Case presentation: course and degree program assessment for a school of business and economics.

Author:Cordeiro, William P.

    There has been a major paradigm shift in higher education. We no longer evaluate the quality of our academic programs based solely on the quality of inputs (e.g., faculty credentials and library holdings) employed to educate our students, but also on whether our students have learned what we claim they will learn in their programs. This paradigm shift began in the 1990s (Barr and Tagg, 1995) and has influenced many aspects of higher education including the design and delivery of courses and degree programs, and accreditation at the disciplinary and regional levels. We are now required to develop student learning outcomes (SLOs) for courses and degree programs and to conduct assessments to determine if our students are achieving SLOs at desired levels.

    These new activities have generated some resistance from faculty and administrators:

    * The new activities represent a departure from traditional educational practices;

    * There is a lack of common terminology in this emerging area;

    * It is not always clear what institutions are asking faculty, administration and staff to do;

    * There is a lack of experienced personnel in the drafting and assessing SLOs;

    * The paradigm shift represents a new way of thinking about courses and major programs; and

    * There is additional work for faculty, administrators and staff with additional costs for the institution.

    Like all colleges and universities, California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) is wrestling with these challenges. However, since our campus is new (founded in 2001), we have been able to infuse SLOs into our curriculum from the start. In this paper, we describe, analyze and reflect on efforts the Martin V. Smith School of Business and Economics (MVS) to develop a culture that focuses on student learning and continuous improvement through course and program level assessment of SLOs.


    Is it an objective or an outcome? Is it an evaluation or an assessment? As noted above, the terminology used to describe activities in the new paradigm has not been standardized. Further adding to the confusion, the terms used in this area have meanings in everyday speech that may not be consistent with their usage in the new paradigm.

    Here are some terms along with operational definitions that are used in this paper:

    Objectives are broad, over-arching statements that describe the goals of a program. While all student-learning outcomes (SLO) are derived from program objectives, some objectives might not be specifically about student learning. For example, a program objective might be to prepare students for employment or graduate study. While these are appropriate program objectives, they are not student learning outcomes.

    Student learning outcomes (SLOs) are brief statements that describe what a student will know and be able to do at the end of a course or degree program. SLOs are typically expressed in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which are observable and measurable.

    Evaluation is used synonymously with "grading" in which we evaluate the work of each individual student. Faculty members sometimes question the need to assess students because they have already evaluated (graded) their coursework and assigned grades.

    Assessment is an activity or group of activities by which we determine whether students are fulfilling SLOs at desired levels. Direct assessment uses student work to form judgments about student learning and is the preferred form of assessment. Indirect assessment involves surveys of current students, alumni, employers and other stakeholders. It is not regarded as a substitute for...

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