Program vs. Course-Level Outcomes

Program level and course level outcomes assessment differ in both time span and specificity. In program level SLOs, the student is expected to learn across courses, and the knowledge translates up to the program level, while for course level outcomes the learning is focused primarily on one class. Additionally, program outcomes are not as granular or detailed as course level outcomes, thus should include more broad learning outcomes. 

Academic program level SLOs should identify central, key aspects of the program. They should emphasize the transfer of knowledge and skills across courses and shift from a course-centered approach to a program-centered approach to education. In doing so, program level SLOs should lead to a more cohesive curriculum and promote effective and engaged learning. 

Examples of program-level outcomes:

  • Students will be able to discuss key points from the major theories in the field of psychology.
  • Students will be able to design, carry out, record, and analyze the results of experiments upon completion of a B.S. in Chemistry, 

At the course level, learning outcomes are more specific to what students should be able to know, think, or do when they finish a particular course.  Outcomes at the course level can inform the instructor’s choice of content, methodology, and assessment.  Unlike program outcomes which may be assessed at different points in time over several years, course outcomes should be assessed each time the course is taught.

Examples of course-level outcomes: 

  • Students will construct a model building by applying the skills and information obtained in the course.
  • Students will compare and contrast the distinctive characteristics of two English Romanticists. 

Curricular maps provide a means to visualize the interaction between various learning outcomes. They provide collective visual evidence of educational practices, and allow faculty to assess whether learning outcomes are articulated across their academic program. Additionally, curricular maps allow faculty to identify potential gaps in their learning outcomes or if certain outcomes need to be reassessed due to changes in their discipline. Curriculum maps serve four main purposes:

  1. They encourage dialogue and reflection about collective learning priorities.
  2. They clarify whether collective expectations align with educational practices that stimulate those priorities.
  3. They visually illustrate student learning contexts that may assist faculty later in the assessment cycle to interpret those results.
  4. They allow students to focus on their learning expectations and hold them accountable for learning, while encouraging them to develop their own learning maps throughout their undergraduate or graduate studies. 

Certificates are academic credentials awarded by UGA to students and recorded on their official transcripts.  As such, they are UGA academic programs under the definitions and requirements of Academic Affairs Policy 2.04-4, Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes, under which all degree and certificate programs are required to define student learning outcomes (SLOs), identify methods to assess student achievement of the SLOs, and, annually, report on the data collected and analyzed for at least one SLO.

That said, certificate programs at UGA have historically operated differently than degree programs and offer a number of unique challenges to effective SLO assessment practice. Following are suggestions and guidance for addressing these challenges.

Implement an enrollment process

Athena allows students to enroll in certificate programs. Programs should put processes in place to require or encourage students to enroll early so that they can be tracked, advised, and, potentially, assessed over time as they complete certificate requirements.

Use exit interviews/surveys

Minimally, programs should require students to complete an exit interview or survey in order to receive the certificate. The interview/survey should address the SLOs defined for the program. This can be done either indirectly (having the students report on their perceptions about whether they have attained the outcomes) or directly (structuring the interview/survey with questions that “test” the students’ attainment). Both approaches should be systematically implemented and documented, but neither approach needs to be complicated or arduous.

Require one or more courses

If the certificate is currently just a collection of course options from one or more departments, consider revising the curriculum to include at least one course that all students are required to take. This is both pedagogically sound (it establishes a measure of academic coherence and consistency for awarding the certificate) and provides an opportunity for embedding direct assessment of the SLOs.

Meeting SLO reporting requirements

AAP 2.04-4 requires reporting annually on assessment results, analysis, and use for at least one outcome. Certificate (or other) programs that assess only at the completion of the program but do not have students complete the program every year should report in Xitracs that they had no students complete the program in the given assessment cycle and therefore no data was collected.

A number of master’s degree options at UGA are secondary to a doctoral program that is the exclusive focus of recruitment, admission, and completion. This may be the case in programs where students pursuing a doctoral degree receive an “enroute” master’s or in programs that allow doctoral students who leave the program prior to completion to receive a master’s if an appropriate program of study has been completed.

Secondary master’s programs are not required to have a separate assessment plan as long as any student who completes the master’s is included in assessment measures under the doctoral program assessment plan. This requires the doctoral program assessment plan to include measures that assess student learning during the first 30 hours of the program. 

In Xitracs, please make note of this in the secondary master’s program description field, directing reviewers to the appropriate PhD program.

Programs with no graduates in a given year that rely on exiting work products or exit surveys as assessment measures should indicate in the Xitracs report that no students graduated in the cycle, and, therefore, no students were assessed.

If any students complete the program, assessment measures should be in place and implemented to determine the extent to which the students have achieved the intended learning outcomes of the program.

New programs should define learning outcomes and assessment measures in accord with the USG Academic Program Proposal Form. 

In the first assessment cycle of implementation, new programs should define and enter in Xitracs the defined outcomes, appropriate measures, and a schedule for implementing the assessment measures.

In subsequent years, the program should implement assessment measures according to the schedule and enter data, analysis, and improvements as available. Where appropriate, the program should indicate in the Xitracs report that no data has yet been collected because no students yet have reached the point in the program for assessment.