SETTING THE STANDARDS
For his article in this month's issue of the American Psychology Association's flagship journal, American Psychologist, Moravian College professor of psychology Dana Dunn had to change his work habits a bit. "I'm usually content to write alone, with my computer and my books, and with my office door shut," he says. But for this project, professor Dunn and his co-authors found it necessary to get together in the same room and hash things out. "At one point we all went to conference a day early, and spent the entire day sitting in a room, hanging up notes on huge pieces of paper and just free associating ideas." The scope of their project likely played some role in the need for face-to-face meetings. Experienced academic program reviewers, they wanted to create a review framework that could be used by program directors, faculty, department chairs or anyone else with a need to evaluate an undergraduate psychology program. "Traditionally, the discipline's been most concerned with graduate education," professor Dunn says. "There are well established models for how graduate education should be done." Undergrad psychology programs, in contrast, have lacked a set of criteria for assessing program performance. Until now.
Professor Dunn and his co-authors propose a system of quality benchmarks in eight domains, such as curriculum, student learning outcomes, and administrative support. Each of the domains is broken down into multiple attributes that are assessed as undeveloped, developing, effective, or distinguished. In total, the benchmarks paint a picture that can help a psychology program identify its priorities, document its quality level, or demonstrate a need for resources. "We hope it can be used for constructive leverage," notes professor Dunn. Publication in American Psychologist, which has a high rejection rate even for a professional journal, is testament to the importance of the topic. "We're delighted that the journal's editors want to bring undergraduate education in psychology to the forefront of the discipline," he says. Reaction to the article has been positive so far, he says, noting that the authors solicited plenty of feedback from colleagues during the writing process: "We wanted to be sure we weren't reinventing something that already existed, or creating something that was going to cause trouble." Still, he's hoping there will be some critical reactions in the mix. "We want to inspire a national conversation," he says. "My hope is that it will invigorate people into looking at the importance of undergraduate education."