Frequently Asked Questions

Why are we doing this?

The most immediate answer is that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) told us to. In their visitation report from 2004 they wrote: "The team recommends that the college develop a plan to implement the measurement of student learning outcomes at the course, program and institutional levels."

Another, certainly more important reason is the gains to be made in the name of student learning.  The outcomes and assessment committee's (OAC's) research has taught us that when faculty meet to discuss what they value in the classroom and what students should be able to do with the knowledge they've acquired, the richness of the discourse is its own reward.  The OAC has learned that faculty who engage in this process value this outcome most of all.

Perhaps the most important reason is that a fully incorporated outcomes and assessment program presents students with a visibly coherent package of instruction, where faculty speak with one voice about what it means to have been successfully educated within a specific intellectual domain or across a broad spectrum of domains, such as a general education package offers.

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Isn’t this just the “flavor of the week”?

ACCJC recommendations don’t disappear. Recommendations are made and specifically revisited by ACCJC until they become fully embedded in an institution. Consider that the last two major recommendations, to implement program review and strategic planning, have become permanent fixtures at MCC. ACCJC has indicated that it is strongly committed to implementation of student learning outcomes over the next two to three accreditation cycles.

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Why begin at the program level?

OAC research has indicated that in those schools that began at the course level, discussions very rapidly evolved to the program-level because faculty found this focus 1) richer because it engaged more faculty and a larger set of interconnected issues and 2) more productive because addressing programs provides a manageable yet productive focus. At MCC, beginning at the program level, as OAC has proposed, will achieve the most bang for the buck—the broadest identifiable cohorts of students and faculty from many disciplines.

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What purpose is served by the mission statements?

One of the goals of the assessment and outcomes process is to create a more coherent educational package for students. To craft a coherent whole will require many voices, often across many disciplines, sometimes working in what appear to be disparate areas. Mission statements allow us to articulate not only what we hope to accomplish at the larger program level, but what we contribute to the whole within areas and disciplines. The purpose is not only to identify our connectedness to those who are working towards the same ends, but to affirm our unique contribution to that end. Mission statements also provide an expectation against which to develop and evaluate outcomes and assessments.

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Will we have outside facilitators and trainers and who will they be?

If the OAC can identify facilitators or trainers whose approach to outcomes and assessment is compatible with the implementation process the Senate settles on, and if they can be scheduled (these people are often booked six months or more out), we will bring them in. The OAC has been in contact with a number of outcomes and assessment leaders who may prove to be excellent on-site resources. As an alterative, we may send teams of our own faculty out to be trained, in effect becoming in-house experts. These colleagues will then facilitate and/or train the rest of the faculty. OAC’s best guess is that we will employ a combination of the two approaches.

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What is a Mastery Matrix and how does it work?

A mastery matrix identifies which outcomes are valued most highly within courses, and, as OAC is proposing, within areas and programs. They will serve as tools to help us ensure full coverage within a program of the outcomes we have identified as being essential to a student’s education, as well as tools to assist us in determining which outcomes will be piloted first.

Below is a sample matrix that illustrates how one GE area’s matrix might appear. Across the top are listed five GE outcomes. (The numbers 1-5 do not represent GE areas. They are intended as place holders for GE outcomes faculty will soon draft.) Within the grid are the ratings discipline experts have assigned to each outcome for each course within the area (1=not important, 5=central to the course).

The completed grid provides a tool to facilitate a faculty discussion within and across disciplines about the outcomes coverage they provide and whether or not they want to explore different coverage. Note, for example, that in the sample grid below, Class C rates no outcome higher than a 2. Identifying this gap in outcomes coverage invites the faculty within this area and discipline to address how this gap should be addressed.

Pilots would begin with highly valued outcomes (here again, most bang for the buck).

General Education Outcomes 1-5

#1

#2

#3

#4

#5

Area X

 

 

 

 

Class A

5

4

3

3

4

Class B

5

2

4

3

5

Class C

2

2

1

1

1

Class D

5

3

3

2

1

Class E

5

4

2

5

4

Class F

5

4

2

5

3

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Why doesn't the proposed timeline cover the entire college?

The charge of the Outcomes and Assessment Committee was to research and propose a plan that addresses the needs of the Instructional Division in moving toward a fully integrated outcomes and assessment process. Other divisions are working on their own proposals.

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Will the activities of the various divisions ever be integrated?

The ultimate goal is to have the entire campus community integrated at some point in the future. The OAC has proposed the creation of an inter-divisional committee to collaborate in the development of the integration timeline and process.

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Is the adopted timeline carved in stone?

No. The core of the proposal is identifying intellectual domains and developing our outcomes and assessments around them. The activities schedule is somewhat flexible. The OAC has maintained as one of its core principles the need to ensure that whatever process is adopted is meaningful, manageable, and sustainable. One of the ongoing responsibilities of the OAC will be to monitor the pace and demands of the process and adjust each as necessary to ensure it remains meaningful, manageable, and sustainable.

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Will a faculty member be writing and assessing outcomes for all of his or her courses during the initial phases?

No. The initial semesters will serve as training cycles. The plan is that faculty will receive training in writing outcomes and assessments. Following this training each discipline will draft a minimum of one outcome for one course and devise an assessment for that outcome. Larger disciplines will be encouraged to draft two or three outcomes and assessments, preferably one outcome for each of two or three different courses. The participation of associate faculty will be up to the discretion of individual disciplines (e.g., one-person disciplines will certainly need the input of associate faculty while larger disciplines may choose to rely solely upon full-time faculty). Once faculty are trained and familiar with the process, additional outcomes will be folded in during subsequent semesters. Throughout the process, the goals are a) to engage the entire full-time faculty and b) to keep the workload meaningful, manageable and sustainable while doing so.

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Why did we create mission statements and outcomes from scratch?

Missions and learning outcomes, on the other hand, are philosophical statements, pedagogical commitments to what we believe is true about the goals of education and the purposes of being educated. These we want to own.  And thus, we had to grapple with the ideas and create something meaningful for ourselves.

Granted, our drafted mission statements and outcomes may parallel those of other institutions.  They must, in the end, align with those of the college and the state system of which we are a part.  Nonetheless, in the parallels and alignment we find confirmation of our membership in the field of higher education, of a vision shared with colleagues at MCC and our sister institutions.

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