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The University of Rhode Island Learning Outcomes

The University of Rhode Island expects that every academic program, as a consequence of the interaction between general education and a major, will lead the student to:

·        think critically in order to solve problems and question the nature and sources of authority;

·        use the methods and materials characteristic of each of the knowledge areas while understanding their interconnectedness;

·        commit to intellectual curiosity and lifelong learning;

·        maintain an openness to new ideas while utilizing the social skills necessary for both teamwork and leadership;

·        think independently, be self-directed, and take initiative based on informed choices.

To meet these expectations the University has strengthened learning outcomes assessment since 2007 through a focus on the continuous improvement of academic programs in a self-directed system of accountability, systematic assessment, and effective documentation. The University's Academic Plan serves as our guide to ensure that student learning is aligned with the University’s mission and vision, and establishes goals and metrics to support the shift toward a learning-centered institution and a culture of measurable achievement.  Solid structures and initiatives are in place for academic programs to define their goals for students clearly and assess what students actually are learning.  Data are used to foster student achievement by improving responses to identified patterns of weakness, enhancing academic quality, accountability and performance, and involving faculty in building communities of assessment practitioners. 

We implement a broad plan of academic program improvement activities supported through the Office of Student Learning, Outcomes Assessment & Accreditation (SLOAA).  SLOAA promotes student success and achievement through greater accountability for student learning by:

·        Identifying and developing assessment materials and tools for best practices in program improvement, student learning and curricular reform.

·        Developing campus-wide mechanisms for documenting evidence of student learning and achievement.

·        Assisting faculty and departments to assess and report on student learning within the major, including training in the principles and techniques of student learning outcomes assessment.

·        Compiling and publishing results of outcomes assessment efforts for various constituencies.

·        Identifying themes across programs to inform professional development initiatives and intervention strategies.

·        Providing faculty with assessment models, tools, and training opportunities.

·        Providing support for outcomes assessment activities including General Education, undergraduate and graduate programs, and student affairs.

·        Publicizing and promoting programmatic improvement and student achievement.

A cohort-based, staggered reporting cycle integrates reporting into one process of planning, assessment, analysis, reporting, and improvement. This framework is sustainable across all academic programs, encourages faculty engagement in meaningful work, and allows for time to implement and evaluate interventions.  The assessment website is the primary vehicle for making our commitment to assessment transparent and providing accessible resources and information for faculty.  It is continually updated and improved in response to faculty needs and campus assessment activities. Recommendations from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Association (NILOA) transparency framework serve as a guide for website content.

Trained reviewers use a rubric to examine reports and provide constructive guidance back to programs.  Peer review allows for more authentic feedback and results in the development of assessment “experts” across the institution.  Summary data from the latest round of reporting indicates the variety of changes that have improved student learning.  Patterns of weakness typically revealed during the assessment process are in the areas of curriculum (e.g. course sequencing, prerequisites, and program delivery), pedagogy, and/or the assessment method or process.  Recommendations for change provide a key focus for follow-up during future assessments and departments are held accountable for implementing interventions and measuring their efficacy.  Faculty are guided to evaluate direct, authentic sources of student work, as opposed to relying on indirect measures or more traditional proxy indicators of program health and student success (e.g., grades, GPA, graduation rates, etc.).   Program assessment reports, documentation, and feedback are retained for reference. 

The Learning Outcomes Oversight Committee (LOOC) is a joint committee of faculty, staff and administrative representatives providing ongoing support to SLOAA and ensures that effective assessment activities are an integral part of program self-examination and improvement.  LOOC maintains an ongoing review of the learning outcomes assessment process, interprets external expectations for university-wide learning outcomes assessment, including those of accreditation bodies, and facilitates internal communication across units regarding ways of meeting those expectations.

While growing the infrastructure to support sustainable assessment, we also make use of external resources to advance the work.  In 2009, the Davis Educational Foundation awarded URI a $643,000 three-year grant to support the proposal, “Evidence to Initiative: Improving Student Learning Through Faculty Development at the University of Rhode Island.”  Faculty development initiatives involve alternative instructional techniques, modifications to curriculum and prerequisites, innovation in methods of course delivery, and increasing the degree to which students are exposed to high impact practices that enhance learning. 

We seek to build communities of practitioners by supporting and sponsoring a number of projects to-date.  Faculty librarians adapted and tested the Association of American Colleges and University Information Literacy VALUE rubric in a year-long pilot study across disciplines to ensure students develop and maintain appropriate information literacy skills throughout their curricula.  Duplication of this model is underway with a goal of publishing institutional rubrics for commonly measured outcomes for use across disciplines and to provide a meaningful contribution to the development of the new General Education program. 

 

The University is an active participant in multiple methods of assessment in addition to programmatic student learning outcomes assessment.  We joined the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, a longitudinal study that uses multiple tests, scales and surveys to investigate critical factors that affect the outcomes of a liberal arts education. Data from two cohorts reflects experiences in the first year and fourth year and provided invaluable information linked to institutional data (such as GPA and retention indices) throughout the student's four-year experience.  The University participates triennially in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) to collect data on freshmen and senior students’ perception of their college experience.  Results of the analysis indicated fairly clear trends of improvement over the last decade, broadly reflecting the level of effort being made by the University to enhance student learning outcomes through a variety of initiatives.

Several programs also track post graduation success by looking at employment and licensure rates and the pursuit of graduate study after leaving the University.  The Center for Career and Experiential Education surveys recent graduates to ascertain their current activities and opinions about elements of their education.