Overview of Outcomes Assessment at UNL
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) is a major research institution that places extraordinary emphasis on undergraduate learning and teaching. Our investment in undergraduate education reflects a core value: Learning that prepares students for lifetime success and leadership. This institutional commitment is realized through a three-stage process of outcomes assessment occurring at the institutional, college and program level:
- determining what the desired student learning outcomes are,
- identifying the best measures for determining whether these outcomes have been realized, and
- using results to either confirm or improve instructional and curricular practice.
UNL has boldly adopted an outcomes-based approach to our new general education program, Achievement-Centered Education (ACE). We fully understand that learning is the aim of all teaching and that identifying and verifying learning outcomes is an index of quality teaching. Our efforts to develop appropriate assessment programs will be and should be a continuous work in progress. The following details UNL's approach to assessment of student learning outcomes from the Higher Learning Commission Accreditation Self-Study (2006).
How are appropriate student learning outcomes identified for programs?
- Faculty members are primarily responsible for developing statements of learning outcomes for their programs.
- Learning outcomes are expected to be aligned to mission, student-focused, measurable and represent an appropriate level of learning.
- Learning outcomes statements are influenced by standards and recommendations of national professional associations, outcomes from similar programs at other institutions and learning outcomes from courses in the curriculum.
- Learning outcomes are shared though course syllabi, undergraduate bulletins, departmental websites, student handbooks and/or recruitment materials.
- Learning outcomes are reviewed by internal and external constituents, including departmental faculty, students, alumni, internship supervisors, employers, advisory boards, accreditating agencies and academic program review teams.
What evidence is collected regarding student achievement of learning outcomes?
- Colleges and their programs regularly report what was assessed, how it was assessed and what was learned from the assessment evidence gathered.
- Programs are encouraged to assess a manageable set of learning outcomes each year and to use methods that fit with disciplinary traditions and scholarship.
- Results are used to facilitate discussions at program and college levels about effectiveness of the curriculum, pedagogy and co-curricular activities.
- Results have highlighted a broad array of insights into student learning, including the continuous improvement of learning outcomes, coherence of the curriculum, advising, co-curricular experiences, student-faculty interaction and recruitment/retention.
- Insights from results have led to changes at the course level and program level as well as in advising practices and other means of communicating with students.
- Programs are expected to reflect on and reach conclusions about their assessment evidence, identifying strengths as well as areas for improvement.
- Reports indicate program improvements focusing on student learning and the educational experience have increased steadily and significantly since 1997.
- Infrastructures that facilitate and support the documentation, quality and visibility of the assessment process.
In what ways is evidence of student learning analyzed and used?
Prerequisite exams for learning outcomes covered in key courses in the program suggested that students were making significant progress on most learning outcomes. But a further analysis of the exam scores and qualitative interviews with students indicated students were struggling in applying abstract concepts to discipline specific problems. To address this learning issue, the program added a laboratory to an existing course that enables students to visualize abstract concepts and to see them applied to real problems.
During their final year in the program, students participate in a product development scenario. Students frequently expressed surprise at the costs involved, the requirements for financial returns, the influence profits have on corporate decision-making. Faculty found their students have extraordinary technical knowledge but information about how business interests interface was sometimes lacking. The program's capstone course now integrates several lectures that include business topics (costs associated with marketing and product placement, the role marketing, business, and legal professionals have in new product development), as well as a field trip to Omaha to visit a major multi-national company. During the half-day field trip, the lecture topics are reinforced by industry professionals.
Several in-class activities that address research skills and problem-solving were created by a faculty member while participating in the Peer Review of Teaching Project. These class activities were created because internship directors rated graduates' preparation on problem solving and critical thinking skills the lowest and seniors rated their preparation in research methodologies and interpretation of research and statistics as only adequate. The new class activities will be incorporated into existing 400-level courses and the program will continue to focus and monitor student performance on these outcomes in the future.
How is shared responsibility for assessment of student learning ensured?
- Assessment processes are developed and conducted from the ground up by faculty in individual colleges, departments and programs while facilitated and supported from the top down.
- Institutional and college assessment committees provide leadership for establishing a vision for assessment at UNL and coordinating activities to achieve that vision.
How are efforts to assess and improve student learning evaluated and improved?
Evaluation and improvement of assessment occurs at all levels of the institution (program, unit, college, institutional) in different ways:
- At program level, programs continually refine their methods for assessing student learning.
- At college level, colleges are reviewing and providing feedback on programmatic assessment efforts.
- At institutional level, the efficacy and sustainability of assessment is consistently reflected on through communications with colleges and programs.