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Student Learning Outcomes Assessment Overview

“Assessment is the systematic collection of information about student learning, using the time, knowledge, expertise, and resources available, in order to inform decisions about student learning.”

 Barbara Walvoord, Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education, 2010

Learning Goals

By this time, all academic departments should have established learning goals and posted them on their department website

The following information is meant to review the process and purpose of learning goals and assessing outcomes. 

What are the goals of your curriculum in terms of student learning?  Are these goals aligned with the mission of the college?  What will students be able to do or what will they know after completing your major?

Examples of student learning goals include:

  • When students complete our program they should be able to represent economic relationships in terms of theoretical models.
  • When students complete our program they should be able to write a literary critical essay demonstrating ability to use the techniques of literary analysis they have been taught in class and to acknowledge alternative interpretations
  • When students complete our program they should be able to conduct original biological research and report results orally and in writing to scientific audiences.

Examples of goals not directly related to student learning:

  • Students will present original research at a regional or national conference in our field.
  • One of our departmental goals is to hire the best faculty in our field.
  • Our department will increase the number of students exposed to concepts in our field by increasing the number of both majors and non-majors.

The above goals may be valid program goals for your department, but they are not student learning goals.

Assess Student Learning

Where are the places in your curriculum where students can achieve the learning goals and what is the evidence of this learning?  Measure student work in the aggregate against the learning goals you have established using both direct and indirect measures of student learning. 

  • Direct methods of assessment are techniques that directly determine whether students have mastered the content of their academic program and demonstrate knowledge and skills. Students can directly demonstrate their achievement in a variety of ways. 
    • Embedded course assignments that can be assessed for achievement of both course and program goals.
    • Capstone experiences, senior theses, exhibits
    • Portfolios
    • Comprehensive exams
  • Indirect methods of assessment are techniques that ask students to reflect on what they have learned and experienced and provide proxy information about student learning. Indirect measures include:
    • senior exit interviews
    • course evaluations
    • student engagement and satisfaction surveys
    • graduate school admission and employment rates
    • alumni outcomes surveys
  • Recommendations and Tips:
    • Establish your assessment criteria using a rubric of your own design or an appropriate benchmark derived from Ursinus, peer institutions, or a national/ international organization (AAC&U, for example).
    • Grades alone do not usually provide meaningful information on exactly what students have and have not learned.  Grades focus on individual students, while assessment focuses on entire cohorts or students and how effectively everyone, not an individual faculty member, is helping them learn.
    • Focus on the big picture—general trends and patterns you see in student work, rather than specific or individual problems or achievements. If you are not sure how to do this, the Outcomes Assessment Committee can help!

Use the Results for Improvement

How will you use analyze, share and discuss the information gathered about student learning within the department?  In what ways will the results inform future curriculum plans and allocation of resources?  If changes are made, how will impact of those changes be assessed?