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PBA Home > Institutional Research & Analysis > Performance indicators  > Undergraduate student learning and outcomes

How CU-Boulder Assesses and Improves Undergraduate Student Learning and Outcomes

Bachelor's degree programs publish their expectations for degree recipients - also known as skill and knowledge goals - in the CU-Boulder catalog.  Colleges and departments are responsible for assessing these goals and for enhancing teaching methods, course content, courses offered, degree requirements, and advising as a result. In addition, in 2011 the Provost and Council of Deans approved a list of learning goals for baccalaureate graduates.

The College of Arts and Sciences core curriculum is required of over 70% of CU-Boulder undergraduates. It ensures a broad liberal arts education with skills in foreign language, quantitative reasoning, written communication, and critical thinking. Students also take courses in seven content areas, each with many offerings (e.g., over 50 courses in the Historical Context content area).  The College is responsible for ensuring that courses and student outcomes meet the underlying educational philosophies and goals of the core.

Writing instruction by The Program for Writing and Rhetoric provides research-based writing instruction at all undergraduate levels. It is distinctive among writing programs at large research universities in employing a highly experienced and professional faculty to teach undergraduate writing, rather than relying on graduate teaching assistants. It also runs the campus Writing Center, for writers across disciplines and skill levels.

CU-Boulder aims at maximizing the success of entering undergraduates.  Required orientations help students register for courses, get advising, and learn about the campus.  ALEKS is a campus-wide mathematics assessment and placement tool  first used with fall 2012 entering students to ensure placement in an appropriate level of math.   Some colleges use personalized profiles with predictions of student success in common freshmen courses in pre-fall advising.   The College of Arts and Sciences has reorganized A&S advising to provide more tailored advising for first year students, with the goal of improving retention and graduation rates. 

Departments and other colleges focus on learning in the discipline or major or in a set of of key courses.  Major examples: Engineering's comprehensive assessment program and independent accreditation; Applied Math's use of pre-examination oral assessments to improve student understanding in calculus; the CU Science Education Initiative to improve the teaching of science to all undergraduate students; the CU-Teach program for training math and science teachers for secondary schools; strengthening of degree requirements in Journalism.  Campus-wide, we are in the data analysis stage of a grant-funded assessment of critical thinking using the NSF funded Critical Thinking Analysis Test, led by Tennessee Tech University.

Innovative technologies and environments to enhance learning and teaching include the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Laboratory, with an interactive classroom-laboratory shared by all six departments in engineering; a Visual Arts Complex, which opened spring 2010; "clickers" used in classes all over campus for immediate checks on student understanding and active participation of all students; the Anderson Language Technology Center (ALTEC), supporting all foreign language students and teachers; an honors program; and the ATLAS Institute -- Alliance for Technology, Learning, and Society -- which creates and facilitates educational and research programs in which information and communication technology is an enabling force.  Programs outside the traditional classroom also contribute, including residential academic programs in several residence halls, undergraduate research opportunities, and study abroad programs in which one in four graduates participate. 

Several other programs work to improve teaching and learning, including the Faculty Teaching Excellence Program, the Graduate Teacher Program for graduate students employed as teaching assistants, and the President's Teaching Scholars Program, a group of faculty from all three CU campuses chosen not only for skill in their own classrooms, but for their promise of improving education and enlarging its possibilities across the university.

Student surveys.  We routinely ask students about their experiences, making comparisons over CU-Boulder departments and colleges, over time, and to results for students at other public research universities across the country.  We make most results public on the Web, and use them to improve our programs.  These surveys are sometimes campus wide, sometimes focused on specific sub-groups within campus.

FCQ.  Every semester, every student in every course has the opportunity to rate the course and instructor on nine key questions, and to offer "constructive comments to your instructor" on the Faculty Course Questionnaire. 70-80% respond. We make all ratings public on the Web in an easy to access fashion. Instructors use the ratings and comments to improve their courses. The ratings are used in promotion and tenure decisions and by students in selecting courses and instructors.

Graduation rates and time to degree.  We regularly check graduation rates and time to degree, and their relationship to student demographic characteristics, CU-Boulder programs, and so on. We make our results public on the Web, and use them to understand and improve the student experience at CU-Boulder.

Checking trends. Each year we update and check trends on measures in a number of goal areas, including learning and education of undergraduate students, nurturing a diverse campus environment, leading in the use and study of technology, and providing outstanding student support services. We make all trends examined, plus a narrative overview, public on the Web.

Last revision 05/14/12


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