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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between program assessment and program review?

Program review is a comprehensive review of the undergraduate and graduate programs in a department.  It is undertaken every eight years and involves a final year-long process of self-study and reporting by an external team of reviewers.  Rather than learning outcomes, program review will utilize student data from such issues as total number of students enrolled, median time to degree, and graduation rate, as well as faculty and departmental data.  When a program is up for review, the Provost's Office and the Office of Institutional Analysis will provide a wealth of such data to be taken into consideration for the program's self-study. For more information on program review, please see the manual published online by the Provost's Office.

Program assessment is an ongoing review of the curriculum and student learning in an individual degree program. An assessment plan outlying student learning outcomes and assessment strategies will be valid for the eight-year program review cycle, and a report concentrating on a program's measurement of student learning outcomes and possible curricular modifications is required annually.

Why aren't grades sufficient for assessment?

While a letter grade may serve as a summary of a student's performance in a class, it does not tell us how, or if, a student has met the learning outcomes of that class or the degree program.  Moreover, grading standards within departments and programs may be inconsistent and not readily available to outside reviewers.  Assessment reporting, based on the measurement of learning outcomes, instead provides information about where students need improvement in the curriculum.

What is the difference between student learning outcomes and course objectives or goals?

Course objectives or goals typically outline the material that the instructor intends to cover or the disciplinary questions that the class will address. By contrast, learning outcomes should focus on the knowledge that the student should demonstrate and what the student should realistically be able to do by the end of an assignment, activity, class, course, or degree program.  The University of Toronto offers a helpful explanation.

A good rule of thumb is to think of course objectives as more instructor-focused (that is, they address what the instructor will teach) and SLOs as more student-focused (in that they advertise the resulting skills, competencies, and knowledge that students can expect to have upon completing a course or program - hence many SLOs begin with the phrase, "Students will be able to.....").

Are there unique strategies for assessing a graduate program?

Given that graduate programs, particularly doctoral ones, can be highly individualized, it is helpful to think of the benchmarks in a student's progress to degree (e.g., comprehensive examinations, theses, dissertations, and scholarly or creative projects) as ideal opportunities for assessment.  However, the mere completion of one of these benchmarks, the number of students continuing from a master's to a doctoral program, or job placement numbers are not enough to assess accurately student performance.  Such statistical studies provide valuable indirect assessment data, but any graduate program will expect its students to conduct research, showcase advanced skills or techniques, and write or perform (and generally communicate) in a professionally acceptable manner.  In these expectations lay potential demonstrations of the knowledge and skills that can be quantitatively assessed, no matter how individualized the program of study.

Examples of master's and doctoral program learning outcomes from UNR departments can be found here, and workshops for graduate assessment will be regularly scheduled for the campus community. Particularly in graduate programs with low student enrollment, it may be advisable to combine assessment planning and reporting for various degrees; in such cases, the Assistant Vice Provost, Assessment & Accreditation is available for consultation.

Are good assessment models for my field available?

Many professional organizations and university assessment offices offer good models for various types of programs.  UNR's Assistant Vice Provost, Assessment & Accreditation actively collects from other institutions and organizations assessment models for program coordinators who request assistance, and he is happy to help programs find applicable models from their peers on campus.  He is also available for consultation with individual program coordinators and faculty members.

What role does the Assistant Vice Provost, Assessment and Accreditation play in program assessment?

UNR's Assistant Vice Provost, Assessment & Accreditation is responsible for collecting and storing online program and institutional assessment reports.  As UNR's campus-wide assessment liaison, he is also responsible for consultation in the design and implementation of assessment plans, the sharing of best practices in assessment across the colleges and divisions, coordinating the assessment of the Core Curriculum, collecting data relevant to the fulfillment of UNR's Mission Statement and Core Themes, coordinating institutional assessment methods, and researching assessment practices at other American universities.

He is available for consultation throughout the year and may be reached at crstone@unr.edu or (775)-784-1740.

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