In 2007, the faculty at Prairie State College identified a set of outcomes that we hoped our general education courses would help students achieve. In 2009, the Faculty Senate endorsed a list of college-wide general education learning outcomes, and a committee has been working to define and assess each outcome.
In 2013, the Outcomes Committee decided to begin focusing on one learning outcome per semester. For each outcome, we surveyed adjunct and full-time faculty members across the college, devised faculty development plans to support teaching, and worked with faculty members across the college to identify and improve assessment. The committee guides this work, much of which has been carried out by a “disciplinary expert” in each outcome and by the committee chair.
In spring 2014, for instance, we focused on Information Literacy. Carolyn Ciesla, one of our faculty librarians, led workshops on curriculum design and created a curriculum map of information literacy learning outcomes across the college. In fall 2014, we focused on Problem Solving. In spring 2015, we focused on Communication.
At the May 2015 Faculty Development Summer Institute, faculty members from across the college discussed our list of general education outcomes. In fall 2015, the Outcomes Committee reviewed our list of outcomes and the feedback from the Summer Institute and recommended revisions to the list to the Faculty Senate, who adopted the new list (see below) in spring 2016.
Currently, the Outcomes Committee is conducting research on student learning through a project approved by PSC’s Institutional Review Board. We are collecting representative samples of student work and assignments from across general education courses to shape our inquiry and to develop innovative ways to map and narrate what students are learning.
What are the outcomes?
We want our students to develop personally and as critical thinkers and global citizens. We believe that the five outcomes listed below comprise some important aspects of how we hope to help our students serve in and lead their communities.
Hover over each outcome below for additional information.
- Creative Thinking
- Cultural Understanding
- Information Literacy
- Problem Solving
How do I know what I am supposed to teach?
Teachers don’t have to cover every outcome in every class they teach. Rather, you might identify one outcome to focus on (see a curriculum map for Information Literacy for a sense of how the outcomes are spread across the college). The best way to think about college-wide outcomes is as a common vocabulary for teachers to use so that students can more easily identify the connections in what they are learning in diverse disciplines. A student who hears her chemistry professor and her philosophy professor describing problem-solving, for instance, will have a richer appreciation for what we value as educators, as well as a fuller and more complex appreciation for what problem-solving means and doesn’t mean.
But doesn’t this emphasis on “college-wide learning” water down my course’s content?
No. Rather, if you use some common language to describe what you are trying to teach, you will be setting your students up to remember and apply what they have learned in your class in new settings and in other disciplines.
Isn’t this just one more educational fad? If I ignore it, will it go away?
There’s no doubt that efforts to cross disciplinary boundaries face an uphill climb. An even steeper climb confronts efforts that try to change the way we talk to our students about learning in our disciplines. But we think using a common vocabulary to talk to students offers much promise to teachers--especially the promise that students will find our classes memorable and relevant.
These common outcomes can also help us to name the value of what we do for our community. In a recent survey of employers (PDF), 93% of employers said that a student’s ability to “think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Our democracy will be healthier if our citizens are information literate problem-solvers who can communicate well orally and in writing, and who show cultural understanding and think creatively.
Do I have to use rubrics?
Kind of. You don’t necessarily have to use them when you work with your students, but the outcomes committee has devised several rubrics to describe aspects of each outcome. Also, we find valuable the recent work by the American Association of Colleges and Universities that describe students’ undergraduate learning across the curriculum. We hope you will find these helpful as you introduce students to the complexities of the outcomes.