What does it mean for an outcome to be “explicit”?
The primary reason for requesting outcomes to be “explicit” is to ensure outcomes provide enough clarity to support faculty in:
- the design of the degree program and
- the design of meaningful assessment measures.
The reason faculty would develop learning outcomes in a group is to conduct the crucial conversations about the concepts and skills that faculty will prioritize when they teach their courses for the program. Conversations assist faculty to ensure they collectively agree upon what the most important learning outcomes are for the program. These conversations lay the foundation for the development of courses designed by faculty to achieve faculty-driven learning priorities.
Two common approaches used by NAU faculty to ensure outcomes are explicit include:
- Integration: Integrating the content, skills and, where possible, purpose of the discipline into a single outcome, or
- Defining through sub-outcomes: Developing a broad outcome that is made explicit through clarifying “sub-outcomes.”
The first approach, “integration,” focuses on combining content or knowledge with the disciplinary skills used to apply that knowledge. In the table below, you will find examples that demonstrate the differences among outcomes missing one or more of the important contextual elements, and outcomes providing no context.
Needs Improvement-lack context and are not explicit. In fact, most could be an outcome for ANY degree program.
Satisfactory - these are good outcomes. The context could be expanded upon to make them exemplary.
Exemplary - What makes these outcomes exemplary is the context that is provided. Students know exactly how they will apply what they will learn. Faculty know exactly how to develop curriculum and assignments to achieve the outcome.
Demonstrate quantitative reasoning
Which degree program does this apply to, how does this apply to the context of the learner, and how is the learner going to use this vague ability in the real world?
Use statistical data to make effective decisions in business
What types of statistics, for what types of decisions, for what types of business goals?
Evaluate the effectiveness of global logistics networks, including the environmental impact of logistics activities, to develop reasoned proposals for improvement that support the strategy of the firm as well as the supply chain as a whole.
Knowledge: global logistics networks
Knowledge: environmental impacts of logistics activities
Skill: Evaluating the effectiveness of something
Skill: Developing reasoned proposals for improvement
Knowledge: the firm's strategy
Knowledge: the supply chain
Possesses written communication skills
Again, this could apply to any degree program, so it makes it difficult to know what type of written communication, (research reports, RFPs, informative essays, reflective essays, etc.) How can an instructor select an appropriate assignment if the overall program outcome is this vague?
Students will be able to describe fundamental principles of biology e.g., central dogma, diversity of life, inheritance.
This learning outcome could be improved by defining the principles of biology that are focused on in this program (vs. programs from other universities). This makes it difficult for faculty to tailor their teaching to develop and reinforce fundamental principles of biology. Also, is "describe" an appropriate skill for the completion of a Bachelor's Degree, or should students learn some critical thinking skills that they would apply to this knowledge?
Express personal experiences on concrete topics related to work, home, school, and leisure activities using all major time frames (past, present, and future) and the sentence structure and vocabulary of the culture, in order to interact with native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non- natives, and handle complicated or unexpected communicative tasks.
The second approach commonly used to ensure learning outcomes are “explicit” is “defining through sub-outcomes.” This is where faculty state a broad learning outcome, then provide supporting descriptions of the outcome through bullet points or descriptions. The sub-bullet points or descriptions provide the context for the outcome. Here are some examples:
Sociology BS (sub-bullets)
Upon completion of the B.S. degree in Sociology, students will have demonstrated competency of the following: 3. Critical use of scientific methods to develop empirical explanations of social phenomena by:
- Assessing perspectives and approaches best able to research a particular phenomenon;
- Developing research designs to discover, describe and/or analyze specific social components;
- Applying and utilizing qualitative and quantitative techniques as part of the research design;
- Demonstrating effective use of technology to retrieve data and information from databases in order to assess relevant research found in research publications and other sources; and
- Analyzing and evaluating data to inform the explanation of the phenomenon being studied.
English BA (description)
4. Graduates will know about forms, designs, and genres, including appropriate traditions and histories. They will know how formal conventions, social contexts, and audience expectations affect purposes of discourses. Graduates will be able to describe and explain such things as literary and creative genres, canons, practical and professional writing formats and genres, types of rhetorical discourse, types of linguistic phenomena, or media and web formats and genres.
5. Graduates will know how social, cultural, and historical contexts affect personal expression; the reception, comprehension, or study of texts; and specific communication purposes for both writers and readers. Graduates will be conversant with English in global settings and with the increasing impact of international forces—the history and politics of cultural and linguistic diversity, of environmental sustainability, and of globalization—on the discipline of English.
Chemistry MS (sub-bullets)
Upon completion of the Chemistry M.S. degree, students will be able to:
2. Apply appropriate research methods and analysis as evidenced by skills such as:
- Planning and carrying out a research project independently;
- Demonstrating the ability to be self-critical in evaluating procedures and outcomes;
- Taking responsibility for the success of a research project;
- Participating and collaborating with members of their research group and with people outside of their group; and/or
- Understanding the limitations of the research methods used in their work.