Student Learning Outcomes in a Nutshell

What are they?

Student learning outcomes (SLOs) in themselves are familiar to us. They are the verb-begun statements, often based on Bloom’s taxonomy, that define the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities that we expect our students to master in our classes.

SLOs are just the first step in a recursive process of research, review, and re-thinking. In other words, where once we just defined our outcomes, we will now describe our students’ mastery of these outcomes, and also develop methods of re-teaching as needed. This is the cycle of assessment and inquiry that we are engaged in.

What are the foundations of this focus?

External forces:

  1. WASC, ACJCC, and the State Academic Senate are committed to moving colleges and universities to a learner-centered model that includes SLOs at the institutional, program, and course levels. AND, more importantly to the cycle of assessment where data is reviewed, talked about, and acted upon at all levels of the institution.

Internal Needs:

  1. Colleges are heeding the above and also acknowledging the great body of research that supports the notion that continual feedback supports learning, that deep learning requires metacognition, and that faculty inquiry into what works in the classroom is fundamental to student success.
  2. In fact, the State Academic Senate holds fast to the belief that faculty have primacy over curriculum development, as well as assessment of that curriculum. In other words, faculty are best positioned to determine what outcomes make sense in any given discipline and how they can best be assessed.

What is our mandate?

WASC, ACJCC, and the Academic Senate recognize that this mandate will require work at many institutions, but they also note that in most cases, re-imagining what already exists and what can be adapted will meet the guidelines.

How to Begin Writing a SLO:

If you’ve ever eaten at a Counter Burger you know that you can build a burger to your own specifications by making a series of choices. Choose the bun, choose the meat, choose the toppings, and choose a sauce. The power of choice indeed.

With the SLOAC design process, you have an equally interesting series of choices. Here’s the SLOAC Menu:

  1. Choose 1- several outcome(s) for your course. Think of the most important concepts or skills you’d like one of your student to remember four years from now OR think of a pedagogical challenge you’d like to resolve in that course. Write your outcome around those ideas.

  2.  Choose a formative or summative assessment to measure the outcome. Do you want to shape student learning within the quarter (the former) or describe student success at the end of the quarter (the latter).

  3. Choose assessments efficiently: Whatever your assessment goal, use assessment measures you already have embedded in the course—tests, rubrics, essays, projects, observation checklists, surveys, etc. The Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT) work of Cross and Angelo provides effective and quick formative assessment ideas. Each division has a copy of that book.

  4. Choose when, how and with whom you’ll reflect on the data you’ve gathered in the assessment cycle. Want to meet as a team, a department, or a group of colleagues? It’s your choice! Make the reflection meaningful to your goals then tell us not only what you thought about what you’ve learned but also if you’re prompted to change content, teaching method, assignments, assessments, or even the SLO as a result.

And that’s an SLO! Once written, then it’s filed in the Office of Instruction course management system and scheduled for the AC part of SLOAC, the assessment cycle that occurs on a rotating basis — think one-third of the courses in the catalog every quarter.

Length of SLO Assessment Cycle

The academic senate adopted a resolution to allow each division to adopt its own SLO Assessment Cycle timing. To this point, as a campus we have all been on the same (minimum) cycle of assessing and reflecting on at least one SLO every year for every course taught. Going forward, however, each division may agree to adopt a different cycle if desired, provided that each SLO for each course is assessed and reflected upon at least every three (3) years. This three-year time span is intended to ensure that divisions will have a minimum of one full set of SLO Assessment Cycle data for every course by the time their comprehensive program review is due.

Divisional curriculum representatives are asked to lead faculty discussions to determine the SLO Assessment Cycle timing that will make the most sense for their division. The Office of Instruction will assume divisions will continue with the current (default) cycle unless they hear from the division curriculum committee representatives that they have decided to adopt something different. See SLO Update (12-04-14)