2011 Campus Technology Innovators | Administrative Systems

Brigham Young University

BYU's Learning Outcomes website is an online tool that publicly displays and correlates program- and course-level learning outcomes--putting that data at the forefront of the institutional mission, course planning, and more.

Project: Learning Outcomes Website

Project lead: Jeffrey Keith, associate academic VP

Vendors/technologies used:
Developed in-house

On most campuses, learning outcomes have traditionally been associated with accreditation visits or other reporting functions that are designed to assess courses or academic programs retrospectively--and are intended for a limited audience. Today, there's a growing movement to make learning outcomes central to a drive for continuous improvement linked to strategic institutional goals. At Brigham Young University (UT), a public website has put learning outcomes at the forefront of the institutional mission, course planning, and more. It's a mechanism for change, not just for generating reports, and provides data that are accessible to stakeholders at various levels.

Developed in-house, BYU's Learning Outcomes website is an online tool that displays and correlates program- and course-level learning outcomes. "This tool now allows faculty to specify exactly what they are trying to help students learn in their particular course," explains project lead Jeffrey Keith, BYU's associate academic vice president. "More importantly, these intentions can be pulled into our online catalog as students contemplate which classes they want to register for each semester. Customization of outcomes by each faculty member is encouraged."

The key to the success of the website lies in a tradition of communication and disclosure at BYU. Several years ago, the university decided to move program-level learning outcome statements (generated to satisfy accreditation requirements) online. Administrators quickly recognized the opportunity to share the data more widely, and made the learning outcomes available for review by faculty and students.

Initially, the information was provided in a wiki, but the university eventually transferred it to a database-driven application. Data from the Learning Outcomes site can now be linked to other learning-management and assessment tools using web services, and learning outcomes can be incorporated into relevant applications throughout campus: the course catalog, the registration system, course syllabi (including the university's online syllabus system), student ratings, and other components of the BYU Learning Suite.

Now, 2,459 courses (27 percent of all BYU courses) have at least one course-level learning outcome, and most have between five and eight. More than 11,200 course-level learning outcomes have been created and included on the site. One striking measure of the website's success is its acceptance by students: At least 65 percent of BYU students use or are aware of learning outcomes in their academic planning.

With Keith's leadership, developers at BYU are not only enhancing the Learning Outcomes site but are producing related tools. For example, a new product allows faculty to easily tie each student assessment (e.g., test, project, performance, etc.) to each of a course's learning outcomes. Because the course-level learning outcomes are tied to program-level outcomes, and program-level outcomes are linked to the university's core themes, an individual assessment can be reviewed at the highest level as evidence of achievement. In the next few months, BYU will release an exam-building tool that will allow linkage in the opposite direction: Course-level learning outcomes will be able to be tied to an individual question or test item.

About the Author

Meg Lloyd is a Northern California-based freelance writer.

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