Evaluating Student Outcomes

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While the members of the Peer Review of Teaching Project Team acknowledge the importance of student outcomes, it is beyond the scope of this website to address this topic in detail. Instructors interested in the impact of educational activities typically point to student learning as the major outcome of instruction. Traditionally, student outcomes have been assessed most often using scores on standardized tests. The large body of literature on the impact of various alternative instructional techniques on performance, although inconclusive, suggests that techniques that engage students in interaction with instructors, classroom peers, student mentors, or community members in service learning centers do enhance learning as measured by tests.

Many educators both inside and outside the academy are highly critical of the use of structured examinations to assess learning. Some peer review techniques allow the instructor to use alternative measures. Several techniques described under both developing/improving teaching and showing evidence of teaching are relevant. For example, a colleague can interview students about how and what they are learning Furthermore, colleagues can evaluate various types of student work (projects, papers, examinations) for evidence of what students have achieved in the course. The validity of such evaluations would be enhanced if the peer reviewer has access to work the students completed before as well as at the end of the course. The elements that contribute to learning outcomes are complex, however, and include not only aspects of the instructor, i.e., "the "teaching", but also many aspects of the learner, including the student's learning style, motivation, preparedness, background, comfort in the class, prior misconceptions, values, attitudes, and capabilities as well as the importance or relevance of the material to the student.

Finally, although student learning is important, it is not the only consideration and is by no means the only measure of teaching effectiveness related to outcomes. The purpose of teaching depends on one's perspective. Kirkpatrick has outlined a useful framework to examine learning outcomes: learner reaction, learner learning, learner behavior, and learner impact on society.

  • Learner reaction deals with the perception of the instructional activity. This might entail such items as: how well an instructor clarified points, the completeness of handouts, or how comfortable the chairs in the classroom are.
  • Learner learning has to do with whether a student was able to master a set of learning objectives. For example, a learner who was expected to write a computer program on how to convert inches into centimeters could be evaluated on how well her/his program was able to do this. Other examples might include memorizing dates of historical events, reciting the rules of tennis, or being able to identify the median nerve in a cadaver.
  • Learner behavior has to do with the application of skills, knowledge, or attitudes after the learning activity has been completed. For example, a civil engineer who took a course on bridge design might best be evaluated by examining the operation of a bridge that s/he designed.
  • Learner impact on society has to do with the impact of the learner's actions on our society. An example of this might be whether a person who learned to fly was able to safely carry people or goods from one destination to another.
  • An example of all four of these follows. For an instructor who teaches about influenza immunization, measurable outcomes might include medical student evaluations on how clearly the instructor discussed the indications for immunization (learner reaction), pre-test and post-test data on whether students learned the material from the lecture (learner learning), chart review to obtain data on how many of the student's eligible patients actually received influenza immunization last winter (learner behavior), and hospitalization rates to see how many of the student's patients who were immunized actually benefited from the vaccine (learner impact on society).

An emphasis on student outcomes means that, beyond an explication of what content the student should learn, there should be a public definition of what students should be able to do with their knowledge at multiple levels of education and a clear indication of how assessment can be used "diagnostically" to help students identify their needs and enhance their achievements. Alverno College offers an ability-based education in which expectations of how students should be able to use and apply their knowledge are made explicit. Likewise, assessment is based on explicit criteria and is a continuous process, termed assessment-as-learning, that is multidimensional and includes reflective self-assessment and diagnostic feedback. For more information about the Alverno curriculum, see the Alverno College website at:http://www.alverno.edu