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Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between department objectives and student learning outcomes?

Do Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) need to be on the course syllabus?

What is the relationship between the course syllabus, student learning outcomes, and assessment?

Why can't student course grades be used as a measure of student learning?

I am an instructor on campus and I've heard about the College-Wide Outcomes (CWOs).  What are they and what should I be doing with them?

Who will see the data from student learning outcomes?

Do I have to have a pre-test and a post-test?

What happens if my post-test or final scores are not at 75% ( 2.0) level?

What happens to the data we collect for assessment?

What is meant by the phrase, "closing the loop"? 

Aren’t we doing this assessment stuff just to keep the accreditation people happy? I don’t see how it benefits us.


What’s the difference between department objectives and student learning outcomes?

Department objectives refer to goals specific to the department such as: hire a faculty member with a particular specialty, increase the variety of courses, institute a service learning project, develop a list of guest speakers for various classes, etc)

Student learning outcomes refer to what the “student” will know or be able to do as a result of a course.  For example, after successfully completing this course, students will: demonstrate knowledge of key business practices, be able to create a business plan, identify relevant business trends, etc.
 

Do Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) need to be on the course syllabus?

Yes! The SLOs are a way to focus learning and to let students know exactly what they are expected to learn or be able to do as a result of successfully completing your course. Outcomes help align class activities and assessment efforts.
 

What is the relationship between the course syllabus, student learning outcomes, and assessment?

You might think about these three (course syllabus, SLOs and assessment) as the key ingredients of a travel adventure.  You've got a specific destination, a place you want to get to (SLO). You and your students travel along the educational highway seeing all the sights, taking in as much as you can, some of it you enjoy, some of it you don't.  The syllabus is like the travel guide on this trip. It tells students what to pay attention to and what's around the bend. When it's all over and you finally reach your destination, you examine where you are to see if it's what you thought it would be (assessment).  Happy travels!
 

Why can't student course grades be used as a measure of student learning?

Actually, grades are a measure of learning in a general sense; course grades provide a composite look at student success. Oftentimes, however, these grades are a reflection of factors other than content knowledge and/or skills (i.e. attendance, participation, extra credit), which are all important parts of the learning process, but they do not indicate student knowledge or skills.

We are measuring specific student learning outcomes so that we can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses.  In discovering weak areas, we are able to focus energy and resources in those areas and make the needed modifications to increase learning.
 

I am an instructor on campus and I've heard about the College-Wide Outcomes.  What are they and what should I be doing with them?

Highline has five college-wide outcomes (CWOs).  After completing a degree or certificate program, students should be able to demonstrate proficiency in these areas. Each discipline/department creates it own measurement criteria for assessing these outcomes.   The outcomes include: Think Critically, Reason Quantitatively, Communicate Effectively, Demonstrate Civic Responsibility in Diverse and Multifaceted Environments, and Develop Information and Visual Literacy.  (Link to the complete descriptions of the CWOs)

The college has not yet begun its systematic assessment of these specific outcomes, yet many disciplines already have assessment practices which address some or all of these areas.  The college plans to take one of these outcomes and make it an assessment focus for a year, then select another outcome for the next year.  This will allow the entire campus to assess all of the college-wide outcomes over a five year period.

What you could do now is to take the first outcome--"Think Critically"--and include it on your course syllabi where it is appropriate to do so.  Bring students' attention to it and discuss what it means to think critically.  Awareness of it is an easy and important first step.
 

Who will see the data from student learning outcomes?

The actual data will only be seen by the instructor and the gateway faculty person who will simply check-off if data were supplied, kind of a "yes"  there was data, "no" not at this time.  Eventually, course data will be compiled and summarized to be included in department notebooks when the interim accreditation visit happens in 2008.  Remember, the purpose of the data are to help instructors locate trends and identify strengths and weaknesses in a verifiable way.  It truly is for instructors. It is NOT information to be used to decide tenure or promotion.
 

Do I have to have a pre-test and a post-test?

Pre-tests and post-tests are one way to measure change within a particular group of students.  But measures across groups of students are also useful.  Example: One quarter, 40% of students demonstrate mastery of certain content or a certain skill.  The next quarter the instructor may make changes to the course that are designed to help the students increase their mastery.  At the end of the quarter, 70% of students demonstrate mastery.  It’s likely that the changes the instructor made influenced the increase. 

Since it is possible that there may have been something special about either of those particular groups of students, measuring several sections of a course over a couple quarters both before and after a change, would increase confidence in the effectiveness of the implemented change.

As faculty, it’s entirely up to you to determine, for yourself, what percentage of students need to demonstrate mastery.
 

What happens if my post-test or final scores are not at 75% ( 2.0) level?

Although certain scores and cut-off points seem useful, what is more important is the amount of gain.  Are students learning?  Example: If student scores on discussion skills (knowledge of skills on a paper and pencil test) begin at 40% and by the end of the quarter increase to 65% (25% gain), then students have learned.  We have to consider that an increase is a success.  The goal might be to get to 75%, since that’s a standard often used, but it may be that 65% is the best for now, and this is an area that will continue to be addressed as the year moves on.
 

What happens to the data we collect for assessment?

The primary reason for collecting data over time is to help you make informed changes or enhancements to your teaching.  It's not necessary to keep raw data; however, an ongoing summary will be useful when the interim accreditation occurs in 2008 and the full-accreditation in 2012-13.  Remember those department notebooks you did during the last accreditation?  Remember how you were scrambling to try and have some kind of data to report on student outcomes?  Well, this assessment information would be good to include in your notebooks the next time around.  Or you might want to use the information in an assessment section on your department website.  (See the assessment section of the Speech Department website.)

The information in page one summarizes the assessment coordinators collected from their departments in 2004-2005, which were used in a report for accreditation due in April 2005.  Remember, we were a little behind in assessing student outcomes, so they gave us two years to "show them the money/assessment."  Well, our two years were up in April 2005.  We will also use the information as part of a document required by the state that is due each year in June in order to continue their funding support.
 

What is meant by the phrase "closing the loop"? 

Measuring student learning outcomes and generating data is part of the assessment process, but the process isn’t complete until we use the data to inform our choices about course modifications to improve student learning.  Closing the loop is when a plan/ strategy is created based on earlier results and implemented in the classroom.  Then, depending on the results, the plan may be tweaked for still further improvement.

Basically,  it refers to a process of having an outcome, measuring it, making course/instructional changes based on data to improve learning, and then measuring again.  The "measuring again" is closing-the-loop. The purpose of assessment is primarily improvement. In order for improvement to occur, the assessment loop must be closed. Without closing the loop this becomes simply another externally mandated requirement, serving only for accountability.  The good news is that closing-the-loop does produce rather immediate results, particularly in courses. As you begin to work with assessment practices you will find that it is also a valuable tool to promote learning, not only in the classroom, but among faculty and staff.  So in a nutshell, closing-the-loop is retesting to see if the changes you made had a positive effect.  (View the "closing the loop" assessment diagram)
 

Aren’t we doing this assessment stuff just to keep the accreditation people happy? I don’t see how it benefits us.

The "accreditation people" are us. In the United States, colleges and universities are accredited through peer review, not through governmental or agency inspection. Evaluation teams are made up of our direct counterparts ― other faculty members, division heads, deans, and so forth ― from comparable programs at peer institutions. They’re fellow educators who value good instruction.

The accreditation process stresses assessment because it’s the key to maintaining and improving the quality of what we do. By measuring our impact on students, we discover what works, what doesn’t, and what to do about it, either way. In short, it’s good for us. In fact, if our assessment program doesn’t benefit us, it won’t pass muster with the accreditors anyway. They want to see a positive impact on teaching and learning. That’s the real goal.

Think of it like this: If your doctor tells you to start an exercise program, it’s not just because she thinks exercise is the "right thing" to do. Nor will she be satisfied if you take a couple of strolls or do a few push-ups just because she "told you to." No, what she wants to see is a healthier you. If that doesn’t happen, your exercise program isn’t doing its job. And you’ll hear about it next visit.

So it is with those "accreditation people." If we engage in a meaningful assessment program that makes us healthier, they’ll be happy, too. If we don’t, we’ll hear about it next visit. It’s for our own good ― and our students’.

 

 

Last updated: December 09, 2010