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FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

SLOs Out of Nowhere - When Did All This Become a Requirement?

We aren't entirely sure when the SLO movement actually began, but in the late 1990s, and then into the early 2000s, our accrediting body (NWCCU) began requiring SLOs as a part of the University's assessment process. Certainly, the movement has something to do with the general groundswell of "accountability" in education.

Outcomes, Objectives - What's the Difference?

Not much, candidly, but generally speaking the use of the term objective is reserved for course descriptions, while outcomes are used for what the student can actually expect to walk away with at the conclusion of the course, in terms of skills, values, and competencies obtained. At University of Nevada, Reno, SLOs stands for Student Learning Outcomes and it is this term that is used throughout our system.

How many SLOs should I have?

The minimum we like to see is three (3) SLOs, and the maximum that we will present for comparison by the students thinking of taking your course is eight (8). You may have more than this - indeed, there is no limit except a practical limit. Remember that SLOs are an integral part of your department's assessment protocol. The more things you have to measure, the more time it will take. More is not necessarily better.

May I have unique SLOs to my course?

Yes, but be careful. The intent of SLOs is to set forth what a typical student taking the course in any given semester may expect to come away with in terms of skills, values or competencies. In a manner of speaking, all SLOs for the course are unique to the course; however, if you are asking whether an SLO can be unique to how you in particular teach the course, then it is left to your discretion as an educator, deriving from the freedom, academically speaking, to design a course as you best see fit. SLOs should be constructed to out-last you, however, so please bear this in mind.

Where should SLOs appear in my syllabi?

Immediately after Course Objectives and generally speaking, right on the first page of your course syllabi.

My Course was Approved with One Set of SLOs. Now I Want to Use Something Different, is that OK?

Not really, insofar as SLOs are an integral part of what the UCCC approved for your course. Moreover, the SLOs written for any given course will appear in the course catalog and on My Nevada and as such will be top-of-mind as students arrive for day one of the course. If the SLOs are different from what they expected, then confusion might ensue. This is not to say that slight deviations are possible or permissible, or even necessary (especially if errors are detected in the SLO as approved and the SLO as is needed to teach the course). Use your discretion.

What does a "bad" SLO look like?

First of all, any SLO at all is better than none, so we would not go so far as to label any attempt at an SLO as "bad." That said, there are ways of building SLOs which conform to the "best practices" of many universities across the United States and Canada. Here is an example of an SLO that needed some work:

"Students will become familiar with a disciplined approach to the physical and mental performance of advanced/professional classical movement."

This SLO is really a course objective; that, over the course of the 45 student contact hours of the semester, students will "become familiar with" various aspects of the course's subject matter. Familiarity in this case is not the specific skill intended by the SLO.

So, How Would You "Repair" that SLO?

We want students to walk away with a specific skill (in this case, skill is the right word) which derives from the "familiarity" set forth in the course objective. Does that make sense? Thus, the above SLO could be re-written:

"Students will demonstrate, by means of a dance recital (or multiple recitals), subject to the rubric for this particular skill, their ability to approach any assigned piece with the advanced physical movements, derived of the mental discipline required, consistent with the classical approach."

What makes the "repaired" SLO better?

Note the use of an action verb, demonstrate. Also note that the specific demonstration is set forth ("ability"). And also note that the means by which their acquired skill will be assessed is also set forth (the "rubric"). A student contemplating taking this course will know, well in advance, that one thing they will walk away with is the skill needed to demonstrate their learning.

Action Verbs?

See this outstanding tabular presentation of action verbs as they relate to the various aspects of Bloom's Taxonomy.  Note how your choice of verb should relate to the specific Bloom aspect to learning (e.g. knowledge, understanding, application, analytics, evaluation and creation).

The overall point is that a student contemplating taking your course will know, before hand, that they will be expect to do something to demonstrate or otherwise present back to the instructor what they have actually learned. Remember that many students will simply nod when you ask, "well, did you learn anything?" With SLOs, the intent is turn that "nod" into an action that we can measure.

The University of West Florida has an excellent site dedicated to Bloom.

How about another example of bad and good SLOs?

Remember, any attempt at an SLO is a good attempt. That said, we can always do better. Here is one that we re-wrote for a business strategy course:

"Students will understand the important facts, terminology, concepts, principles, and theories in the area of Strategy."

Way too broad and probably a better course objective than anything else. We re-wrote it ever so slightly and came up with these two discrete SLOs:

"Students will discuss, either in writing or when called upon, the results of research that links strategic variable to firm performance." ... and ...

"Students will describe, either in writing or verbally when called upon, or both, the various models and methods used to conducts external and internal strategic analysis."

Students are now very well informed as to what they will be expected to actually do as the course unfolds.

Don't SLOs somehow conflict with my academic freedom as an Educator?

Nothing about SLOs should be seen as interfering or violating our academic freedoms as educators. Assessing outcomes is simply about faculty determining whether students are learning those things that faculty deem most important, and then using the information about the extent to which learning has occurred to make changes in curricula as needed.

Why are the outcomes shared with students?

For students to take this process seriously and for the process to be as meaningful as possible, students must be aware of the expected learning outcomes for the course and how their performance will be assessed. In this manner, there are also no surprises and no one student can say, "but I never knew that that would be required of me!" (whatever that is).

You mention "values" in addition to skills. What do you mean?

The University of Virginia has an excellent site dedicated to SLOs which does a far better job of explaining skills versus knowledge, versus values (or as they call them, "attitudes").

My course is an internship. Do I still need SLOs?

The short answer is that every course in the University course catalog is required to carry SLOs. However, internships are a special animal and you are encouraged to contact the Office of the Vice Provost for help in writing your internship or field experiences SLOs.

Why aren't grades sufficient as an assessment of the learning that has occurred?

Good question, and really a recurring question for all time. In short, grades alone may not tell us about someone's grasp of the subject matter. The grade itself does not tell us about the content of a student's learning. Grades may not reflect all the learning experiences that you as the instructor have designed. And remember that grading, unlike SLOs, are a function of instructor's appraisal and can therefore become idiosyncratic. SLOs are intended to help smooth that tendency. Cornell has an excellent overview of SLOs that includes this discussion of grades.

Other Tools to Help You Construct Solid SLOs

The University of Rhode Island has an excellent site dedicated to SLOs

Contacts

Technical assistance is available throughout the proposal development/review process (e-mail ucc@unr.edu); however, faculty are encouraged to access the services early. Technical assistance for SLO development is currently available from Brady Janes, bradyj@unr.edu, 775-682-8304.

Resources

Clemson University (2012, January 19). Bloom's Taxonomy Action Verbs.

University of Connecticut. Assessment Primer: Goals, Objectives and Outcomes.

University of West Florida (2012, May 16). CCR Submission Workshop Handout.

Palomar College Learning Outcomes Council (2009, August). Defining and Writing Course Student Learning Outcomes.

Palomar College (2010). Course SLOs by Discipline.

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