Antioch University Los Angeles prides itself on providing students with an excellent education, utilizing the classroom as well as the external community as the context for extensive learning and experience. In every program, the curriculum emanates from the University’s mission and the learning outcomes set forth by faculty as primary for students graduating with a particular degree. How do we know students are learning what we want them to learn? More importantly, how do we change what we teach and how we teach in response to student learning outcomes? Academic assessment allows us to put students first by focusing institutional attention on whatever improves student learning. At AULA, student outcomes inform and drive the curricular and pedagogical revisions that strengthen our academic programs.
The Assessment Process
The formalization of continuous assessment and improvement process began in 2001 and continues to be a priority for the campus as we develop ourselves as a learning organization. At AULA, program faculty regularly discuss student learning in their faculty meetings and retreats and make programmatic changes in response to areas that need improvement. The starting point for each program is grounded in the program goals. Once a program articulates its learning goals for students (aka Student Learning Outcomes), we have a place to focus our attention and direct our efforts. For each goal identified by faculty, we describe methods of assessment utilized to determine student progress in meeting that student learning outcome. Results of those assessments are then the primary determinants of changes within each program. Follow-up evaluation of those interventions allows us to “close the loop” and continually respond to the needs of our student population.
Establish Student Learning Outcomes
The faculty begins by considering the mission of the institution as well as the goals of the academic programs. What is it that the institution and program want students to achieve? This allows faculty to determine Student Learning Outcomes for their programs, identifying exactly what they want their students to learn by the time they graduate.
Student Learning Outcomes must be measurable goals that allow faculty to evaluate whether or not they have been achieved. There are expected outcomes at the program level and also at the course level, with program goals being more general and course goals being more specific.
Determine Measures of Student Learning
Each learning activity offered as part of the curriculum has set learning outcomes for students to achieve. Faculty must provide opportunities for students to demonstrate those skills through assignments, class participation, and experiential learning. In a given course, students must provide evidence that they have met each of the course learning outcomes. Many of these activities will also show student progress toward program-level learning outcomes.
Program faculty identifies which learning activities provide the best evidence of growth toward program learning outcomes by creating a curriculum map. Although not every course allows students to demonstrate every program-level learning outcome, across the curriculum students must be able to demonstrate achievement of all program goals by the time they graduate.
Evaluate Evidence of Student Learning
Faculty members within each program determine what learning activities will be used to evaluate progress toward their student learning outcomes. They then develop an assessment plan that delineates the timeline and process for gathering and analyzing data on student learning.
Each program reports annually on the direct measures of student learning (assignments, fieldwork) and the indirect measures (surveys, student reflections) as well as the results of their analyses in the Annual Program Review.
Close the Loop
An essential part of academic assessment is using the findings on student learning to inform changes in practice. Modifying curriculum and pedagogical practices in response to student learning outcomes shows that faculty members are “closing the loop” and thus making use of information about what their students are learning and where they are falling short.
Once the faculty has adjusted their curriculum to better support students learning needs, they also need to re-evaluate their program learning outcomes. Are the learning goals they established for students truly a good fit for what their students are achieving in the program? Rethinking student learning outcomes based on student learning evidence demonstrates that the program is constantly considering how best to serve its student population.