The University Graduate School Dean James C. Wimbush was interviewed for an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday while attending the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C. Read his thoughts on learning outcomes in graduate education below.
Measurement of ‘Learning Outcomes’ Comes to Graduate School
December 1, 2010, 3:34 pm
By David Glenn
Graduate-level programs were once relatively immune from pressure to define and measure “learning outcomes” for their students. But for good or ill, the student-learning-assessment movement has begun to migrate from the undergraduate world into master’s and doctoral programs. (At some institutions, there is even talk of defining a set of “foundational outcomes” for all graduate students—that is, a set of learning goals that would be analogous to general-education goals for undergraduates.)
On Wednesday morning, as the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools got under way in Washington, three graduate deans led a workshop on assessing graduate students’ learning and using such assessments to improve programs.
Formal assessment for improvement, they said, is more useful and less painful than many faculty members believe. (And in any case, accreditors are insisting on it.)
The three deans sat down for an interview after the workshop.
Q. In doctoral programs with intense mentor-apprentice relationships, the idea of establishing rubrics and other lists of learning outcomes might seem off-key. If I’m a senior professor of comparative literature and I’ve supervised 30 dissertations during my career, I probably know in my bones what successful learning in my program looks like. Why should I be asked to write out point-by-point lists of the skills and learning outcomes that my students should possess?
Charles Caramello, associate provost for academic affairs and dean of the graduate school at the University of Maryland: If you write out lists of learning outcomes, you’re making the invisible visible. That’s really my answer. We’ve all internalized these standards. They’re largely invisible to us. Assessment brings them out into visibility, and therefore gives them a history.
William R. Wiener, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school at Marquette University, who is currently dean in residence at the Council of Graduate Schools: There’s no way to aggregate and to learn unless you’ve got some common instruments. By having common instruments, we can see patterns that we couldn’t see before.
James C. Wimbush, dean of the University Graduate School at Indiana University: Part of the story has to do with the external enviroment. Because of the decrease in funding for state institutions, because of political pressures from state legislators, we are forced to be much more accountable. Our boards of trustees now are looking for more accountability. They don’t necessarily say, “We want to make sure that you’re doing assessments of graduate programs.” But they’re questioning, Do we have too many graduate programs? We have to do a better job of being accountable for how we use our resources from the state and elsewhere. Assessment is one of the ways of doing that.
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