Friday, March 27, 2009

Reporting Learning Outcomes

If you hang around folks responsible for institutional effectiveness, sooner or later the conversation turns to reporting learning outcomes. This is a topic rich with conflict and therefore could profitably be turned into a reality show or Broadway musical (chorus: assessment begins with youuuuu!). I tried to catalog a few of the conflicts in Assessing the Elephant and on this blog now and again: things like monologue vs. dialogue. But a big part of it is simply the inertial field that surrounds higher education.

The prescription is to assess and improve the delivery of teaching with the goal of improving learning. Sounds simple enough, and indeed it goes on all the time. Getting it documented is the hard part. Having a simple-as-possible system helps, but only partially.

You can demonstrate to yourself that good things are going on by doing the following exercise. Choose a small department or discipline--certainly not the deadly size of eight around the table. Ask them what changes they've made in the last year to improve their program. You'll probably be surprised. Then start asking why they made the changes. Out will pop assessment information (probably informal observations) and goals (although likely implicit). You can have a good discussion discovering the objectives that were implied by their course of action as a discovery process to build a plan. One way or another, the program is supposed to have a list of goals with objectives in a structure similar to this:
  1. Objective General statement of what you want to accomplish
  2. Outcomes Specific statement of how you'll notice if it changes
  3. Assessment Details of how you make observations
This comprises a plan. Then, in the fullness of time, one should get results of the form:
  1. Results The actual assessment results and what you think of them
  2. Actions What, if any, actions were taken
The results and actions are somewhat hard to find on the internet tubes, probably because no one's is perfect. I got permission to post a draft of completed learning objectives reports from programs at Coker College (my erstwhile employer, where I was SACS liaison). You can find this (rather large) file here. Names have been replaced with question marks. Where you see numbers in brackets, these would have been hyperlinked to documents in the archive--in this case based on openIGOR. You can find a manual with more information about the process here.

The FACS reports mentioned under core skills outcomes is the Faculty Assessment of Core Skills, a liberal arts assessment applied across the whole curriculum. The whole story of that is in Assessing the Elephant.

Note that no one is advertising these as perfect examples of learning outcomes and how they should be reported on. But we should tip our hats to the nice folks at Coker College for the willingness to show us what actual reports may look like.

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