18 August 2009

How many SLOs?

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are the core of most assessment initiatives today. That doesn't mean they are limited as a center piece (or centerpiece). In fact, this core may be better envisioned as an envelope. And as recent discussion on a listserv would indicate, the envelope should be large enough to address all that a program faculty sees as representing what students should learn by the end of the degree.

If a meaningful SLO is one that clearly reflects a competency, then your basic set of 3 outcomes will not reflect "all" that students should learn. Would 6 outcomes be enough? Would 8? More? (Posters on the listserv did not have an answer.)

Assuming that we subscribe to the idea of humans having some limits on their ability to focus, we can use George Miller's magical number of 7. Humans can handle 5 to 9 things (in phone numbers, in memory, in relationships, in file folders) before they start having to juggle. Before they lose track. Before they shrug.

That principle suggests naming a recommended number of SLOs for a faculty group to focus on. But it doesn't have to limit the faculty's thinking about competencies. Categories of competencies can be reflected in the SLOs. Then, the next matter is how to set about measuring them, probably with staggered schedules so that just a few SLOs are addressed per year.

By limiting the number of new assessments each year, the faculty has the luxury of also re-visiting measures from previous years. And that's the real power of assessment: measuring, making an improvement, and re-measuring. The re-visiting represents closing the loop.

A formula I am growing fond of:
6 outcomes X 2-3 assessments = 12-18 measures per year. Now, comes the next question: how many faculty members does it take to.....

© 2009 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. Email contact: bold[AT]marybold.com. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as legal or professional advice. Bold is the co-author of Reflections: Preparing for your Practicum or Internship, geared to college interns in the child, education, and family fields. She is a consultant and speaker on assessment, distance learning, and technology.

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