College of Arts & Sciences

Dean's Office, CA&S

Learning Objective Assessment

Last update, March 24, 2015

Learning objective assessment (LOA) provides a means to examine how successfully students are meeting the learning objectives laid out by the faculty for a specific degree program. The intent of the LOA is to provide specific feedback to faculty, the CA&S Planning and Assessment Committee, the Dean and Associate Deans, the Provost, and external bodies such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and other accrediting bodies.  The goal is to provide a mechanism for continuous improvement by identifying those areas of courses and programs that are meeting their goals and objectives effectively, as well as those areas needing attention.

Within CA&S, assessment of learning objectives happens within the context of the department or program through which the relevant courses are offered. Each degree program/minor/certificate program is expected to have a series of learning goals and objectives which are described in the course catalog. Course-level learning objectives will relate back to these program-level learning goals and objectives.  Some of the learning objectives for a specific course or series of courses will likely be drawn from the program's list, others will probably be specific to the course(s) in question.

Each semester, all degree-granting programs will be asked to formally assess at least one of their stated program learning objectives. The exact time-line for the completion of the assessment for all learning objectives in a program has not yet been set, but it will likely be a 3 - 5 year time frame. This means that departments and programs will need to assess several objectives each year.

Given the great diversity of academic disciplines within CA&S, the procedure being followed is intended to be highly flexible and to allow for innovative approaches to be developed and used. The LOA assessment plan document that is to be completed for each program is available here. The following represents the minimum that a formal LOA must involve (see guidance below for Interdisciplinary Programs in terms of conducting LOAs):

The CA&S Assessment Program requires the following:
  • At least one learning objective must be assessed each semester. This objective could be assessed within one course, multiple sections of the same course, or over several courses all of which address that particular objective in some way. The alignment analysis (curriculum map) between program-level learning objectives and courses in the program will serve as an essential guide in identifying the relevant courses.  Assessments involving multiple courses addressing the objective at different levels are encouraged since they often provide very useful information for the faculty, although they can be challenging to develop and implement.
  • Multiple means must be used in the LOA. In other words, at least two different measures must be used to determine how well students are meeting the objective. Two or more means are to be used in each course/section in which the assessment is being conducted. 
  • At least one assessment used must be direct. A direct assessment is one in which the students demonstrate specific knowledge, skills, abilities, etc. This could include course-embedded assessments such as: papers, journals, responses to exam questions, projects and other assignments that are part of the course. It can also include things outside of the formal classroom setting such as: juror critiques of a show or performance, proficiency exams such as in foreign languages, portfolios of work from multiple courses, internships, etc. 
  • Indirect assessments can also be used. These can be useful in that they have students reflect on their learning and their perceptions of their learning. Such assessments can include: student surveys, exit interviews, questions added to SUMMA, etc. This form of assessment is often helpful at getting at reasons why a course may or may be successful at helping students met a specific learning objective.
  • The individuals involved in administering the assessments (both direct and indirect) should use a common evaluation system. Often this entails a rubric or other set of guidelines that provides specific detail as to how the student's work, responses, etc should be evaluated.  Having a common evaluation system makes it much easier to incorporate the results of the assessment from different sections, to make comparisons across courses, etc. When an assessment is conducted across courses at multiple levels (i.e. introductory and upper-level courses) the expectations of student outcomes should be adjusted to reflect the level of the student and their progress through the degree program. 
  • The most important parts of conducting an LOA is the conversation that it engenders among faculty.  It is very important that all faculty within a department be involved in the process from start to finish. The decisions as to which learning objective will be assessed, what course(s) will be involved, how the assessment will proceed, etc. should be the result of a process in which all of the department's faculty participate. Similarly, it is essential that the results of the assessment be shared with and discussed among all of the faculty in the department. In this way, everyone learns from the assessment, and those faculty teaching courses that build on the objective being assessed gain a better understanding of student preparation in that area.

        The faculty member(s) responsible for that semester's LOA are to submit the final report on the assessment using this form which is to be submitted electronically to the Associate Dean responsible for their division. The Associate Dean will then share the results with the Dean, the CA&S Planning and Assessment Committee and the SJU Office of Planning. Feedback to departments about the assessment may come from any of these offices or committees.

LOAs in Interdisciplinary Programs

A variety of majors, minors and other programs are broadly interdisciplinary in that they draw some (or many) of their required courses from other programs and departments.  This can make it difficult to assess how well students in these majors and minors are meeting the program learning objectives. The best way that I have found to proceed in these cases is for the directors of interdisciplinary programs to work collaboratively with the chairs and directors of the programs that offer the courses in the interdisciplinary major. I recommend proceeding in the following way:

  1. Review the list of learning goals and objectives for the programs that offer courses used in your major, minor or degree program.  Specifically, look to find places where one or more of the learning objectives for that program match (or approximate) one or more of the learning objectives for your major, minor or degree program. The approved learning goals and objectives for all CAS bachelors and masters programs have been posted on the SJU Assessment of Student Learning web site in "Learn". All SJU faculty have been enrolled in this organization as "students" so everyone has access to see all of the materials.  HSB will be posting their LGOs soon.

  2. Contact the chair or director of the program or programs where you have found overlap with your learning objectives and discuss the possibility of their conducting an assessment in one or more of the courses required by your program that will inform you (and your advisory board) about how well students in that course are meeting the learning objective. The assessment should NOT be limited to only students in your major, minor or degree program in that course, it should be for all students in the course, but it would be ideal if the faculty conducting the assessment could separate out the results for your majors/minors. 

  3. Ask to be part of the conversation among the faculty in that department/program about the assessment findings and what actions they will take so that you can have input into these decisions and so that you are also informed about what the host department/program is planning to do.

  4. Communicate these findings with your advisory board members and discuss what, if any, action you should take in terms of your program's structure based on these findings.

  5. Submit the information about your majors/minors performance in the assessment in that course, and any proposed action on your part in response to these findings,  to your relevant associate dean using the five-column form (see assessment plan documents).

  6. As you develop the curriculum map for your interdisciplinary program, note the various courses where your program learning goals are addressed in different programs and departments. Use this to guide planning each spring as you consult with the various chairs and directors about engaging in a collaborative assessment of your students.

  7. If your major/minor/degree program has a capstone course or other experience that is required for all of your students, you may also want to conduct some summative assessments there to look at the formation of students as they complete your degree program.