Student Learning and Effective Teaching

Looking Forward


The University of Michigan is widely recognized for outstanding achievements and contributions in the domains of research and teaching/learning. However, we have not yet made a comprehensive, institutional commitment to understanding the interconnections between how faculty members teach and how students learn, so that these processes might be improved. By building on the kinds of activities identified in this section, providing additional infrastructure to support ongoing and new work, and creating a sustainable set of incentives for individuals and programs, the University is well-positioned to make important advances in this area.

The recommendations below represent the thinking of a faculty working group that carefully considered our learning environment and the possibilities for continued improvement at the University of Michigan. These recommendations are presented to stimulate further conversation and thought, and do not convey institutional commitments at this time.

Our examination shows significant volume and variety of activity in the area of educational assessment; however, these efforts are by nature often isolated and partially disconnected from centralized administrative and evaluation processes at the University. To focus and scale up these efforts, it would be useful to enhance our capacity to create connections, coordinate resources, and seed the development of additional processes. In addition, we may choose to address the perceived need to have access to appropriate infrastructure related to data access from various University data warehouses, and the need for ready access to technical and academic expertise related to assessment methodology and student learning measurement.

Establishment of an institutional research or faculty-led academic assessment resource center could address this concern. Existing University processes that already support the University’s educational and assessment efforts, including CRLT and the Office of Evaluations and Exams (E&E), could be adapted. Electronic student evaluations, academic program review, and faculty promotion processes could all be modified in ways that provide opportunities to systematically utilize assessment results to a greater degree than currently exists.

Identify Our Common Goals

An important first step in focusing our educational and assessment efforts would be a shared set of educational goals or competencies against which progress could be measured and achievement assured. A number of academic units on campus, such as the engineering college and most professional schools, have developed outcome statements that can be used by both faculty members and students to guide development and selection of educational experiences and assessment methodologies. In fact, a recent study of the institutional membership of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (Hart Research Associates [4]) shows that 70 percent of research universities have a common set of intended learning outcomes for all of their undergraduate students.

Based upon principles suggested by national associations and institutions similar to the University of Michigan, the AWG has developed a statement of such goals, called the “Statement on Learning Outcomes” (see below), which would prove useful in assessing current and new educational programs, identifying assessment approaches, and creating common language and expectations for the University’s educational communities. Program committees could find utility in a common list of intended outcomes as a benchmark against which to map current and new course offerings, while individual faculty members would have a guide to help focus design and delivery of course content. Students would benefit from having a structure to guide their selection of courses and out-of-class experiences.

[4 Hart Research Associates (2009). Trends and emerging practices in general education. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities.]

Draft Statement on Learning Outcomes

The Accreditation Working Group has recommended that the University articulate and embrace a set of undergraduate learning outcomes to guide educational decisions of individual students, faculty, and professional staff, and to inform decision-making at the program, department, school/college, and institutional levels. As a starting point for the creation of a working list of such learning and developmental outcomes among our students, the AWG, guided by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) Initiative and other statements created by institutions such as the University of Minnesota, has offered this draft statement.

Intended Learning Outcomes for Undergraduate Students at the University of Michigan

As a result of their studies and experiences at the University of Michigan, by the time of graduation students will be able to demonstrate:

  1. General knowledge of diverse philosophies and human cultures, the arts and humanities, and the physical and natural world.
  2. Mastery of a specific body of knowledge and mode of inquiry.
  3. Engagement in the generation of new knowledge in a specific field of inquiry.
  4. Effective oral and written communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.
  5. Capacity to work effectively across diverse philosophies, cultures, and challenges in a global society.
  6. Skills for effective citizenship and leadership, and for assuming personal and social responsibilities in a diverse and global society.
  7. Ability to set personal learning goals, to critically self-monitor learning styles, and to make adjustments based on progress and achievement.
  8. Commitment to pursue lifelong learning and critical inquiry through postgraduate studies and participation in informal educational settings.
  9. Ability to address issues of societal concern and human needs through civic engagement.

The University of Michigan will facilitate student efforts to achieve these outcomes by encouraging the development of courses and other educational experiences that promote student progress in these domains, and by developing and supporting assessment methods that assist faculty and students in measuring progress toward these outcomes.

Adaptations of Existing Processes

Several existing University processes and activities of campus units could be adapted to further the University’s educational and assessment efforts. In particular, electronic student evaluations, academic programming, program review, and faculty tenure/promotion processes could be modified in ways that provide new opportunities to systematically generate and utilize learning assessment results to a greater degree than currently exists. The recommended adaptations are briefly described below.

Course Evaluations

The University’s electronic course evaluation system (E&E) could be adapted in ways that further support the collection of data useful for student assessment activities. By incorporating student self-assessments of learning gains, which ideally would be aligned with the intended learning outcomes (see above), faculty members could readily gauge what students think they are learning from their classes. This information would illuminate how well faculty and unit intentions are being realized, and would also support other forms and institutional uses of student learning assessment.

Learning Committees

Schools and colleges have curriculum committees focused on ensuring that individual courses are developed and offered within a larger sequence of learning experiences. Given that courses reflect only a portion of the educational experiences of students at the University, the AWG has suggested it would be useful to re-cast curriculum committees as education or learning committees, thus broadening their mission and responsibilities. This would provide faculty members a deeper exposure to the developmental progress of students and the educational mission of their units.

Program Review

The academic program review process at the University, similar to that at other research institutions, has a nearly exclusive focus on standard measures of academic quality, and on the depth and breadth of academic and research programs. By adapting the external review teams to include expertise in learning , and charged with considering teaching and learning issues in the particular program area, the review process could be explicitly tied to issues of teaching and learning, and could expand the current programmatic emphasis on research and professional service.

Tenure and Promotion

The tenure and promotion process at the University of Michigan asks its faculty to include information on the quality and goals of their teaching, but could be adapted to include better evidence of student learning and achievement. This would expand the current focus on the required course evaluation responses (Q1: Overall, this was an excellent course; Q2: Overall, the instructor was an excellent teacher) to a broader consideration of student learning evidence, including the student self-assessment information. For example, the required course evaluation questionnaire of the College of Engineering (2007 form) specifically includes student learning outcomes.

Organizational Enhancements

Three recommendations for new organizational efforts that would promote the student learning experience and its assessment at the University of Michigan involve the need for systematic institutional research, coordinated assessment support, and information on multi-format capstone experiences that are captured in electronic student portfolios.

Institutional Research Office

At present, there are a number of campus support structures that contribute to our understanding of learning (for example, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, Office of Budget & Planning, and the Office of Student Affairs Research), but they are often doing so in an uncoordinated fashion that may even foster competition rather than collaboration, and outcomes are often disconnected with the academic assessment activities of units. Creating a full-service institutional research (IR) office that is charged with coordinating assessment efforts, including facilitation of access to warehoused data, would offer an important step forward. An intentional decision to create this office would help campus constituents to refine their assessment activities in ways that benefit the University as a whole, and support faculty and student development. More generally, as individual campus units enhance their learning assessment and evaluation capacity, a central office would play an important coordinating and supporting role, much like the Office of Budget and Planning works with a network of unit-based budget administrators.

Assessment Resource Center

There are issues of supporting infrastructure and resources, both in terms of coordinating access to data and ensuring the availability of professional assessment expertise, that are not systematically funded or coordinated by the University. Establishment of a faculty-led academic assessment resource center would begin to address these needs. There are important technical and practical considerations that need to be addressed when undertaking student assessment activities at any level, and while expertise in this area exists on campus it tends to be underutilized and not well positioned to assist individual faculty members seeking advice and units seeking outcome measures. Just as the Center for Statistical Consultation and Research is a centrally-funded unit that services the entire campus community, an assessment-focused center led by faculty experts could enhance the quality of ongoing and planned assessment across campus as well as attract new faculty members into this important area.

Electronic Portfolios

Increasingly, students complete activities that are not readily captured by the traditional college transcript, yet they are often defining experiences of students at the University of Michigan. Independent research, creative work, and engagement activities are typically part of the undergraduate experience, yet they are not part of the credentialed University record. Other evidences of learning may also be preserved with today’s technology, such as art performances and installation outcomes of overseas experiences, engineering designs and others, collectively suggesting a growing need to capture such endeavors. This would be met through the flexibility and media-friendly structure of today’s Internet and long-term archiving potential of student portfolios and learning management systems, as illustrated on the University’s MPortfolio website, and integrated into the CTools environment of the University, as recently piloted.