General Education

Assessing learning outcomes for general education presents its own challenges that have been addressed effectively on all campuses. As part of the development of a culture of assessment in this area, the deans and campus presidents (along with faculty and staff they wished to include) met in 2008 to discuss the approaches they were taking to assessing student learning in general education. These conversations continued in subsequent years as each campus developed its own approach.

Each school on the Pittsburgh campus that admits freshmen and each regional campus has its own general education curriculum with learning outcomes that map onto the University’s student learning goals reported in Figure 7.

The upper-level schools on the Pittsburgh campus rely on the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences’general education curriculum. The general education requirements of each school and campus can be found in Appendix C10. Consistent with this decentralized responsibility for the general education curriculum, individual schools and campuses are responsible for having a process in place to assess student learning in general education consistent with the Council of Deans’guidelines. The general education assessment matrices summarizing the assessment processes for each school and campus can be found in Appendix C6; the assessment processes for the Swanson School of Engineering, College of Business Administration, and School of Nursing are included with the materials on their specialized accreditations found in Appendix C7.

As reported in the 2007 Periodic Review Report, at that time, a firm foundation was in place for assessing student learning in general education programs. Pitt–Greensburg had established a process for assessing student learning that included general education aspart of its overall planning in 2002. All undergraduate programs in the Swanson School of Engineering also had ongoing assessments of learning outcomes related to the goals of their general education curricula. The Pittsburgh, Bradford, Greensburg, and Johnstown campuses regularly participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and used student responses as indirect assessments of specific learning outcomes. The University participated in the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS) survey, which assesses information literacy, and had just begun participating in the Collegiate LearningAssessment (CLA), a test of critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication. However, since the passage of the Council of Deans’ guidelines, these assessment efforts have advanced significantly.

Each school and campus now has in place a structure for overseeing this assessment. Typically, general education assessment activities are led by the vice president for academic affairs (on the regional campuses) or the associate dean for undergraduate studies (in the schools on the Pittsburgh campus) working with a faculty committee. Together, they are responsible for overseeing the articulation of expected learning outcomes related to the general education curriculum and the development of plans for assessing these outcomes. In some cases, there are separate committees responsible for individual requirements subject to the review and approval of the school- or campus-level committee; in other cases, this work is done by the school- or campus-level committee.

University-wide, the process is overseen by the vice provost for undergraduate studies, with each school and campus reporting annually to the vice provost on these assessment activities and the vice provost providing feedback. Over the past four years, each school and campus has articulated learning outcomes for its general education curriculum and has assessed at least three of these learning outcomes. The following provides more detail on the assessment activities related to general education on each campus.

On the Pittsburgh campus, a variety of approaches at both the campus and school levels are used to assess student learning outcomes related to the general education curriculum. Centrally, the vice provost for undergraduate studies, in consultation with the Enrollment Management Committee, the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Undergraduate Programs, and the University Library System, takes an active role in assessing the student learning outcomes listed in Figure 7. CLA continues to be used to monitor critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and written communication, and SAILS continues to be used to assess information literacy. Student surveys also continue to provide student self-assessments of learning related to all of the learning outcomes, though the Pittsburgh campus now uses the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey, discussed further in Section III. C, rather than NSSE to provide comparative information as well as the internal Student Satisfaction Survey. Reports on these assessments can be found in Appendices C11, C12, and C13.

There also are school-level processes in place that use assessment of student learning to guide development of the general education curriculum. The four schools that admit freshmen (the Dietrich School, Swanson School, College of Business Administration, and School of Nursing) have defined expectations with regard to general education and have processes in place to assess student learning in this area. The general education curriculum for the upper-level undergraduate programs in the School of Education, School of Social Work, School of Information Sciences, and School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences is offered through the Dietrich School.

The four regional campuses in Bradford, Greensburg, Johnstown, and Titusville enroll 27 percent of the total undergraduate population of the University of Pittsburgh. Like the Dietrich School on the Pittsburgh campus, each of the regional campuses has developed a plan for general education based on the University student learning goals established by the Council of Deans in 2006.