The students reveal ambiguities in the course results

Linking students’ academic achievements to their future careers is viewed as a tool for retention and as a necessity for career development. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, collecting data to assess how students view their own learning outcomes and how general education courses target those outcomes required creative solutions.

Sarah Wu, Academic Assessment Manager in the Office of Academic Effectiveness at Georgia Tech, shared the results of a feedback project her team organized at the recent American Association of Colleges and Universities Conference on Literacy, Education, and Assessment.

What’s going on: Georgia Tech established its learning outcomes in 2011: Communications; quantitatively; Computer; humanities, fine arts and ethics; natural sciences, mathematics and technology; and social sciences.

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When the institution wanted to redesign its general education courses and thus its learning outcomes, the administrators turned to the student perspective.

Wu found it difficult to include students’ perspectives in reports or decisions, reflecting a greater concern among academics.

Survey data from her department often lagged behind response rates, making it difficult to escalate issues to senior management, she adds.

While some institutions include students on their curriculum review committees, Georgia Tech’s general education subcommittee lacked student representation. Instead, this team used faculty assessment based on student artifacts for outcome-level assessment.

The Approach: In order to better understand students’ perspectives on their general education courses, Wu and her colleagues created three avenues for student feedback.

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The first was an online forum discussion about generated results created in Microsoft Teams. In this area, students would respond to discussion posts organized by learning outcomes and interact with each other and researchers.

The second method was a focus group and the third involved individual interviews followed by a short survey.

Most students chose the online discussion, Wu said, and a total of 66 students participated across media.

In the talks, Wu and her team had a lengthy document with requests to facilitate discussion. Questions included measuring expected outcomes, actions taken to implement them, determining if the goal was acceptable, how to act on data, and general suggestions for improvement.

As an incentive to participate, students received free swags from campus partners such as t-shirts, notebooks and pens.

The Findings: Based on their research, Wu’s team found that the findings needed to be more specific, both in terms of visibility, wording, and career preparation.

Some students said they had never seen the learning outcomes before. When students engaged with the ideas, the wording was confusing or difficult to understand.

Interviewed students who participated indicated that it made them feel more valued by the institution and that it is vital for students to participate in evaluation conversations.

What is being verified: Georgia Tech is now trying to improve its communication regarding the results.

Academic leaders will revise the “Computing” result to reflect the current state of education around the topic, which has been requested by both faculty and students.

The university will also increase its support measures for transfer students, such as tutoring, to improve the performance of this group.

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Another look at student review: Faculty and staff can add students’ opinions and perspectives to other areas of overall education evaluation, Wu shares. An example is at the course level: students can contribute to improving task design and modify course syllabi to produce clearer results.

“[Students] I want to see the impact and see improvements,” she shared. “Well, our students [are] Really committed to improving task design and changing the service and at the institutional level.”

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