Graduate Program Learning Outcomes
As part of a broader effort to ensure that our graduate programs are cutting edge in both content and form and to maximize student success, our campus is committed to developing and assessing Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for all graduate programs. In doing so, we are committed to several principles: (1) one size does not fit all, that is, each department or program should develop its own PLOs and assessment mechanisms, (2) an incremental approach in which assessment focuses on the areas that are of greatest interest to program faculty and students, and (3) good faith effort that enables programs to strive for improvement rather than to showcase areas in which they are already excellent.
Unlike student learning outcomes, which focus on whether or not students have mastered particular concepts and skills, PLOs state the described outcomes of graduate programs. Measuring PLOs may require assessing student learning, however the focus of any such assessment is on what the program has accomplished rather than on individual students.
Development of Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) for all Graduate Programs
Most graduate programs already have website and catalog text that describes the goals of their graduate programs. This text is a key resource in developing PLOs. At the same time, some desired program outcomes (such as the goal that students learn how to teach) are implicit rather than explicit. For an overview of process of developing and assessing PLOs, please follow the “5 Steps to Improve Your Graduate Program (and also fulfill WASC requirements for PLOs).” As noted above, UCI’s Graduate Council has developed guidelines to assist in development of specific learning outcomes for each graduate program, along with evaluative measures.
PLO Pilot Project
During the 2011-2012 academic year, in preparation for our Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) reaccreditation visit, our campus launched a PLO pilot project. Based on a review of the admittedly scant literature on graduate-level PLOs, our Graduate Council developed a template to guide UCI programs. Five departments – Anthropology, Criminology, Law & Society, Education, English and Mathematics – agreed to develop PLO documents and assessment plans that could serve as models for the rest of the campus. Representatives of these departments formed a working group that met throughout the year. Their documents are available here. WASC representatives met with representatives of our pilot programs during Fall 2012 and provided favorable comments about the approach that our campus has adopted.
In 2012-2013, the Graduate Council required that all graduate programs begin to define program learning outcomes, while the pilot working group moved forward with assessment. A workshop featuring the experiences of the pilot departments was held on January 22, 2013. Materials distributed during this workshop can be accessed below under "PLO Resources."
In 2013-2014, graduate programs were expected to begin to assess PLOs, with an eye to gathering data that will allow programs to make targeted improvements. It is highly recommended that programs select a key area of focus for the PLO assessment, rather than attempting to assess all PLOs.
Resources to support assessment efforts are being provided through the Division of Undergraduate Education’s Assessment Grant Program, which has been expanded to include graduate-level assessment projects.
- UCI Program Learning Outcomes and Assessment Workshop PowerPoint
- WASC Reaccreditation Process
- Educational Effectiveness Review
- UCI Pilot PLO Reports
Examples of other institutions:
- Improving Graduate Education at Yale University
- Best Practices in Yale Graduate Programs
- University of Minnesota Graduate Review and Improvement Process