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Measuring College Learning Project

The quality of undergraduate education has become a central question in academic and policy circles in recent decades. But how do we define quality? And how can we measure it? While many actors in the higher education arena are grappling with these issues, we believe it is crucial for faculty to be a leading voice in the quality conversation. Thus, the Measuring College Learning Project (MCL) aims to engage faculty in defining learning outcomes and developing possible ways to measure them. While a number of tools exist to measure students' generic skills, we lack subject-specific tools that truly reflect faculty goals for student learning. To respond to this need, MCL will focus on developing tools that can measure subject-specific skills and competencies.

The first step in this process will be to bring faculty together from six fields of study (biology, business, communication, economics, history, and sociology) and engage them in conversations about the essential skills and habits of mind they would like their students to develop (1) in the introductory course and (2) in the major. Given the breadth of each field as well as the wide variety of institutions in which these subjects are taught, it would be impossible to generate an exhaustive list of learning outcomes for each field. Rather, this project aims to encourage faculty to develop consensus about a small set of empirically measurable "representative competencies" for each field, representing habits of mind, expert thinking, and the like, not surface-level content knowledge.

After faculty have identified a set of essential learning outcomes for students in their field, they will consider how these outcomes could be measured over time in a systematic way. The goal is to develop a "pre-post" tool that can measure growth in skills and competencies over the span of a single course or across the major, and that can be used by faculty as a formative assessment--a diagnostic tool--for the purpose of instructional improvement. The structure and content of the tool is up to faculty to determine, and depending on the field of study, its format may vary.

This project is supported by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Teagle Foundation.

For more information and updates about the Measuring College Learning Project, visit highered.ssrc.org.

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