Leadership in Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes

As noted in this self-study report, another area in which there has been considerable development at the University is in assessing student learning outcomes (Student Experience section III B). Because the University has had along-standing tradition of ongoing and periodic evaluation of academic programs, program evaluations and reaccreditation reviews increasingly included the assessment of student learning as a critical component of the program evaluation. In 2006, the Council of Deans (COD) formalized the process by which the assessment of student learning occurred, guided by the belief that assessment will be effective in helping to shape the University’s academic programs only if the effort is led by the program’s faculty, as long as that faculty is held accountable. The COD also believed that to be effective, the assessment of student learning must be an integral part of the planning efforts of the individual units, schools, and campuses.

The formal assessment process of student learning has been in place for five years now, and the University can document renewed energy in the curriculum as faculty regularly review and assess whether or not the curriculum is helping students to learn what the University expects them to learn. The process of assessing student learning is now part of the culture of the University, with virtually all programs having meaningful assessment processes in place (see extensive discussion in the Student Experience section on Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes).

The University of Pittsburgh has not only taken an early leadership position on assessment of student learning on its own campuses, but many schools and campuses of the University are recognized for their assessment leadership on a national basis, reinforcing the success that can come from a decentralized model of assessment. Following are a few of the many examples.

Faculty members from the Swanson School of Engineering have earned a national reputation in the field of engineering education assessment. They first achieved national recognition 16 years ago with the development of the Pittsburgh Freshman Engineering Attitude Survey, an instrument that has been used by more than 30 schools and continues to be used today. This led to a succession of grants funded primarily by the National Science Foundation focused on engineering education assessment, as well as a series of papers, 11 of which have been published in the Journal of Engineering Education.

The School of Medicine is recognized for its expertise in evaluation of programeffectiveness, including innovative approaches to gathering information about student experiencesand the development of systematic methods for analysis of evaluation data. One approach to providing in-depth evaluation consultations to each course and clerkship resulted in a detailed, synthetic report of how the course is performing, opportunities for improvement, and identification of resources that would support that improvement. The methodology was presented at the Innovations in Medical Education conference of the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The School of Law has been recognized for its leadership within the legal academy for its initiatives related to the assessment of student outcomes. Presentations include those made at a legal education conference on assessment in 2009, to the American Bar Association in 2010, and to the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific in 2011. Pitt faculty published on assessment in the University of Toledo Law Review’s Leadership in Legal Education symposium series.

In the most recent accreditation team visit to the Joseph M. Katz Graduate Schoolof Business, the team cited the assessment of learning approach in the business school as a best practice. Katz was recognized for its comprehensive and innovative approach that included “concept inventories” developed by faculty interest groups, which were used to assess the students’ awareness and understanding of core concepts in each of the business disciplines, and the development of a detailed instrument and the statistical tools to assess the extent to which each student possessed the knowledge and skills that every graduate of an effective MBA program should possess.

The School of Pharmacy also was recognized by its accrediting body in the 2009 evaluation team report that identified its assessment process as a “noteworthy practice.” As a result, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy invited school faculty in 2010 and 2011 to present at annual and interim meetings. The school also has been recognized for its use of a mastery scale to assist students in self-assessing and mapping their learning as they progress through the didactic and experiential components of the curriculum.

The School of Dental Medicine was twice asked to present its innovations related to the assessment of teaching and learning. The Systematic Course Evaluation Policy was presented to the American Dental Education Association’s Commission on Change and Innovation in Dental Education—a think tank composed of leaders in dental education from across the United States and Canada. The school’s Curriculum Management Tool, a Web-based application that provides a link to the required competencies for each course, was presented to the American Dental Education Association.