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Getting Started with Assessment

Assessing student learning outcomes involves four steps: clearly stating your goals for student learning, providing learning opportunities, measuring the achievement of those goals (outcomes), and using the evidence collected to improve your teaching—and student learning—next time around. For many faculty, this involves explicitly stating things that may currently be implicit.

How do you make explicit your goals for a successful student?

Clearly stating your goals for student learning outcomes is simply a process of communicating what you want students to be able to say, think, or do as a result of instruction. It makes your expectations clear, and helps you identify criteria for success. Keep it simple: limit yourself to a small number of outcomes that are fundamental. Examples of learning outcomes might look like:

  • Cornell graduates will be able to write clearly and effectively
  • Biology majors will be able to describe the process of evolution
  • English majors will be able to identify representative authors from literary movements
  • Introductory Statistics students will be able to conduct a t-test on a small sample
  • Students in Chemistry will be able to design an experiment to test a chemical hypothesis or theory
  • Theater students will use voice, movement, and understanding of dramatic character and situation to affect an audience

What are you currently doing to assess student learning?

Develop a couple of ways to measure each learning goal. At least one of those measures should be “direct” (e.g. papers, questions on exams, projects, portfolios, presentations) but “indirect” measures (e.g. student self-reports of learning from surveys) may play a role in assessment as well.

How do you use evidence of student learning to improve?

Use the results of your assessment to improve teaching. As additional sources of information, the results of assessment can guide– but do not dictate– decisions about your teaching practice. Faculty define and direct the assessment process, and use their professional judgments to interpret and make appropriate decisions based upon the results. It is essential that faculty own this process, as it is integral to the scholarship of teaching, and is most useful when it answers your questions about your students, and your teaching. This might result in changes to existing courses, or might confirm the value of something you are currently doing. Assessment results can facilitate curricular integration and inform planning at the college or institutional level. However, the results should be used, and this is most likely when the assessment focuses on questions that faculty find useful.