Learning Outcomes Assessment

Overview

Assessment is your opportunity to investigate the extent to which the learning outcomes are being achieved through the program. Because learning outcomes represent the abilities you really care about your students gaining, making sure they are actually gaining them should be an intrinsically interesting and informative exercise.

Assessment of the LOs can take many forms. Really, you just want to answer the question “Are my students able to do the things I want them to be able to do?” How you answer that question will depend on your information needs, as well as resources (time and effort) you have to devote to the process.

Best Practices for Learning Outcomes Assessment

  • Different assessment methods will give you different kinds of information. Consider what you want to know about your learning outcomes, then select the method accordingly.
  • Make it a group effort. Assessing learning outcomes is best done collectively. Involve your colleagues and students to lighten the load and make the process more meaningful.
  • Assessment should be an intuitively interesting and informative exercise. If you are finding it to be a boring or overly arduous exercise, you are doing it wrong! Contact the OVP to find a better way!

If you are finding assessment of program learning outcomes to be a taxing, purely bureaucratic exercise, STOP! You are doing it wrong! Call or email us and we will help you find a better way.

Benefits of Program-Level Assessment

At the heart of the assessment of learning outcomes is the constant improvement of academic programs and the student learning experience. A successfully implemented assessment strategy will:

  • Provide clearer sense of what holds your program together;
  • Ensure course activities, assessments, and content are aligned in a coherent way;
  • Establish a (high) minimum standard students should work to meet or exceed;
  • Communicate to students what you expect of them.

Some Common Forms of Assessment

1. Student/Alumni Surveys

An interview, questionnaire, or focus group can help determine what students themselves believe about their achievement of a single learning outcomes or set of learning outcomes. Although these methods do not assess actual achievement, they can assess students’ awareness of or confidence in their abilities, which can provide very useful information about the program.

2. Reviews of student work (e.g., thesis, dissertations and/or advanced year projects or papers)

Assessment of student work is typically is done through a rubric, which provides a more systematic method for making judgements about learning outcome achievement than a grade. A rubric is an assessment tool that displays criteria for different levels of quality, against which student work can be evaluated. Rubrics are flexible and can be adapted to fit almost any type of learning product (essays, presentations, laboratory work, portfolios, etc.). Rubrics tend to work best when judgments of quality are determined by multiple factors. For example, a rubric can help assess both the content and composition of an essay.

3. Focused faculty discussions

Similar to student questionnaires, faculty discussions are a way to gather general impressions of student ability. These types of discussions provide an opportunity for faculty to describe the ways in which the courses they deliver, and the methods of instruction they use, align with program-level outcomes. This method can be used to identify areas of curriculum strength and weakness.

A Quick Note on the Use of Grades to Assess Learning Outcomes

There are many ways in which learning outcomes can be assessed, however student grades are not usually one of them. Grades are typically considered to be poor measures of actual learning for the following reasons:

  • Grades are given to individual students for individual work. Assessment is more global and focused on the overall achievements of a population of students;
  • Grades often include more information than students acquired skills or abilities (for example, grades can be affected by attendance or adherence to guidelines). Therefore, grades measure student achievement of learning outcomes only indirectly;
  • Grades often represent the view of one person. Assessment is a group process that is based on agreed upon beliefs and practices.

For these reasons, we do not recommend the use of grades as evidence of learning outcomes. However, the same learning artifacts used to determine grades (e.g., essays, presentations, exam questions) can be used for this purpose.

Advantages for Cyclical Review Self-Studies

Early implementation of an assessment plan will also greatly assist units in preparing the self-study required for the cyclical program review. Once a formalized assessment strategy is in place, Section B of the self-study will essentially write-itself! The increased program knowledge that is naturally a part of the assessment process will also greatly facilitate other sections of the self-study as well.

 

How We Can Help

We can assist your unit in the design and implement assessment-related activities, such as surveys, focus groups, and rubrics. We are always happy to attend faculty meetings or retreats to discuss assessment strategies or results. Contact the Program Assessment Specialist.