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Writing Student Learning Outcomes: A Guide

Clear Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) guide instructors and students.

Below is a brief but thorough overview of how teachers can guide students into knowledge, skill and demonstration of a subject through the use of a Student Learning Outcomes (SLO).  Here, we will look at how to write an effective SLO that also complies with your accrediting agency.

 Definition of Student Learning Outcomes

An SLO is a statement of intended knowledge or practice (skill) learned in a degree program, a course, or in a single assignment.

Purpose of Student Learning Outcomes

The creation of SLOs gives direction to a program, course, or assignment. By stating the expected outcomes. The shape of instructions is then geared toward that final goal.

When all SLOs are created, they create a map for the program, course, and individual assignment. Understanding that the SLOs are about outcomes, the goal is to place outcomes in the appropriate chronological order and then provide instruction to match those outcomes.

The program outcomes are a summation of the various course outcomes. The course outcomes are made up of the various assignment outcomes. Ideally, the outcomes are arranged in a way that students are introduced to ideas, then get to practice them, and finally are asked to prove proficiency.

Writing Student Learning Outcomes

We start writing outcomes by working backwards.

First, state the desired outcome, knowledge or skill: e.g. the student should know or know how to do X by the end of the (assignment, course, or program).

Second, state how it is demonstrated: e.g. student will demonstrate X by producing Y.  In a course, this might be expressed as papers, projects, or examinations.

Third, state in which assignment, course, or program this will occur: e.g. the student will demonstrate X by producing Y in Z. In an individual assignment, this is not typically expressed.

The vocabulary for stating the outcome should be based on outcomes or goals of the institution or from an outside agency (an accrediting body or academic association). Creating SLOs using the wording from an accrediting agency will make it easier for them to see that their goals are being met and assessed.

The vocabulary for stating the activity — “how” the desired outcome is demonstrated — should be based on Bloom’s taxonomy of learning or the revised Bloom’s taxonomy.

Most college level activities are based on growth in the cognitive domain (mental skills or knowledge), not the affective or psychomotor. Ideally, the outcomes increase in rigor as the student ages or advances in their program. The senior student is expected to be working with higher order thinking than a freshman or sophomore.

Many lists are available on the internet of active verbs that are tied to the various levels within the taxonomy; use them.

Example of a Student Learning Outcome

The outcome is that students will know how to create proper citations and a reference page.

The terminology from the accrediting agency may refer to this outcome as the “demonstration of ethical and legal use of information.” Students will demonstrate that by producing a reference page.

To stay consistent with the accrediting agency’s wording, use similar language on all course documents:

Wording for SLO to be put into the instructions of a paper:

Students will demonstrate the ethical and legal use of information by constructing a properly formatted and cited reference page.

Wording for SLO to be put into the syllabus for that course:

Students will demonstrate the ethical and legal use of information by constructing a properly formatted and cited reference page in the final research paper.

Instructions to match that SLO:

Construct a properly formatted and cited reference page in the (APA, MLA, Chicago, SBL, Turabian) style, including all materials used for this paper.

It is then up to the instructor to teach or review the proper method of citing items according to the proper style guide. This is often done by having one of the librarians come and teach about citation style and need.

Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

The SLO gives the instructor a basic setup for assessment. Each SLO identifies what is produced, what object is created or what facts are learned.

If the SLO is a knowledge-based SLO, the learning is assessed by either objective methods (a test) or subjective methods (project or paper). The learning is assessed on quality of presentation and depth of learning. Often what is looked for is not just regurgitation of facts but synthesis with other facts, evaluation of ideas, or creation of new information.

If an object is created, it is typically assessed in three ways: quantity, completion, and quality.

Quantity is based on the idea that multiple items or parts of an item were to be completed.

Quantity is assessed objectively based on a certain number of items done.

Completion is a grade based on how much of the object was created. Completion is possibly assessed objectively based on numbers of parts or an exact percentage of completion. Completion may also be assessed subjectively based on approximation; for example, it was roughly 50% complete.

Quality is based on the how well the object was created. Quality is assessed subjectively; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Based on the above example the reference page would be assessed on quality (the format of each citation was correct), the completion of each citation (no parts missing in any citation), and quantity (every work was cited).

Assessment is most objective (and fair) when approached with a rubric. A rubric is a standardized grading scale that identifies what is expected for each grading mark.

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