This institution-wide assessment plan provides a framework for student learning assessment at UW–Madison. To ensure the quality of our students’ experience, we engage in ongoing, systematic, and integrated efforts to better understand and improve learning. This is what we mean by student learning assessment. Others may refer to this concept as evidenced-based learning. In any case, student learning assessment is the ongoing process of 1) defining clear, measurable learning goals, 2) ensuring that students engage in sufficient learning experiences to achieve these goals, 3) gathering evidence to determine how well student learning matches our expectations, and 4) using the results to validate or improve learning.
UW–Madison adopts the philosophy that assessment of learning should be an integrated, ongoing component of academic life and the student experience. Student learning takes place both within and outside of the classroom, and UW–Madison promotes assessment of student learning across students’ educational experiences. To this effect, UW–Madison considers the following guiding principles of assessment:
At UW–Madison, the Wisconsin Experience serves as an overarching framework across all academic and co-curricular programs for what is expected during a student’s tenure Through the Wisconsin Experience and guided by a set of learning goals referred to as the Essential Learning Outcomes(ELOs),1 UW–Madison seeks to develop in students the ability to engage in the world, to be creative problem solvers, to integrate empirical analysis and passion, to seek out and create new knowledge and technologies, and to adapt to new situations. The nature of these opportunities and how they are offered—through the integration of student-centered in-class and out-of-class learning experiences which are characterized by active and engaged learning—exemplifies the Wisconsin Experience and what is expected of UW–Madison graduates. (See Table 1. UW–Madison Essential Learning Outcomes.)
Faculty, academic departments, and schools/colleges are responsible for developing and implementing the curricula. As such, schools/colleges have appointed committees (such as academic planning and curricular committees) who regularly meet to review the curriculum and consider the results of assessment activities when developing suggestions for program improvement. Establishing departmental and co-curricular assessment plans helps to streamline this process and ensures an evidence-based approach to program quality.
The Office of the Provost, the University Council on Academic Affairs and Assessment (UCAAA)2, and the deans’ offices of the schools and colleges are jointly responsible for student learning assessment. Together these units collaborate to provide oversight and support for assessment activities.
The Office of the Provost maintains a Student Learning Assessment website intended for those at UW–Madison who lead or engage in assessment activities. The site serves as a resource for individuals to access information on activities around and best practices within the assessment of student learning. The Office of the Provost also provides professional development workshops and consultation to schools and colleges and other units to ensure student learning assessment is supported and an integral component of academic and co-curricular planning.
Conducting ongoing and systematic evaluation of student learning is an integral component of high-quality academic and co-curricular programs. At UW–Madison, student learning assessment considers what students are expected to learn, where in the curriculum these learning experiences are provided, how it is known that students are learning, and how and when evidence of learning is utilized to validate or make improvements to programs.
As such, every academic program is expected to have active assessment plans in place, conduct at least one assessment activity each year and report annually to the Office of the Provost, including plans for improvement.
Specifically, assessment plans should specify at least 3-5 learning goals, identify assessment strategies to determine how students are meeting these learning expectations. Assessment reports include a review and summary of the findings. A Basic Assessment Plan for academic programs is intended as a guide for program faculty and staff who are developing their assessment plans.
Program faculty and staff are required to utilize at least some direct measures of student learning (embedded questioning, capstone assignments evaluated with rubrics, standardized testing, portfolio reviews, etc.). They may also make use of indirect methods (surveying graduating students, alumni, and employers, etc.) of assessment to document whether or not students meet the stated learning goals. Indirect methods are often seen as easier to use but they must be complemented by direct methods.
The assessment of student learning goals at the program level also informs institution-level assessment activities. The Office of the Provost, the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, and the Office of Academic Planning and Institutional Research coordinate institution-level activities, including administration of the National Survey of Student Engagement and the Post-Graduation Plan Survey, and other institution-level assessment efforts in accordance with UW System and Board of Regent policies and accreditation standards set forth by the Higher Learning Commission. Institutional efforts also include ongoing and systematic documentation of the Wisconsin Experience and the Essential Learning Outcomes.
UW-Madison’s General Education assessment reflects a further institution-level assessment of student learning. The general education program was created to ensure that every baccalaureate student at UW–Madison acquires the foundation of an undergraduate education which includes elements for living a productive life, being citizens of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a changing world.
UW–Madison’s General Education includes four foundational domains for undergraduate education:
These foundational domains provide for breadth across the humanities and arts, social studies, and natural sciences; competence in communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills appropriate for a university-educated person; and investigation of the issues inherent to living in a culturally diverse society. Importantly, UW-Madison’s General Education program aligns with the Wisconsin Experience and Essential Learning Outcomes framework, especially as it relates to providing students with foundational intellectual and practical skills.
The University General Education Committee (UGEC) oversees the campus-wide undergraduate general education program, management of its requirements and assessment of the general education student learning outcomes, and reports to shared governance through the University Academic Planning Council.
The Graduate School and the Graduate Faculty Executive Committee (GFEC) exercise the authority of the graduate faculty with respect to establishing, reviewing, and modifying graduate degree programs, named options, doctoral minors, graduate/professional certificates, and capstone certificates. As part of its duties, GFEC, in collaboration with the Graduate School leadership, engages in strategic planning discussions. Such discussions include the articulation of broad graduate student learning goals that may be modified and extended by academic programs. In Fall 2014 the Graduate School and the Graduate Executive Committee adopted a set of graduate-level learning goals appropriate to distinguish a graduate education from the undergraduate experience. Assessment of student learning at the graduate level is, ultimately, articulated and carried out in the individual academic programs (UW-Madison Graduate Learning Goals, Appendix B).
UW–Madison offers a wide range of academic programs at various levels (including bachelor’s, master’s, certificate, professional, and doctoral levels) and within many different areas of specialty. Each degree program is expected to articulate and adopt student learning goals, identify where in the curriculum the learning takes place, and develop assessment plans that align with these learning goals. Further, each academic program is expected to engage in at least one assessment activity each year, report findings, and develop improvement plans as needed. Priority should be given to activities based on direct measures of student learning. (See the UW-Madison 2015-17 Timeline for Program-level Assessment, App. C).
All academic programs (major/degree/co-curricular) will:
Program faculty/staff are required to document assessment activity and annually report to the Office of the Provost.
Co-curricular life plays an important role in the student experience at UW–Madison. Students engage in activities that highlight, integrate, and enhance formal academic learning. As such, assessment planning also includes the identification of the range of co-curricular educational experiences through which students demonstrate learning. Thus, co-curricular units and programs set priorities including learning goals, assess these goals, and report on progress annually.
In addition, academic departments are encouraged to collaborate with co-curricular programs to identify instances in which students demonstrate learning related to the articulated program-level learning goals. Assessment activities designed around these out-of-classroom experiences are included in the program’s annual assessment report. For example, student leadership activities, student governance work, or volunteer opportunities in which students meet intended learning expectations often support academic learning goals.
Faculty are responsible for guiding and monitoring student learning throughout the academic program beginning at the course level. When designing new courses or planning current offerings, faculty establish course goals and course-level student learning outcomes which advance some aspect of the academic program outcomes. All courses offered at UW–Madison must have course syllabi with course objectives and student learning goals clearly articulated. Information about the UW–Madison course approval process can be found on the Academic Planning and Institutional Research website.
Courses are the unit in which most students directly experience academic programs and are the building blocks of much of the academic experience. In addition to an expectation for academic programs to have learning goals, for-credit courses are also expected to have learning goals. Faculty are required to articulate in their syllabus what they expect students to learn (to know or be able to do) from the course. The learning goals for courses should align with and accumulate to a full set of learning goals for the academic program.
UW–Madison has a long history of conducting regular reviews of academic programs as outlined in the UW–Madison Academic Program Review Guidelines. Academic programs must be reviewed at least once every 10 years under University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) policy and Board of Regents policy. All new academic programs must be reviewed five years after implementation. The purpose of program review is to examine strengths and challenges, to celebrate accomplishments, and to reflect on, and plan for, the future. Program review is a platform for exploring ways to maintain and enhance the academic quality of a range of academic activities. This review should be a natural outcome of an ongoing, program-level assessment process. A plan for assessing student learning and the student experience is required as part of the new program proposal and is expected to be implemented with the initiation of the program. Program review is to be student-focused and, through regular assessment activities, report on issues related to student learning and the student experience. More information about the program review process can be found on the Academic Planning and Institutional Research website.
1 ELOs were developed from several national surveys done by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) with employers, faculty, staff and alumni, asking the question, “What qualities and skills do you want in college graduates?”
2 The UCAAA, made up largely of school/college associate deans, meets periodically each academic year to discuss issues related to academic planning, programs, and policies including accreditation, assessment, curricular development, reporting strategies, and other emerging educational trends.