directing resources for improvement.

Why is this necessary?

Fundamentally, the Faculty Collaborative is important for the same reasons as any assessment that we give our students: we want to determine what they know and identify any areas with which they struggle.

But determining the extent to which students have achieved the general education competencies has been a challenge for every institution of higher education. Standardized tests are one option, but their expense, the problems of their administration, the lack of faculty control, and the way in which such assessments have been abused often make them a poor choice. Embedded assessments in the classroom are another approach, and one that is currently followed here at ACC. But such assessments usually (and appropriately enough) focus on course or program learning outcomes much more than general education. In addition, they are typically given only in a single course or even single section and do not usually provide a large enough sample to draw any meaningful conclusions regarding the performance of particular populations. ACC’s strategic plan and academic master plan revolve around equity, and ACC was the first community college in the country to be chosen as a site for a Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. But the first step in addressing concerns is identifying where the inequities lie. Only then can plans be made and resources directed for improvement in order to create more equitable outcomes.

As a faculty member, what do I have to do?

The general education competencies are taught in all Core Curriculum courses, and faculty teaching sections of those courses should identify at least one assignment that addresses one or more relevant general education competencies. A selected assignment does not need to address every competency; indeed, depending on the component area of the Core Curriculum to which they belong, courses themselves are only expected to address certain competencies. Life & Physical Science courses, for example, are only expected to assess Communication, Critical Thinking Skills, Empirical & Quantitative Skills, and Teamwork. A complete list of which areas address which competencies can be found in the General Education Assessment Schedule earlier on this page.

Faculty teaching Core Curriculum courses are expected to “tag” one or more assignments in BlackBoard each semester, following the procedure outlined here. Since some general education competencies are taught in virtually every course, faculty teaching other courses are also encouraged to tag relevant assignments. Note that only the assignment itself needs to be tagged, not each piece of student work. If you are not sure if an assignment should be tied to a particular competency, then it is probably best not to do so.

Once the assignment is tagged, it is eligible to become part of the random sample scored by the faculty reviewers. Once the assignment is tagged to the relevant competencies, which should take only a few minutes, the faculty member’s work is done (as far as the faculty collaborative is concerned – obviously, our work as faculty never stops).

How does this affect my grading and academic freedom?

In brief, it doesn’t affect anything on the classroom side at all. The artifacts selected by the system to become part of the sample are copied into a database and randomly assigned to the reviewers. The reviewers score the artifacts in accordance with the general education rubric, completely independently of how the faculty member themselves graded the assignment. The student’s work remains in your course shell, undisturbed.

Some artifacts must meet general criteria to be suitable for scoring, depending on the competency being measured. For example, essays used to evaluate Written Communication should be at least 750 words in length, those used to measure Critical Thinking should have some critical analysis of a topic or position, etc. Any such requirements will be communicated to the department chairs and Assistant Deans of Assessment.

What about FERPA and student privacy?

 FERPA allows the sharing of student work for educational purposes, and the Faculty Collaborative certainly qualifies in this regard. This same approach has been implemented at numerous colleges and universities and received approval from their respective institutional review boards that oversee research on human subjects. This initiative was submitted for review to ACC’s Institutional Research Review Committee, which likewise gave its approval.

Given the scope of the collaborative and a variety of technical hurdles, it is not feasible to redact any identifying information on the student work itself; names, course numbers, and other the like may well be on the artifacts being reviewed. Nevertheless, the individuals doing the scoring are all ACC employees and we all share a professionalism and an obligation to maintain student academic privacy. In addition, given the size of our institution, it is highly unlikely that a reviewer would know a particular student whose work they are scoring (or, in many cases, even the faculty member in whose class it was submitted).

What if a student of mine is scored poorly? Won’t that reflect badly on me?

In all honesty, no. Some students will succeed no matter what we do, while others will fail despite our best efforts. The focus of this approach is on the students as individuals, and discerning patterns correlated to student characteristics. The course from which the student work was collected is, frankly, irrelevant. The focus is solely on scoring each student’s work as appropriately as possible.

How do I actually tag an assignment?

Following is a step-by-step guide for tagging an assignment:

How to Tag an Assignment in BlackBoard for the Faculty Collaborative

This brief video explains the process step-by-step, including some background information:

Tagging an Assignment: The Movie

The most important part is from 4:18 to 6:18.

Back to Top
  • Back to Top