ACEJMC assessment plan, graduate programs

Graduate Programs: Master in Mass Communication, Master of Arts in Sports Journalism, Master of Arts in Investigative Journalism
Adopted Fall 2016

The assessment plans for the Cronkite School’s master’s programs in Mass Communication (MMC), Sports Journalism (MSJ) and Investigative Journalism (MAIJ) are rooted in the expectation that students emerge competitive for entry- to mid-level positions in journalism and communications fields upon graduation and will be equipped to assume leadership roles and advance innovation in their chosen fields.

Students are expected to have proficiency in reporting or researching information, writing, producing, storytelling, multiplatform delivery and audience engagement.

For the MAIJ program, the further expectation is that students are proficient in investigative reporting techniques, tools and practices that enable them to launch high-level investigative reporting careers.

Emphasis is placed on the time-honored journalistic values of accuracy, responsibility, fairness, balance and integrity that characterize the School’s namesake. Students are expected to master current tools and technologies and be prepared to not only adapt to but also lead continual transformation in their chosen fields.

The MMC and MASJ programs use the same assessment measures based on ACEJMC values and competencies, as well as specific learning goals for each program. Learning values and competencies are included in all course syllabi and posted on the School’s website. Class syllabi are reviewed before the start of each semester to ensure they include learning outcomes specific to each course and that they reference ACEJMC values and competencies.

Similar assessment measures are used for the MAIJ program, although the capstone project is evaluated somewhat differently due to the distinctive nature of this degree program.

The Cronkite School assesses student learning outcomes at the graduate level in each academic year. Assessment results are evaluated by the Senior Associate Deans and shared with faculty and leadership to determine needed changes in the curriculum or course content to improve student learning.

The School has used the following assessment measures throughout this review period. Revisions and additions are noted by date:

Direct measures

1. Capstone Project Reviews

MMC and MASJ programs: In addition to the coursework required of all students in their immersive professional program, graduate students complete a capstone project that represents nearly a quarter of their final grade. The projects are intended to be a way for students to showcase the skills they have developed or strengthen skills in areas that will help them attain their career goals after graduation. Projects must demonstrate professional-level journalism or communication skills, analytical thinking, and leadership and organizational abilities as well as contribute to the knowledge of the discipline or industry. Innovation and experimentation are encouraged, and team projects are acceptable. At the end of the semester, students present their projects in a public setting, which includes a reflection on the process and the final outcome. Each project is overseen by faculty, and students must pitch their project ideas to their professors and receive topic approval in advance.

All capstone projects in Cronkite News are formally assessed at the end of each semester. Additional projects are selected for formal assessment among the School’s other immersive capstone courses, including the TV Production and Graphics Lab, Public Relations Lab, New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab and the Digital Audiences Lab.

Committee members complete an assessment form that evaluates the project on the basis of project management, leadership, innovation, presentation skills and ACEJMC values and competencies, including contribution to the knowledge of the discipline or industry. Evaluators also indicate how prepared they believe the student is for employment.

The results are compiled by an assessment coordinator appointed by the School and shared with faculty for analysis and discussion.

Revised: Spring 2022 to update evaluation form to include new ACEJMC values and competencies.

Revised: Fall 2017 to focus on individual or small group projects in Cronkite News instead of one large group reporting project each semester. An additional measure was added to ensure projects are driven by solid research questions answerable through reporting, experimentation, etc. Students also must demonstrate project management skills, an ability to innovate or experiment and give a public presentation of their findings and recommendations.

MAIJ program: In their third and final semester of the program, students in the Investigative Journalism program complete a capstone experience in the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism. The capstone consists of a deeply reported investigation into a significant regional or national issue, with the goal of informing the public and holding the powerful accountable. Projects utilize data, public records, multiple levels of sourcing and verification, and compelling storytelling across platforms. 

Because students work in teams on one large-scale project over the course of a semester, this capstone assessment is designed to provide an evaluation of the project as a whole rather than the work of individual students. At least one project a year is evaluated by a panel of three professional journalists with experience in investigative reporting. They are asked to review the assigned project on the basis of originality, importance, use of data to support conclusions, and transparency about how the data was collected and analyzed. In addition, ACEJMC values and competencies are incorporated into the instrument and adapted where appropriate for an investigative reporting context. For example, reviewers are asked how well the project demonstrates superior research and critical thinking skills required for investigative reporting. Reviewers also are asked to provide an overall rating of the project and to compare it to the work of other student investigations and to investigative reporting done by professional news outlets. Finally, they are asked for their suggestions on how the project could have been improved.

2. Journalism Skills

As part of Cronkite’s assessment process, the School measures student performance in the foundational Journalism Skills course (known as “boot camp”) required of all graduate students in the first semester of their programs. The Journalism Skills course teaches the fundamentals of reporting and storytelling across media platforms and serves as the foundation for all other courses. Students who pass the course with a “C” or better may proceed in the program. 

The grades students receive on their final projects in the Journalism Skills course are also assessed. The projects showcase students’ integration of knowledge and are typically a culminating story that is more deeply reported than previous stories along with other heightened assignment requirements than previous assignments. The grades students receive on the projects are an indicator of overall student learning in the course, and pinpoint areas of needed improvement that informs teaching practices. Performance data is used to determine any changes necessary in the curricula moving forward, and to compare performance between degrees and across cohorts.

Revised: Spring 2023 to account for separate final projects in writing and video.

3. Capstone Prerequisite Skills Assessment

Graduate students who complete their immersion experience in the Cronkite News professional program are assessed on how well prerequisite courses prepared them for their capstone experience. The assessment is intended to assess student preparedness, and highlight potential curriculum changes to ensure that students have mastered fundamental skills and knowledge required for a professional-level experience. 

Cronkite News faculty complete a form assessing the preparedness of students assigned to their teams, based on learning outcomes for prerequisite courses. The assessment is done about six weeks into the semester in order to allow time for faculty to become familiar with each student’s capabilities. Students are evaluated on whether they have mastered fundamentals such as sourcing, interviewing and using data, ability to shoot, edit and upload photos, and understanding of and use of SEO and analytics, among other learning outcomes. Students are evaluated on whether they meet, do not meet, or exceed, expected competencies in each area. 

The assessment applies to students assigned to news and sports in Cronkite News bureaus in Phoenix, L.A., and Washington D.C., as well as those in Cronkite Noticias, the Spanish-language news program. These include the large majority of student enrollment in the school’s immersive experiences.

Revised: Spring 2017 to update instructions on form.

Revised: Spring 2018 to update course learning outcomes and break out data on sports majors.

Suspended: Summer 2020 due to pandemic.

Reinstated: Summer 2022.

Indirect measures

1. Graduate Student Report Card & Alumni Surveys 

Graduating students are asked to fill out an exit survey, the ASU Graduate & Law Student Report Card (GLSRC), administered by the ASU University Office of Evaluation and Educational Effectiveness. Approximately 70-75% of graduating seniors, graduate students, and law students complete this exit survey each year when they apply for graduation. Questions for graduate students focus on academic experience (courses and professors), professional development, student services, career preparation and overall quality of the program.

Department-specific results are shared with colleges in academic plan and department reports. Employment data are shared with career service units at the university and college level. The assessment helps identify needed improvements in curricula, course content, student services, advising and other areas.

Additionally, alumni are occasionally surveyed to gather feedback on how they perceive their experiences and the quality of education they received at the Cronkite School. Questions address the quality of courses, faculty, equipment, internships, advising, career preparedness and the ACEJMC values and competencies. Such surveys can aid in assessing curricular relevance, technology and student services, among other areas.

Revised: Spring 2022 to develop a new survey instrument, replacing a previous instrument that solicited alumni feedback via a survey included with an alumni e-newsletter that did not break out graduate student responses.

2. Publication and Merit of Student Work

Student work is published for mass audiences; the most exemplary pieces of published content often win awards. Student awards are monitored and published on the Cronkite website. Contests provide important feedback from external judges and reviewers on the quality of Cronkite student work as compared to the work of their peers — and in some cases, as compared to the work of professionals. How well students fare in local, regional and national competitions provides evidence of the competencies they have acquired and is indicative of the level of their preparedness for the profession. 

The MAIJ program has a specific publication learning objective: At least 80% of students should have investigative reporting projects published or broadcast by professional news outlets. By the time they graduate, students should have portfolios that include published or broadcast work that will help them be competitive in the job market; work is published through the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, through partnerships in required and elective skills courses, and through internships.

Faculty in the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism track placements in professional news outlets as closely as possible as a measure whether students are performing to professional standards. Combined with other feedback from news organizations, this data helps guide a number of decisions, including the creation of elective courses; changes within existing courses, especially the graduate “boot camp;” and selection of coverage areas or topics. It also is useful in pointing to needed changes in policies regarding fact-checking, sourcing attribution and style.

3. Course Evaluations & Teaching Observation

Students evaluate every Cronkite course at the end of each class term, and data is used to improve both curriculum and instruction. This tool is particularly important in the graduate programs, which must adapt quickly to changing student profiles and industry needs. 

Students are asked to evaluate instruction based on a range of measures, which has, since 2013, included ACEJMC values and competencies. Scores on two items – overall teaching ability and rigor of class – are extracted and included in annual evaluations of all full-time faculty members, along with a ranking of how each instructor’s rating compares to that of all other Cronkite faculty. Deans also review student comments on courses and address issues with individual faculty members as needed. Student evaluations figure in the annual performance rating awarded to each faculty member and in decisions about faculty teaching assignments and retaining adjunct faculty.

Members of the School’s administration visit classes each semester to assess teaching and get feedback directly from students. Priority is given to new courses, courses taught by faculty associates, and courses in which issues have been identified. These visits take place typically within the first two months of the semester so that any problems can be addressed in a timely manner. Individual faculty members get immediate feedback on strengths and weaknesses of instruction. Larger themes also are identified that may lead to adjustments to course content or the overall curriculum.