Beyond SFFs: A Series on Evaluating Teaching – Part V: Assessment of Student Learning

Dana Dawson & Benjamin Brock

The earlier posts in this series discussed how to apply the lenses of self, colleagues, students and scholarly literature to the evaluation of teaching. In the final post in this series, we will reflect on how assessment of student learning at the course and program level allows us to take a step back and ask whether what we’re doing is working. Assessment of student learning in our classes helps us evaluate whether students have met the learning goals for the course: it tells us what our students know and can do, what they have yet to learn and are still working on, and whether our instructional decisions have been effective. Assessment of student learning at the program level helps us evaluate whether students have met the learning outcomes of the program (the curricular requirements, degree or Certificate): it tells us whether the program is designed to deliver the promised outcomes and is structured coherently and in such a way that information needed in later courses is adequately scaffolded in earlier courses. When thoughtfully designed, course and program assessment can foster reflection and dialogue that ultimately benefits the students in our classes and programs.

In this post we discuss student learning goals, learning outcomes, and the relationship between the two. At Temple, learning goals refer to what a student should know or be able to do at the end of a single course, whereas student learning outcomes generally refer to outcomes at the major, minor, certificate or curricular (e.g., GenEd or Writing Intensive) level. Assessment of student learning is most useful when it takes into account both course learning goals and student learning outcomes. For this reason, we encourage you to take into account the following factors when you design assessments. 

Curriculum Alignment

  • Ideally, course assessment and program assessment begin with student learning outcomes, or the overall goals of the degree program or curricular sequence your course is embedded within. While you may not have control over course sequence or student learning outcomes, simply knowing where your course fits into the bigger picture can help you thoughtfully design assessments aligned not just with your own course goals, but with the trajectory of student learning both before and after your course. The learning goals specific to your course should be designed to deliver the larger student learning outcomes of the program your course is nested within. 

Identify or Construct Learning Goals and Outcomes

  • Course learning goals and program-level student learning outcomes inform your overall course content, class activities and assessments. For this reason, it’s important that they are specific and measurable. By “measurable” we don’t mean that you need to be able to quantify student learning in relation to all of your goals. Rather, a goal should be written in such a way that you can devise a method to determine whether a student is making progress toward it and whether it has been met. For more information on writing course goals, visit our EDvice Exchange post, Learning Goals: Dream Big! 

When Designing Classroom Assessments, Begin with the Goals

  • Create assessments and activities that allow students to demonstrate whether they have met the learning goals you have established. Your assessments are an opportunity for your students to highlight their learning and development across the semester, and an indicator of your effectiveness teaching the content you set out to deliver. To learn more, see our post Looking for Evidence in all the Right Places: Aligning Assessments with Goals.

Consider Program Assessment

  • Course-based assessments may then be used in program assessments. You may want to work with colleagues in your program to review these artifacts using a rubric that aligns with one or more program-level student learning outcomes. Colleagues may also be called upon to help you interpret your students’ gains across the semester. While reviewing course-based artifacts such as exams, essays and written reflections, aim to identify areas of the course or curriculum in need of revision for future semesters. In other words, be sure to use the results of your assessments.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

  • If this is beginning to sound a bit like research, that is the idea . . . once this all becomes more systematic we can move into what is called the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Systematically inquiring into our pedagogical practices allows us, as instructors, to make evidence-based decisions about our teaching, our classroom activities, and our assessments. Engaging in SoTL ensures our students are learning and developing as best they can in our classroom (Brock & Rouder, in press). 

Where Student Feedback Forms (SFF) are up to our students, peer review requires the input of our colleagues, and assessment of courses and students learning generally falls to the department or program. When we focus on the instructor in the classroom we realize that this systematic, continuous evaluatory process aimed at pedagogical improvement is solely in our own hands as faculty. This process allows us the opportunity to provide evidence that we are performing highly as teachers and that our students are, in fact, learning. It is also an opportunity to consider why we might want to routinely assess our teaching and our students’ learning: are our actions aimed at developing (as opposed to demonstrating) our pedagogical knowledge, competencies and skills, and how might this further our motivation to do so over time? We can think of assessment of student learning as a means to communicate empirical evidence regarding our instructional practices and our students’ experiences. It can be used to demonstrate how we are consistently evolving our pedagogical practices so that our teaching can be as impactful as possible. 

For support with designing assessments, schedule a consultation with a CAT specialist. For help with developing SoTL projects, look for SoTL consultations on our CAT consultations page.

  • Brock, B. & Rouder, C. (in press). Celebrating the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Faculty Herald, Temple University
  • Linnenbrink-Garcia, L. & Patall, E. A. (2015). Motivation. In L. Corno & E. M. Anderman (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology (3rd ed., pp. 91-103). Routledge. 

Dana Dawson and Benjamin Brock work at Temple’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

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