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Learning Outcomes - FAQs

Things You May Not Know

The following list of FAQs was developed as a result of questions collected at collegewide meetings on learning outcomes.


Definitions

Course and Program Mapping

Faculty Responsibilities

Assessment

Student Resources


Definitions

  1. What does an Outcome mean in my discipline? This question is at the heart of the Outcome Mapping Project. It is essentially the work of the faculty in the discipline to answer this question. The Outcome statements are deliberately interdisciplinary, and they require interpretation from the faculty teaching the courses.

  2. What are "service courses"? Courses that contribute substantially to the student learning in the major, but that are not designed by the faculty who teach that major are sometimes called "service courses" since they specifically contribute to ("serve") the major. These courses sometimes fulfill general education requirements as well, but they are important to the major's mapping since they provide learning foundations on which that major is based.

    Background:
    Many academic programs (majors) include prerequisite or required courses that are not part of the major and, thus, are not designed by faculty teaching in that major. Even so, these courses make substantial contribution to the student learning in that major. For example, "Anatomy and Physiology" is an important course to the Nursing major; mathematics and science courses to some of the BS in Education secondary majors.

  3. Does "Exit Assessment" imply standardization? Assessment connected to the Curriculum Mapping Project does not imply standardization and does not mandate standard "exit assessment" for individual courses. The project does call for student Learning Outcome assessment in each course addressing that learning outcome; however, the course learning Outcome assessment is individually designed by the faculty member teaching that course.

    Background:
    The Curriculum Mapping Template instructions (ALC Approved Curriculum Mapping Template. November 1, 2007) state: "In order for an outcome to be mapped to a particular course, the course must intentionally address the Outcome in all offerings of the same course and must assess student attainment of the Learning Outcome. Assessment of the designated Learning Outcome(s) for the course is essential; however, the design and implementation of that assessment is determined by the individual faculty member."

    The institution-level assessment is Collegewide and is not directed toward any one discipline or any specific course/faculty member. It focuses on the degree to which graduating students have achieved the Learning Outcomes throughout their entire MDC program of study, including general education.

  4. What is the meaning of "co-curricular"? "Co-curricular" generally refers to student learning that takes place outside the classroom. It would include, but is not limited to, Service Learning experiences, field experience in a particular school/discipline (e.g., the State-mandated field experience hours required in education), outside activities that are required and assessed in all sections of a course, etc. If "co-curricular" activities are mapped, it means that participation in these activities would be included in the course competencies and would be assessed in all sections of the course. Student Services also offers substantial co-curricular opportunities and is engaged in mapping and assessing these opportunities to the Student Learning Outcomes.

  5. What are the definitions of I - R - E and 1 - 2 - 3? It is the practice and purpose of the disciplines to determine how these terms are used in mapping specific courses within a discipline. If a discipline/school wishes to refine the definitions, it may do so, and the definitions should be stated and should accompany the discipline/school's curriculum map. However, as a general reference, the General Directions and Comments on the Course Mapping Template define them as follows:

    Column One - Level of Student Outcome Learning at Conclusion of Course
      1 = Emerging: Student is expected to be minimally capable of meeting this Outcome.
      2 = Developing: Student is expected to demonstrate increasing progress in attaining this Outcome.
      3 = Proficient: By the end of the course, student is expected to consistently and effectively meet this Outcome.

    Column Two - Level of Student Outcome Learning upon Course Entry
      I = Outcome is presented at an introductory level in the course material. In the course design, there is minimal expectation that the student has prior knowledge or skill in the outcome area.
      R = Outcome is incorporated into and reinforced throughout the course.
      E = Outcome is the primary focus of the course and is an integral part of the course competencies.

  6. Is "proficiency" stratified? If the expectation is that students will consistently and effectively be able to meet the expectations of the Outcome, then the map for the course would indicate "3" in column one. There are no sub-levels.

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Course and Program Mapping

  1. How many Outcomes must a course have? There is no exact number; more than none, perhaps less than all. It will depend on the practice of the discipline and the specific competencies within a course.

  2. Do we have to include the entire Outcome when mapping competencies? No. This will depend upon the competency. Do not force a competency to fit an Outcome. Competencies can support part of an Outcome and be mapped as such. For example, a writing course may map some of the course competencies to the "Communications" Outcome in terms of reading and writing, but perhaps not in terms of speaking and listening. Conversely, a business course may map some of the course competencies to the same Outcome in terms of speaking, presenting, and listening, but not in terms of writing.

  3. What if the competencies of a course need to be revised? The hope is that the practice and/or strong intention of the discipline/school will be mapped. If the competency needs to be changed, a note would be included to that effect on the map. Such competency revision or addition would occur usually late in the project after all Outcomes have been mapped, discussed, and confirmed. If the discipline/school believes it essential to revise existing competencies, it may do so, keeping in mind that a second revision may be necessary after all Outcomes have been mapped.

  4. What is the procedure to follow if the competencies of a course need to be modified without altering the course? If the discipline feels an urgency to change the competencies to relate them to an Outcome they feel is present, those changes may be made, keeping in mind that further competency revision might be called for at a later stage in the mapping process. Course competency changes are reported through the CurricUNET curriculum process and follow this review and submission process:

    1. review by the District Director, Academic Programs for accuracy, etc,
    2. recommendation to the Lead Academic Dean,
    3. recommendation by the Academic Dean to the Academic Leadership Council,
  5. What happens if a discipline or program discovers an outcome missing/not covered at all in any of the required courses and, therefore, also the program map? Students should receive repeated exposure to and practice with the ten Outcomes throughout their programs of study. If an Outcome is missing from a program map or is not covered sufficiently, the program map needs to be revised to include or strengthen the Outcome.

  6. Is there a prescribed number of Outcomes that a department or discipline must cover? There is no set number of Outcomes that each course, department, or discipline must cover. However, all students need to have sufficient learning related to all of the Outcomes by the end of their programs to achieve proficiency. For example, the Natural Sciences department does not have to include all the Outcomes in their courses, but AA students still have to be exposed to all Outcomes as part of their total coursework.

  7. How will we know what other disciplines mean by terms on their maps? The goal of the Learning Outcomes initiative is to enhance student learning. Since each discipline knows best how to achieve that goal, the discipline may decide to define what the terms on its map mean for their discipline. Understanding what other disciplines mean by the terms on their maps calls for the definitions to be shared and for disciplines to discuss with one another how they have defined the terms. At this time, there is no need for universal definitions, but the definitions must be consistent within the discipline and its courses. What matters is that students have repeated practice in the Outcomes across courses and that faculty clearly explain how a course/discipline defines proficiency in the Outcome(s) it covers.

  8. Will each department or program have access to others' Outcome maps so we can offer comprehensive advisement? After all disciplines have completed their maps as part of Phase II of the curriculum mapping process (involving merging the program maps, engaging in interdisciplinary conversations and identifying necessary revisions), program maps will be available through the discipline/school lead deans and conveners. However, it should be understood that these maps will be revised constantly as each discipline revisits its competencies and program maps as a result of interdisciplinary discussion and revision of courses.

  9. Will the required Gen Ed courses be enough to cover the Outcomes or should the Learning Outcomes be incorporated into all courses? The Gen Ed courses are not totally responsible for covering the Outcomes and will not provide the level of intensity and multiple learning opportunities needed to ensure that students will be able to achieve the Outcomes. All courses from the Gen Ed menu and from the major field or program of study will contribute to a student's attaining the Learning Outcomes.

  10. Who has the final say that a course meets a Learning Outcome? It is stated in the ALC Approved Curriculum Mapping Guidelines (November 1, 2007), "Through the Curriculum Mapping process, fulltime faculty in a discipline collectively determine the Outcome(s) that will be present in all offerings of each course in the discipline." It is the job of individual faculty to see that the Outcomes are intentionally present and assessed in each section of a course. Based on the assessment strategy designed by each individual faculty member to measure student performance on the Outcome for his/her section of the course, that faculty member will "have the final say" as to whether or not the Outcome is being met. Based on that same data, the faculty member also has the opportunity and responsibility to strengthen student learning related to the Outcome.

  11. How do we handle courses that are still listed in the Catalog even though they have not been offered in a long time and have no competencies? If the discipline feels that the courses are active and should continue to be listed and offered, the course should be mapped. Competencies can be mapped later, but the course should be mapped now with a note regarding the need for competencies. If the courses are considered inactive, the discipline should initiate the process to delete them.

  12. Can a course introduce, reinforce, and emphasize an Outcome? Possibly. The answer to this question depends on exactly how a discipline is defining these designations. For example, the discipline may feel that students come with little or no knowledge about their subject and are being introduced to it ("I"). At the same time, the discipline might feel that the Outcome is reinforced throughout the course ("R") and is the central focus of the competencies ("E"). Generally, though, a course receives only one of these designations.

  13. When will we be mapping non-college-credit courses, i.e., law enforcement, fire fighters, and certificate programs? The Learning Outcomes are linked to degree programs. If a program has a cross-walk to a degree program, the administrator should work with the faculty in the related associate degree program and should incorporate Outcomes mapped to the cross-walk courses.

  14. How does a discipline maintain continuity with change of leadership? Curriculum Mapping decisions are discipline decisions, and members of the discipline have a responsibility to stay informed about the status of the mapping project. Communication between outgoing and incoming leaders is essential. Members of the LOCC can also help facilitate discussions on Curriculum Mapping and Learning Outcomes Assessment.

  15. What will be done after Phase III is completed? The goal of the mapping process is to strengthen student learning. As such, it is a dynamic and ongoing process. The end of Phase III, combined with the Learning Outcomes assessment data, will provide the discipline/school with a sense of what a student's academic journey at MDC approximates and will allow discipline/school faculty to refine student learning in the related courses and programs.

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Faculty Responsibilities

  1. Are faculty required to include Outcomes in their syllabi? For any existing or new course (approved by CASSC), faculty should include and assess the Outcome(s) that they and their discipline colleagues have agreed will be present in all offerings of the course. In addition, faculty are strongly encouraged (1) to list in their syllabus the Outcome(s) on which they and their discipline colleagues have agreed and (2) to inform students of the Learning Outcome(s) they will address in the course.

  2. Must all faculty include all ten Outcomes in each course? No. The goal of the learning Outcome Mapping Project is to assure that the graduate of each degree program has sufficient opportunity to achieve the ten MDC Learning Outcomes throughout the General Education and degree programs as a whole, not in each individual course. Faculty must address the Outcomes mapped by the discipline/school to the course and are welcome and urged to include/assess additional Outcomes that the faculty member believes are also present in his/her particular section of the course.

  3. How do we instill motivation? Our motivation, knowledge and commitment to the Learning Outcomes are a key ingredient to inspiring action and interest among students. This question is an important one for faculty and Student Services professionals to address in their various disciplines, schools and areas. The Learning Outcomes Coordinating Council and the Learning Outcomes Assessment Team are implementing a variety of workshops and other strategies to inform and motivate all faculty and adjunct faculty.

  4. How do we incorporate student involvement/buy-in? Ideas and suggested strategies are welcome. Student "buy-in" should increase as we consistently and effectively focus on the presence and worth of the Learning Outcomes throughout the College in courses and student co-curricular engagement. See also the information in the answer to Question 3 above.

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Assessment

  1. What does "assessment" mean? Assessment is an ongoing process aimed at understanding and improving student learning. It involves: (a) making our expectations explicit and public; (b) setting appropriate criteria and public; (c) systematically gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence to determine how well performance matches those expectations and standards; and (d) using the resulting information to document, explain, and improve performance. (Definition by the American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 48(2), November, 1995, pp. 7-9).

  2. What is "embedded assessment"? Course-embedded assessment is a type of formative assessment that evaluates mastery of general education or learning outcomes as a part of the course structure and teaching and learning process. You can find more definitions and explanations on types of assessment by visiting the Glossary of General Education and Assessment Terms located on the MDC Learning Outcomes Website (www.mdc.edu/learningoutcomes).
  3. How will we intentionally assess the Outcomes that we have identified for the course? Intentional assessment involves developing a plan to assess Learning Outcomes (usually one or more of the "intended Outcomes") throughout the duration of the course. This plan may involve reflection among faculty members on important questions about teaching and learning for a specific course; identification of areas of common interest or concern based on this reflection; development of a common measure (e.g., an essay assignment) to assess learning related to an Outcome and common standards (usually formatted in a rubric); and analysis of results. An important part of this plan usually involves additional discussion about the results and way to use the result to modify, if appropriate, teaching methods or curriculum.

  4. How will we assess the level of proficiency? Is "proficiency" stratified? For assessing student performance on the Collegewide assessment tasks, MDC faculty have identified four levels of performance: (1) Emerging, (2) Developing, (3) Proficient and (4) Exemplary. Criteria and/or performance traits for each level are summarized in a holistic rubric that is based on a particular Learning Outcome. No additional stratification of performance is used. The rubrics for each assessment task can be found on the MDC Learning Outcomes Webpage (www.mdc.edu/learningoutcomes). For a more in-depth discussion on rubrics, please consider attending one of CT&D's workshops on using rubrics in the classroom. You may also reference Dr. Jon Mueller's online Authentic Assessment Toolbox at: http://jonathan.mueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/rubrics.htm.

  5. As we assess the Outcomes, will we offer a balance between creativity and uniformity? Yes. At the course level, you may be creative in your assessment design depending on your purpose for assessing students. At the program or discipline level, you may want to collaborate with other faculty members within your department on the design and implementation of a common assessment for a select group of courses. Afterwards, a group of faculty may compare results and report not only findings, but also "lessons learned" at their discipline or school meetings. At the Collegewide assessment level, the Learning Outcomes Assessment Team exercises a level of creativity in designing authentic tasks to measure students' attainment of the Learning Outcomes upon graduation. Uniformity, however, is observed in the development of rubrics, scoring student performance and other assessment protocol to ensure consistency where appropriate.

  6. Do we expect students to be proficient after Gen Ed or after program completion? Faculty have established a proficiency standard as part of the scoring process for the Collegewide assessment. This assessment, however, is designed to provide understanding about and improve student learning in all coursework and programs at MDC. General Education coursework alone will not suffice in ensuring proficiency on any given Outcome. In other words, all coursework should contribute to students' proficiency upon completion of their programs and graduation from MDC.

  7. How much input do faculty have in the assessment process? Faculty drive the assessment process. At the course level, faculty create their own assessments to understand and improve student learning and to contribute to student attainment of the Learning Outcomes. Ideally, these will be authentic assessments that will provide students practice with assessments that use real-life applications of the Outcomes. At the Collegewide level, the Learning Outcomes Assessment Team, comprised primarily of faculty, design the assessment tasks and rubrics. The LOAT also grades the Collegewide assessment tasks. Creating new and refining existing tasks are key elements of this continuous improvement process.

  8. How will the rubrics be developed? For the Collegewide assessment, the Learning Outcomes Assessment Team develops holistic rubrics for each Outcome to be applied to the appropriate assessment task. As part of this process, rubrics are tested and revised as appropriate. At the course and program levels, disciplines or individual faculty members may design others types of rubrics, such as analytical rubrics, based on their assessment goals. For a more in-depth discussion on rubrics, please consider attending one of CT&D's workshops on using rubrics in the classroom. You may also reference Dr. Jon Mueller's online Authentic Assessment Toolbox at: http://jonathan.mueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/rubrics.htm.

  9. Will we consider portfolios as assessment tools, perhaps with a college-wide license for an e-portfolio? At the course and program levels, e-portfolios are commonly used as assessment tools. At this point in our Collegewide assessment process, e-portfolios are not used.

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Student Resources

  1. What efforts are being made to provide students with accessibility to the outcomes, definitions, history, mission, and rationale? Currently, students receive an introduction to the Learning Outcomes in Orientation, in the Orientation and Registration materials, in some faculty syllabi, and on student-oriented Web pages. Media Relations has created posters that will appeal to students and that will be posted prominently on all the campuses. Other student-focused materials (e.g., a folder) will be developed as well. The College continues to work on a way to make the Outcomes more visible to everyone.

  2. Will students be able to access a tool on degree audit/student Web to track their progress on the Outcomes? An excellent idea, but not a current reality. This might become possible at the end of Phase III if software and technical capability permit.

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