Department Learning Goals

Assessment is rooted in the disciplines!

Assessment should be consciously rooted in the disciplines. This begins with discipline-specific distinctions in philosophical approaches, intended outcomes for students, and content. No one knows your field like you! The design of an assessment process should be driven by what is most important to the faculty in that department. It should be a collaborative endeavor.

Generally, departments should aim for 4-8 learning goals.

These are the big picture goals — the end result. One way to think about deciding on department or program level goals is to consider, how will a student be different upon their graduation?

Picture this: Your student is walking across the stage to accept their earned degree and they are handed a gift box: what would be in the box?

The values, knowledge, and skills that collectively declare that this student is now part of your discipline!

Two Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. Your goal is not to capture everything a student will learn in your program, but to get at what it means to think like a neuroscientist or sociologist or musician. Focus on the skills, broad areas of knowledge, methods, and traits students should acquire through course instruction in the major/discipline e,g,” Upon completion of the major, students will be able to say, think, or do...” If you find yourselves getting overly specific, you might be moving down to the level of course goals. Compare these goals:
  • Students will become proficient in research methods in Sociology.
  • Students will learn STATA, R, and how to translate between programs.

Will every student take a course on the latter? Or is there a broader methods requirement, which might be fulfilled any number of ways, including a course on qualitative methods? Focus on department goals that any student completing the major would achieve-- not just students who took specific, non-required courses. (This allows you to go back and review the requirements of the major against your learning goals-- are all students actually required to take courses that build to this set of goals? If a course does not contribute to any of the goals, why is it required?)

  1. Put yourself in the beginner’s position. Typically faculty know their field implicitly-- the trick is to capture that and put it into words for your students. Getting into the novice mindset can be helpful because we develop our discipline-specific knowledge and ways of communicating over time and, without focused reflection, we may not realize when and how this happens. Articulate and describe your department or program goals in straight-forward, jargon free statements. Remember this is for non-experts and anyone should be able to read and know what the expectation is — especially your students!

Department level learning goal statements:1

Philosophy: Students will demonstrate the ability to analyze arguments using the tools of formal logic.

Biology: Students will demonstrate the ability to conduct experiments safely, using the appropriate techniques and equipment.

Studio Art: Students will demonstrate the necessary technical skills for making art in a range of media.

Politics: Students will demonstrate the ability to write clearly about political issues including the ability to access and assess the wide range of information sources available and make appropriate choices to support their writing.

Statistics: Students will demonstrate the ability to interpret results correctly and make inferences using language consistent with the discipline.

History: Students will demonstrate the ability to compose a historical argument in writing, according to the conventions of the discipline.

Psychology: Students will demonstrate the ability to use methods of inquiry characteristic of the field to investigate a specific research question.

Music: Students will demonstrate the ability to hear, identify, and work with musical elements: rhythm, pitch, harmony, structure, timbre, and texture.

1 Examples compiled from MHC and Assessment expert Jo Beld’s, “Actionable Assessment of Academic Programs” MHC Faculty Retreat 2014