Semester ConversionSemester ConversionUniversity of Cincinnati

Semester Conversion

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) FAQ

Female professor in pink suit.


I am developing student learning outcomes (SLOs) for the courses that I teach. How do I know that these learning outcomes will be consistent with the learning outcomes for my program as a whole?

This relationship of course to program will inevitably emerge out of a joint process by which some courses need to anticipate program learning outcomes and vice versa. Ideally, though, each unit will spend time early in the process to design a holistic plan for the range and quantity of courses that it will offer within the semester framework. This will then guide its individual faculty as they consider their own courses. The checklist for curricular redesign (resources for program and course redesign) may also be useful for this process.

What is the relationship of the SLOs for my particular section of my course and the SLOs for that course as they will get developed by my colleagues who will be teaching this same course, whether now or at some future time?

In the case of a course with multiple sections to be taught by different instructors, conversations at the present time should help to develop appropriate SLOs: ones that are sufficiently specific to be observable and measurable but also sufficiently general to provide space for multiple classroom approaches. Individual syllabi might also articulate SLOs in slightly different ways but still be designed around sections of the course that will achieve learning outcomes that are common to all other sections.

In those cases where the SLOs differ substantially from one section to another, however, it becomes important to create two (or even more) distinct courses, since the different sets of SLOs in that case are descriptive of genuinely different courses.

Why does the C-1 (course template) need to include a question asking for student learning outcomes (SLOs)?

The main external impetus towards gathering this information comes from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which noted in the “Advancement Section” of its report to UC following its site visit here:

The development and implementation of assessment efforts across the university has been noteworthy in the past two years, however, documenting the influence of assessment on student learning is in the early stages. The visiting team recommends that in order to understand the university assessment activity as a whole, UC should create a university-wide planning process for academic assessment with over-arching goals and time tables.

Elsewhere in this same report, the HLC reviewers emphasized the need for UC to “create widespread consensus on a definition of assessment that involves help in understanding how to assess student learning outcomes. The faculty must own and value the process.”

For many UC courses, defining SLOs for a course or program will be a routine matter because those will already exist through documents prepared for other accreditation processes, in the form of well-crafted outcomes for TAG courses, or through the standards and guidelines of national professional organizations. The process of defining SLOs thus rests upon conventions and expectations that not only already exist throughout much of the disciplines and professions but that are also steadily increasing in importance.

In terms of our own hopes that a “conversion from quarters to semesters truly means a transformation of teaching and learning at UC,” the identification of SLOs plays a major role in achieving that vision. We see this process as helping faculty to be more purposeful in aligning course content and assignments with the stated outcomes; and also helping students to focus their own learning in more effective ways. Carefully defined SLOs can thus allow both instructors and students to be more efficient within the teaching and learning process.

If we are to be serious about the task of assessing student learning, we need to put in place the SLOs that will be necessary for such assessment ever to take place. Amidst the various questions on the C-1 form, the one about SLOs is the most important that we ask.

How can I develop SLOs for a course that I won’t teach for maybe three more years? Especially if another faculty member will be teaching the same course? It seems as though this would seriously restrict the rights of my colleagues.

This situation seems unusual because of the semester-conversion process, but is in other ways fairly common. All of our academic programs are built around requirements, but those program requirements don't change very often. At the same time, we rely on our colleagues to continue to design and teach required courses so that those courses will contribute towards broader goals of the program as a whole. For instance, we count on the foundational and methodology courses in our program to provide our students with necessary skills and knowledge for later courses. The SLOs for semester conversion don't need to define particular kinds of assignments or classroom approaches, and they can be similarly open-ended regarding content. Even with that aspect of the SLOs left undefined and unspecified, we can still have expectations about other kinds of learning that students will appropriately take from courses that they can then apply later in the curriculum.

The term “measurable” for the desired SLOs assumes some kind of precise measuring tool or a scale of measurement that isn’t possible for some of my course goals. What am I supposed to do about that?

It is certainly true that some SLOs lend themselves much more readily than others towards being observed and measured. Even so, we conduct “measurements” all the time already, so it can be a manageable leap into this aspect of SLOs. For instance, a creative-writing instructor will have some sense about what level of “creative thinking” she is expecting, perhaps along these lines, from strongest student on down:

  • Jane is the best writer in the class and shows excellent creativity in her short stories.
  • John’s writing sounds a bit too much like stories these days in the New Yorker magazine, but since there’s a wide range of styles there, that’s not a bad thing in student writing.
  • Joe will have some emerging sense of his own creative voice but still sounds far too much like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby in every story he writes.
  • Jill, the weakest of the bunch, will wait until she sees a story that she likes from a classmate and then pretty much copy that style.

The instructor’s feedback to all of these students would reflect her “measuring” process in that she would have a clear idea in her own mind about differing levels of creativity here. So then the issue becomes one of creating the kind of SLO that will reflect what the instructor does through such a process, making both her students and herself more conscious of the steps in the process. And she could get some help from others on this, too: a Google search on “rubric + creativity + higher education” turns up nearly 170,000 references. So the measurement tools clearly exist, it’s whether or not we can adapt them to our own courses.