Course, Program, Institution: Connecting Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes can also be implemented at the program or institutional level to assess student learning over multiple courses, and to monitor whether students have acquired the necessary knowledge and skills at one stage to be able to move onto the next.

SERIES OF COURSES

Courses that require prerequisites may benefit from identifying a list of outcomes necessary for advancement from one level to another. When this knowledge and these skills are identified as outcomes as opposed to topics, assessment in the first level can directly measure preparation for the next level.

PROGRAM

Many major and specialist programs identify a list of discipline-specific and multi-purpose skills, values, and areas of knowledge graduating students in the program will have. By articulating these as things that students will know or be able to do, the benefits of a program of study can be clearly communicated to prospective students, to employers, and to others in the institution.

Athabasca University develops learning outcomes for all its undergraduate major programs. Its outcomes for the anthropology BA include:

Knowledge Outcomes
As a result of completing this program, students should be able to

  • show evidence of a broad understanding of the past and present social, linguistic and cultural diversity of people and their biological diversity and evolution.
  • show familiarity with the nature of the four fundamental fields within anthropology (archaeology, biological anthropology, anthropological linguistics and cultural anthropology) and their interrelationship. This familiarity will lead students to adopt a holistic and comparative approach to understanding human differences and similarities across the world and through time.
  • demonstrate a familiarity with basic anthropological concepts, terminology and theory. This familiarity will lead students to an appreciation of anthropology’s history and context. The application of anthropology to other discussions will become a part of students’ general liberal arts and science university degree.

Skills Outcomes
As a result of completing this program, students should be able to

  • show evidence of a familiarity with anthropological research methods and critically analyze their use in the research of other research methods.
  • demonstrate a facility in critical thinking and reasoning by applying these skills to anthropological problems and issues.
  • exhibit university-level skills in academic writing, including research and argumentation, and apply their academic writing skills to anthropological problems and issues.
  • employ basic research skills to access and critically evaluate information that bears on anthropological topics from scholarly and popular sources, including electronic (web) sources, video and audio sources and printed sources.

Value Outcomes
As a result of completing this program, students should be able to demonstrate a fundamental awareness of

  • the cultural and social bases of human prejudice and discrimination (e.g., racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, anthropocentrism).
  • anthropological insights and alternatives that foster tolerance for the diversity of human cultures, ways of life and the value of human diversity.

[From http://www.athabascau.ca/programs/ba4anth/]

INSTITUTION

Academic plans increasingly include a list of learning outcomes that apply across programs of study and even across degree levels. These outcomes provide an academic vision for the institution, serve as guidelines for new programs and programs undergoing review, and communicate to members of the university and the public at large the academic values and goals of the university. As previously discussed, the best learning outcomes address course-specific learning within the context of a student’s broader educational experience. One way to contribute to a coherent learning experience is to align course outcomes, when appropriate, with institutional priorities.

The University of Toronto’s academic plan, Stepping Up: A framework for academic planning at the University of Toronto, 2004-2010, outlines institutional goals in relation to the learning experience of our undergraduate and graduate students. These priorities are further articulated in “Companion Paper 1: Enabling Teaching and Learning and the Student Experience”. The skills outcomes meant to apply to all undergraduate programs follow.

  • Undergraduate students should leave the University of Toronto having acquired certain abilities, values, and commitments:
  • knowing what one doesn’t know and how to seek information
  • able to think: that is, to reason inductively and deductively, to analyze and to synthesize, to think through moral and ethical issues, to construct a logical argument with appropriate evidence
  • able to communicate clearly, substantively, and persuasively both orally and in writing
  • able not only to answer questions through research and analysis but to exercise judgment about which questions are worth asking
  • knowledgeable about and committed to standards of intellectual honesty and use of information
    knowing how to authenticate information, whether it comes from print sources or through new technologies
  • able to collaborate with others from different disciplines in the recognition that multidisciplinary approaches are necessary to address the major issues facing society
    understanding the methods of scientific inquiry; that is, scientifically literate

[To see other learning outcomes from the U of T academic plan, please see
http://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/bts/learning-outcomes]

CURRICULUM MAPPING: TRANSLATING BETWEEN LOCAL AND GLOBAL LEARNING OUTCOMES

At the global program or institutional level, learning outcomes are often necessarily vague to allow for flexibility in their implementation and assessment. Consequently, in order to be effectively applied at the local level of a course or class, they must be reformulated for the particular setting. Similarly, learning outcomes from individual courses may be extrapolated and generalized in order to create program- or institution-wide learning outcomes. Both of these processes are most frequently accomplished through a technique called “curriculum mapping”. When moving from programmatic or institutional to course or class outcomes, curriculum mapping involves identifying which courses, portions of courses, or series of courses fulfill each programmatic or institutional learning outcome. The global learning outcomes can then be matched with course-specific outcomes that directly address the content and skills required for that particular subject material. Identifying and locating all the learning outcomes encountered by a student over the course of their program can help present learning as a coherent whole to students and others, and can help students make the connection between their learning in one course and that in another. Maki (2004) notes that understanding where particular pieces of learning take place can help students take charge of their own education:

A map reveals the multiple opportunities that students have to make progress on collectively agreed-on learning goals, beginning with their first day on campus. Accompanied by a list of learning outcomes, maps can encourage students to take responsibility for their education as a process of integration and application, not as a checklist of courses and educational opportunities. Maps can also position students to make choices about courses and educational experiences that will contribute to their learning and improve areas of weakness.

For more information about and examples of curriculum mapping, please see Maki, P. (2004). Maps and inventories: Anchoring efforts to track student learning. About Campus 9(4), 2-9.