Academic Program Design and Assessment to Support Semester Conversion:  A Guide for Faculty

Step 1:  Review and revise program descriptions and learning outcomes for semesters

What is a program description?

A program description includes a summary, its purpose and strengths, and fit with the institutional mission.  It may also explain program philosophy, design, target population, and any distinctive pedagogical methods.

What is a program learning outcome?

Program learning outcomes (PLOs) are statements that describe what learners will know and be able to do when they graduate from a program -  consistent themes that carry over from course to course. This includes the level of mastery and depth of disciplinary knowledge (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) that faculty expect of all program graduates.  The conversion to semesters provides a great opportunity to examine your program’s existing PLOs and (re)align them with campus ILOs.

Do any of the existing PLOs require modification?

PLOs do not necessarily need to change because of the conversion to semesters.  However, faculty may elect to modify, add, or remove PLOs to more clearly reflect what the program expects of today’s graduates and to further refine their curricula.  Each program should have approximately four to eight well-crafted PLOs.   

What are some tips for developing and strengthening PLOs?

Consider starting the conversation with faculty by asking the question:

 What does an ideal graduate of our program look like?

  • How will our graduate be able to think and behave?
  • What theories, concepts, systems, and techniques will s/he be able to apply?

Outcomes incorporate ACTION VERBS (such as identify, distinguish, diagram, etc.) to describe what students are expected to do to demonstrate they have achieved faculty expectations for learning.  They also include a DESCRIPTION explaining the knowledge, skill, attitude, value, or competency expected.  For example:

Students who graduate with a BS in Veterinary Science will be able to:

  • Identify (action verb) key components of animal anatomy, biology and physiology (description)
  • Write and speak clearly and persuasively on veterinary science issues
  • Critically and creatively analyze research data and formulate a testable hypothesis
  • Generate a personal ethical position regarding treatment of animals

What are some examples of PLOs?

Anthropology: Examine human diversity holistically and scientifically, discriminating among and analyzing conceptions and misconceptions of ethnicity, “race,” and human biological variation.

Biology:  Apply methods of scientific inquiry by formulating testable hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting conclusions.

Business: Integrate functional knowledge and critical thinking skills to address opportunities and solve business problems.

Counseling: Work collaboratively with students, parents, and professional colleagues to achieve equitable learning outcomes and equitable environments.

Criminal Justice: Analyze and discuss issues of crime and justice from different perspectives that reflect critical and independent thinking.

Health Sciences: Evaluate scientific and policy research to solve problems in the health care sciences.

Nursing: Demonstrate professional behaviors in interactions with individuals, families, colleagues, and the community.

Teacher Education: Identify, describe, and evaluate a variety of factors that influence integration of technology into K-12 curricula in California public schools.

How many levels of learning outcomes are there?

Our university has Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for all students. Each of our programs has Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs). Each of our courses has course level outcomes (sometimes called learning objectives or Student Learning Outcomes). So we are dealing with three levels of outcomes—what the university expects, what the program expects, and what the individual instructor expects.

When planning program revisions to deliver learning outcomes:

  • start with the broad outcomes expected of all students: ILOs;
  • then work from there to design academic program outcomes: PLOs;
  • finally, design course outcomes that will lead to the achievement of both program and institutional outcomes.

What is Bloom's Taxonomy and how is it useful?

Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning objectives (in the cognitive domain) is a common tool used by faculty for creating clear and meaningful learning outcomes.

Beginning in 1948, a group of educators undertook the task of classifying education goals and objectives for three domains:

  • Cognitive domain (intellectual capability, mental skills, i.e., Knowledge)
  • Affective domain (growth in feelings, emotions, or behavior, i.e., Attitude)
  • Psychomotor domain (manual or physical skills, i.e., Skills)

The intention was to create classification systems that could be useful for planning curriculum, instruction, and assessment. The most widely used of the three systems is the one in the cognitive domain, and it is the one most useful in our planning.

The taxonomy identified six levels within the cognitive domain, from the simple recall or recognition of facts, as the lowest level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order which is classified as evaluation.

Over the last half century, Bloom’s Taxonomy has been widely used and also seriously criticized. Among the dozens of alternatives proposed to the original framework, the revision published by Lorin Anderson and his collaborators in 2001, A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing:  Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, has gained the widest acceptance.  Anderson was a student of Bloom’s, and one of his principal collaborators, David Krathwohl, also collaborated on the original taxonomy.  They describe their work as an extension of the original framework rather than a replacement.

In the revised taxonomy, evaluation is no longer the highest level of the pyramid. A new category, creating, claims the peak. This category was originally known as synthesis. Another significant change is that category names are no longer nouns, but verbs. For example, what had been known as knowledge is now understanding.  As a consequence, objectives developed using the revised taxonomy now describe students’ thinking processes rather than behaviors. Their revised taxonomy appears below. It can be a guide for us in thinking about the curriculum sequences we design for students, the kinds of learning activities we engage them in, and the ways we assess what they have achieved.

  • Creating: Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.
  • Evaluating: Present and defend positions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria.
  • Analyzing: Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes. Make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations.
  • Applying: Solve problems to new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques, and rules in a different way.
  • Understanding: Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions, and stating main ideas.
  • Remembering: Exhibit memory of previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts, and answers.

Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. Adapted from L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (2001) A Taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing. Abridged Edition. Boston, MA. Allyn and Bacon.

Review Iowa State University’s Interactive cognitive taxonomy here.Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. Adapted from L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (2001) A Taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing. Abridged Edition. Boston, MA. Allyn and Bacon.

Are there examples of action verbs for use in instructional planning using Bloom's Taxonomy?

Undergraduates at the junior and senior level can be expected to achieve higher order thinking: analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Graduate students are expected to achieve the highest levels of thinking.

Definitions

Remembering

Understanding

Applying

Analyzing

Evaluating

Creating

Bloom’s Definition

Exhibit memory of previously learned material by recalling facts, terms, basic concepts, and answers

Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions, and stating main ideas.

Solve problems to new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques, and rules in a different way.

Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes. Make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations.

Present and defend opinions by making judgements about information, validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria.

Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.

Verbs

Choose
Define
Find
How
Label
List
Match
Name
Omit
Recall
Relate
Select
Show
Spell
Tell:
What
When
Where
Which
Who
Why

Classify
Compare
Contrast
Demonstrate
Explain
Extend
Illustrate
Infer
Interpret
Outline
Relate
Rephrase
Show
Summarize
Translate

Apply
Build
Choose
Construct
Develop
Experiment
Identify
Interview
Make use of
Model
Organize
Plan
Select
Solve
Utilize

Analyze
Assume
Categorize
Classify
Compare
Conclude
Contrast
Discover
Dissect
Distinguish
Divide
Examine
Function
Infer
Inspect
Simplify
Survey
Take part in
Test for

 

Agree
Appraise
Assess
Choose
Compare
Conclude
Criteria
Decide
Deduct
Defend
Determine
Disprove
Estimate
Evaluate
Explain
Influence
Interpret
Judge
Justify
Mark
Measure
Opinion
Prioritize
Prove
Rate
Recommend
Rule on
Select
Support
Value

Adapt
Build
Change
Choose
Combine
Compile
Compose
Construct
Create
Delete
Design
Develop
Discuss
Elaborate
Estimate
Formulate
Imagine
Improve
Invent
Make up
Maximize
Minimize
Modify
Originate
Plan
Predict
Propose
Solve
Suppose
Test

Adapted from Anderson,  L.W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001).  A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing, Abridged Edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

 

What does the nature of knowledge have to do with learning outcomes?

There are many ways to look at the kinds of content knowledge we want students to learn in our individual disciplines. One simple and useful way is to consider the knowledge either factual, conceptual, procedural, or metacognitive (meaning principally that students can think about their own thinking processes). These domains of knowledge can be considered as a continuum. We want to assure that students who graduate from our institution can handle sophisticated content. www.celt.iastate.edu/pdfs-docs/teaching/RevisedBloomsHandout.pdf

How do the levels of thinking and the domains of content knowledge work together as we prepare learning outcomes?

We generally use a verb to describe the kind of thinking involved and then the object of that verb is the kind of knowledge required, when we write student outcomes. This online version is interactive and shows examples of each intersection.

How does assessment fit in to the curriculum design process?

After outcomes have been established, and before the instruction is planned, is a good time to consider how faculty will know that students have achieved the stated outcomes. If we know what we expect students to be able to create, perform or produce at the end, it is much easier to plan the instructional activities and experiences most likely to make them successful. In this approach, the curriculum is purposefully organized so that students are likely to achieve the outcomes.

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