Assessing the Senior Thesis

The senior thesis is the high point of a Bates education. Because the thesis is both a culmination of learning in the major and the third level of our three-tiered writing requirement, it is an excellent spot to examine student learning and to investigate whether our students are achieving what faculty believe that they should achieve. In 2008, the College began its program to assess the thesis.

After sending an initial explanations of the purpose and process, our thesis assessment begins with an articulation of the goals and objectives that faculty within a department or program have established for their senior majors. We ask the department or program, “What would you like your senior majors to have achieved when they leave Bates and which of these student outcomes might you expect to see in the thesis?” During this stage, each of the departments and programs articulates clearly its objectives for senior majors and the relationship of these goals to the senior thesis. In the assessment pilot, goals ranged from specific objectives such as understanding prominent theories to higher-level learning objectives such as “students should know what they don’t know.”

In a second step, each department or program’s members read three carefully-selected senior theses in common and in a third step discuss the ways in which the theses reach the goals set during the previous discussion. During this final discussion, the faculty in each department and program pinpoint concrete changes to improve student learning and performance.