First-Year Learning Outcomes and Their Assessment



Colleges are increasingly aware that they must re-examine the liberal arts for our times and refine their educational goals. Simultaneously they must induct a new generation of professors into the liberal arts tradition, encouraging collaboration among faculty at their respective institutions and across similar institutions. Our colleges also recognize the need to explore and identify direct measures of student learning outcomes. In sum, we must answer the questions raised by the Teagle Foundation: What is the value added of a liberal arts education at our colleges? Which new programs and curricular refinements (e.g., first year experience, general education frameworks, etc.) are most effective? How can we know? How can we work together to address these questions?


As a way of answering those questions, Colorado College and Lake Forest College, with funding from the ACM Faculty Career Enhancement (FaCE) Project, have initiated a project focusing on First-Year Learning Outcomes and Their Assessment.


This project seeks to bring together ACM institutions interested in researching and fostering best pedagogical practices in the areas of defining learning outcomes for first-year student courses or programs and assessing courses or programs pursuing those goals. The project has two phases:


  • Phase I: Collaborating Partners / Pilot Assessment Project
    Phase I of the project will bring together colleagues from Colorado, Lake Forest, and up to three additional ACM colleges that have already made some progress in developing mission statements, learning outcomes, and pilot assessment plans for a first-year studies program or its equivalent. 

    This group of colleges, working individually over the summer, will conduct a pilot assessment of a first-year course, program or its equivalent, as appropriate to each institution, in early Fall 2010. In early November, 2010, the group will gather in Chicago to share their institution's work on learning outcomes and direct assessment measures for first-year programs. A central aim of these discussions will be to compare notes on how student academic work, especially substantive written work, may be used to validate outcome measures and to provide feedback for program improvement. 

  • Phase II: Assessing First-Year Learning Outcomes / Conference
    Phase II of the project will continue in Spring 2011 as the Collaborating Partners continue to refine plans for a full-scale assessment of learning outcomes in first-year courses. In Summer 2011, these plans—and lessons learned from the project thus far—will be presented in an ACM-wide conference on learning outcomes and assessment.



Institutions wishing to become a Collaborating Partner should complete the brief application form by May 10, 2010. A separate call for participation in the Phase II conference will be issued later this year, but expressions of interest are welcome now.


Successful Liberal Arts Students: Reflecting on the Development of Student Skills and Agency

As a follow on activity, two FaCE projects, First-Year Learning Outcomes and Their Assessment and Developing Student Agency came together to present an opportunity for faculty across ACM campuses interested in these topics to learn from each other about work in these related areas. Both projects have completed their first phases, in which faculty at Beloit, Colorado, Lake Forest, Coe, Carleton, Cornell, and Grinnell Colleges as well as Lawrence University collaborated across institutions in order to share approaches and incubate new ideas. We have created student learning outcomes for First Year experiences and ways to measure those outcomes directly, including the development of student agency. This workshop in the spring of 2012 represented the culminating phase of these projects, where faculty and administrators from across the ACM colleges were brought together to share models for accomplishments in these areas.



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