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How to write course-level SLOs

Writing SLOs for your courses should be fairly easy, especially if you are familiar with writing course objectives (like those required for course outlines processed through the Curriculum Committee). Both SLOs and course objectives are statements of exactly what every student in a class should learn. Both SLOs and course outlines include methods for assessment, too. So, how are they different?

Course outline objectives and methods of evaluation are intended to provide specific information about what the student should know or be able to do during and at the end of a class. The course objectives and methods of evaluation are the specifics of how a student will be evaluated for the purpose of assigning a grade to the student.

SLOs are intended to be used by faculty to determine whether or not students as a whole are learning the material and skills presented in the course. The results of the assessment of SLOs will be used to improve instruction, not to evaluate individual students.


So, how do you get started?

Well, one way is to start with what already exists --- the course outline. Most course outlines contain a number of objectives that can be grouped into broader outcomes. For example, in CSS 43, there are 3 or 4 objectives that deal with students learning to use Microsoft Office to accomplish specific tasks. Those 3 or 4 objectives could be grouped together in one student learning outcome that requires students to choose the correct application to solve a given problem.

The goal here is to develop 2 to 4 student learning outcomes that encompass all (or most) of the course objectives. It is these student learning outcomes that will be assessed, leading to evaluation of the assessment results and plans for improvement of instruction.


What is included in an SLO?

There are four major components of each SLO: a statement of the intended outcome; a plan for specifically how the outcome will be assessed; evaluation of the assessment; and plans for use of the assessment results. The SLOA Summary form developed by the SLOA Committee includes space for all 4 components.

The first part of the SLO, the statement of intended outcome, is simply a sentence or two that clearly defines what students should be able to do under what circumstances to what degree of accuracy or completeness. For example, back to the CSS 43 example, the intended outcome for one SLO could be:

"Given an office situation that requires the student to prepare a business document, the student will prepare a document that demonstrates appropriate selection of software and knowledge of customary document format."

Next comes the specifics of how the outcome will be assessed. This will include the assessment tool (portfolio, creation of a document, specific exam questions, etc.), how the assessment will be administered, and a rubric that clearly states how the assessment will be evaluated. It is very important that all faculty members in a discipline work together to develop the assessment rubric (or criteria). Unless all faculty members apply the same rubric, the evaluation of the assessment will be meaningless. The SLOA Summary for Courses form asks, also, for a target semester for assessment.

After the assessment has been implemented, faculty members of the discipline will evaluate the results. This may include discussion of what students (as a whole) do not seem to understand or are not able to do, and how well the assessment worked as an assessment tool. Remember, the purpose of the Student Learning Outcomes Assessment cycle is to find out what areas of instruction need change or improvement. (For example, maybe half of the students who took the CSS 43 assessment chose the wrong software to create the document required by the assessment tool. That could show that more instruction time should be spent teaching students how to choose the best software tool for different types of tasks.)

Lastly, a plan should be developed that shows how the information learned from the evaluation of the assessment will be used to improve instruction. This plan may involve changes to a different textbook, to the syllabus, in supplemental materials, or in any other way that the faculty think would better provide students with the skills and knowledge they need.

Of course, at this point, the whole process begins again....refine the intended outcome, assess, evaluate, plan........