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Reviewing/Reflecting on Program Learning Outcomes

Part of assessment is reflecting and reviewing Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for the various degree programs across the university. This part of the process gives departments the opportunity to ensure that degree programs are keeping up with industry standards and trends. Below, we review what PLOs are and give guidance on how to review them.

Program Learning Outcomes

In the first phase of the Curriculum Alignment Process (CAP), faculty across departments worked with faculty to construct Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which are measurable expectations of student learning, curriculum, and teaching that can be assessed to inform faculty, departments, institutions, and students about what to expect from a program. Over the course of two years, departments - through CAP - developed PLOs for each one of their undergraduate programs.

For departments and faculty, the heavy lift of constructing PLOs is already complete and/or underway. However, PLOs, like other parts of curriculum development, benefit from routine maintenance and consideration as fields of study shift and demands from industry change. Departments, along with faculty and college deans, can create a plan to review program learning outcomes regularly.

How to Review Program Learning Outcomes

Departments should set a goal to periodically review PLOs. This timeline will look different for different disciplines, departments, and degree programs, especially depending on the nature of the field of study. For example, industries with ever-advancing technology as core to the field of study might have to review PLOs more frequently than a field of student where technology is not as pivotal.

It is important that the outcomes are developed to measure student learning over the entire degree program rather than individual courses.  Additionally, the outcomes should be student-centric (students should be able to explain concept xyz)  rather than faculty-centric (the objective of the program is to teach concept xyz).

This review can be embedded in other established routines, such as 5-year reviews or other assessments that are part of the degree program assessment. It is up to departments and their faculty to determine what system they believe will work best for their programs.

While formulating learning outcomes, the team should ensure that the outcomes specify:

  1. Learning that is observable
  2. Learning that is measurable
  3. Learning that is achieved by students

Like many of the assessment tasks in this handbook, review of PLOs benefit from the input of many stakeholders across the department, campus, and industry. Although many programs have very well-written and established PLOs, regular review establishes new opportunities to expand PLOs to incorporate any changes.

This review provides an opportunity to review programs and their learning outcomes as needed. Some of the participants in this review can included, but is not limited to:

  • External (industry) advisory board(s)
  • Students and/or recent graduates and alumni
  • Faculty within and outside of your department (especially when degrees are cross-disciplined)
  • Other industry resources, such as Burning Glass

This review can incorporate many tools that can gather feedback from other interested groups. Surveys, focus groups, meetings, and other methods of feedback can prove to be useful for departments. Departments should establish some sort of plan/system to gather this type of information. This feedback process can take many forms depending on the needs of the department and/or programs.