University of California, Riverside

Evaluation and Assessment



Identify Outcomes


Student Learning Outcomes

Outcomes help instructors know where to focus their time and efforts, facilitate programs in understanding how to organize their curriculum, and assist students in knowing what to expect.

For the purpose of assessing student learning, we can think of learning goals as what students should know and be able to do in broad terms. Student learning outcomes are more specific formulations of the knowledge, skills, or attitudes that we will see in students who have had successful learning experiences. Common types of outcomes focus on the following:

  • Knowledge  about the discipline such as fundamental principles, familiarity with general areas/subfields, and knowledge about specific details. For example:
    • Students will be able to name the parts of plants and animal cells.
    •  Students will be able to summarize the major ideas in a political speech.
  • Skills such as the ability to solve problems, produce creative products, or break apart complex problems and situations and identify more basic elements within them. For example:
    • Students will be able to use computers to collect and analyze data from experiments.
    • Students will be able to use improvisation to create artistic works.
  • Attitudes such as a tendency to think critically, an appreciation for diversity, metacognition (reflecting on one’s own thought processes), or other habits of mind. For example:
    • Students will be able to engage in lifelong learning.
    • Students will be able to think critically about contemporary social issues.

 

Creating Student Learning Outcomes

If you do not know where to start creating student learning outcomes, there are a few places you might look to get ideas:

-Disciplinary associations often have mission statements, goals or sometimes even sample or suggested outcomes. You might use these or take them as a starting point to develop your own. In some areas, there are discipline-specific accreditation agencies that have specific goals or outcomes for students.

-You might review syllabi, major assignments, and course texts to gain a sense of what areas are already being emphasized. These may be places to start thinking about what you are already emphasizing.

Outcomes are easier to access if they have an action verb pointing to something that students will be able to do or produce. Outcomes such as “Students will know . . .” do not give much guidance as to how students might demonstrate what they know. If, for example, we want students to know two or three theories well enough to understand their relative strengths and weaknesses, we might select a verb such as “compare.” The outcome “Students will be able to compare theories of . . .” suggests what students who really understand those theories will be able to do.

Well-crafted outcomes often have an action verb, and these kinds of verbs are often organized using Bloom’s Taxonomy, which highlights the cognitive complexity of a given task. The following list defines each level of Bloom's Taxonomy from shallower to deeper levels of learning:

  • Knowledge: the ability to remember or recall facts, terms, or concepts that have been previously learned
  • Comprehension: the ability to understand, interpret, and explain material that has not previously been seen (but may be similar to material that has been seen)
  • Application: the ability to recognize when knowledge is relevant to a new situation and be able to solve new problems
  • Analysis: the ability to identify the organizational structure of knowledge, including identifying parts and the relationships between the parts
  • Synthesis: the ability to create a new product, such as a paper, speech, or creative work, with a variety of elements (some of which may be encountered for the first time during the synthesis)
  • Evaluation: the ability to judge the quality or adequacy of something based on criteria
KnowledgeComprehensionApplicationAnalysisSynthesisEvaluation
define
identify
name
select
state
recall
translate
complete
describe
discuss
summarize
illustrate
locate
explain
order
apply
calculate
demonstrate
interpret
operate
perform
solve
use
analyze
breakdown
compare
contrast
examine
explore
question
outline
research
combine
compose
consolidate
construct
create
design
formulate
hypothesize
integrate
propose
synthesize
appraise
argue
assess
critique
defend
evaluate
judge
justify
rate

 Here are examples of learning outcomes at each level:

  • Knowledge:
    • Students will be able to identify important authors and works from nineteenth-century American literature.
    • Students will be able to name the parts of plant and animal cells.
  • Comprehension:
    • Students will be able to draw a diagram illustrating the major parts of a volcano.
    • Students will be able to summarize the major ideas in a political speech.
  • Application:
    • Students will be able to factor a polynomial expression.
    • Students will be able to determine the (likely) age of a child based on a description of his or her behavior utilizing Piaget’s theory of development.
  • Analysis:
    • Students will be able to apply economic theories to current events in another country to identify probable causes and likely outcomes.
    • Students will be able to describe a chemical reaction knowing only the starting and ending products.
  • Synthesis:
    • Students will be able to hypothesize the origins of an observed genetic mutation.
    • Students will be able write a play (or screenplay).
  • Evaluation:
    • Students will be able to judge which among several alternative proposals is likely to expand access to medical care most widely.
    • Students will evaluate the soundness of another’s conclusions given the particular set of observations at hand.

A Few More Tips:

Good outcomes should be attainable by your students with a reasonable amount of effort: Do not set the bar too high or too low.

Clear outcomes can help you know where to look and what kind of evidence to look for. (Or, the other way around, thinking about what evidence you could reasonably gather and assess may help you craft outcomes.)

Assessment is best when it is collaborative. Input and approval from your colleagues is key if you have been tasked with creating or revising outcomes for a program. Even if you are creating outcomes for your own course, you might want to share them with those who teach similar courses, or courses for which yours is a prerequisite.

 

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