EKU Recognized Nationally for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes

Eastern Kentucky University is among only three institutions nationally to receive the 2014 Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes, awarded by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and announced on Jan. 14.

The 2014 CHEA Award recognizes EKU’s student learning outcomes activities, including measurement and communication, as evidenced by an annual Assurance of Learning Day, where faculty share information and ideas about program strengths and weaknesses, learning outcomes and changes that might enhance learning.

“These institutions and programs exemplify the efforts being undertaken by colleges and universities nationwide to develop and implement effective approaches to the use of student learning outcomes,” said CHEA President Judith Eaton. “Sharing this information about outstanding practices is particularly important, as it provides concrete and workable examples that can help institutions and programs seeking to make gains in this important area.”

EKU Provost Dr. Janna Vice said the award reflects the vision and hard work of the entire campus community.

“Every academic department, including each department chair and almost every faculty member, has been engaged in Assurance of Learning,” Vice said.

The University’s annual Assurance of Learning Day, first held at EKU in 2012, gives faculty the opportunity (classes are canceled for the day) to step back from teaching individual courses, evaluate student learning in their programs and discuss their programs as a whole. Departments typically spend the day curriculum mapping, identifying common student learning outcomes (SLOs) for core courses, reviewing or revising SLOs and assessment methods, looking at competencies of senior level courses, revising capstone courses, evaluating key performance indicators, revising instruction methods, and working on program review and rubrics.

As Vice explained, the Assurance of Learning concept differs from assessment in that it asks, “What improvements should we make based on how students are performing?” rather than simply “How are we doing?” Taking action based on data “closes the loop.”

The result, she added, is that the University builds quality as it moves away from a “false dichotomy of quality versus quantity.”

Dr. Rose Perrine, professor of psychology and associate dean of University Programs, who has helped coordinate the two Assurance of Learning Days, said student learning outcomes “give students concrete information about what they will know and be able to do as a result of completing a course of degree program. Students can use these statements to build the ‘knowledge and skills’ sections of their resumes, and as talking points with potential employers. When employers see a list of ‘courses taken’ on a resume or academic transcript they may have only a vague understanding of how those courses might contribute to a specific work environment. On the other hand, a list of student learning outcomes provides employers with clear and precise information about the knowledge and skills that students will bring to a job.”

Eastern’s focus on student learning outcomes at both the course (they are listed on every syllabus) and program level also “forces faculty to think about the educational experience from the students’ perspective,” Perrine added. “Student learning outcomes guide faculty in designing their individual courses, and guide all of a department’s faculty members in designing, evaluating and revising their degree programs.”

The roots of Assurance of Learning Day at EKU actually go back many years. In 2005-06, the University reformed its General Education Program to include student learning outcomes focused on critical thinking and communication. Eastern’s Quality Enhancement Plan, endorsed by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2007, called upon the University to develop “informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively.”

Intentionally and systematically, EKU moved forward to develop, implement and evaluate specific student learning outcomes across all 150 academic programs, undergraduate and graduate. New and revised courses and initiatives have included writing-intensive courses, service learning courses and student success seminars. As of Fall 2012, all baccalaureate programs featured a 3-credit-hour Applied Critical and Creative Thinking course/experience as a degree requirement.

Other 2014 CHEA award recipients were Excelsior College and The Citadel.

“To be one of only three institutions nationally recognized by CHEA for this honor speaks not only to the quality of educational experience we provide our students at EKU but also to the quality of our faculty and their commitment to enhancing the teaching-learning process,” EKU President Michael Benson said. “Our annual Assurance of Learning Day is just one example of ongoing efforts throughout our campus community to ensure that our students are gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in life.”

The CHEA Award was established in 2005 to recognize institutions that have been exceptional in developing and applying evidence of student learning outcomes to improve quality and accountability. Entries were judged on the basis of: 1) articulation and evidence of outcomes, 2) success with regard to outcomes, 3) information to the public about outcomes and 4) use of outcomes for educational improvement.

Representatives from the institutions will receive the award at a ceremony to be held during the 2014 CHEA Annual Conference Jan. 27-29 in Washington, D.C.

Published on January 15, 2014