Asking Questions / Meaningful Inquiry

The program learning outcomes need to be explicitly defined for each degree program.  They include the knowledge, skills, and abilities expected of the graduates of the program.  The team tasked with assessment can frame questions to assess the knowledge gained by students in the program.  The process of question formulation and the use of data collected by answering those questions is the most important part of developing the assessment plan.  The questions to be asked at this point should focus on student learning rather than program evaluation.

Importance of Meaningful Inquiry

Meaningful inquiry is meant to exploit evidence-based solutions to facilitate student learning outcomes.  It should make the team ask questions that will help with the end goal of a better learning experience for students.

The assessment team may lead the charge with a formal description of the core objectives of the degree program. The core objectives include the baseline minimum knowledge required of every graduate of the program. It is important to occasionally revisit the core objectives, possibly based on the reports from accreditation agencies in the field or by a review of the peer programs in other universities.  The opinion of recently hired faculty members will be helpful as they bring a fresh perspective and may be more attuned to the recent developments in the discipline.

Crafting Meaningful Questions

The next step is to focus on some critical junctures in the overall trajectory of students’ learning.  These junctures can be divided into different phases of the program such as formative (freshman/sophomore), summative (junior/senior), and post-graduation (employability).  This information leads to the sequence of specific courses where the students gain the requisite knowledge. Additionally, depending on the discipline, some extracurricular activities, such as internships, may also enhance the student learning and may be appropriately accounted for.

Using Learning Outcomes as Assessment Questions

The learning outcomes are formulated to align with assessment methods and measures.  Each outcome may be supplemented by the assessment measure/tool. The tools are suggested in a separate document.

Using the learning outcomes, the example assessment questions can be:

  • Which students did better on PLO 2, and why?
  • What effect did the recent change in program requirements have on student achievement for PLO 4?
  • Which knowledge and skills are not successfully transferring from the intro survey course to the next course for a majority of students? 
  • Did students taking the prerequisite course at UMSL do better on PLO 5 than those who transferred the credit in?
  • What impact has Supplemental Instruction (SI), tutoring, or the Active Learning Assistant (ALA) program had on underrepresented student success in the introductory sequence of courses?

The questions can be answered by different means like direct observation, student interviews, and data from institutional research.