SUNY Oneonta Assessment of Student Learning

Description vs. Analysis

Educators are familiar with documents that describe their work and that of their students. Descriptive reports typically discuss what has taken place, when, where, who was involved, and perhaps, how the events unfolded. Faculty are using description when they explain what changes in courses and/or the curriculum they have made, or tell when, why, or how changes were accomplished.

Since the late 1990’s MSA and other accreditors have increasingly shifted their focus from accepting descriptive information to requiring information that reflects an analysis ofthe impact of changes made. Using the example of course and curriculum changes, instead of describing what was done and why, faculty would now analyze the impact of the changes made on the students’ knowledge and/or skill levels over time. They would answer the question “How did the change impact what the students learned?” Thus, faculty should expect to provide information on how the changes previously made to their courses and/or the major curriculum have impacted the type, amount, or timing of student learning. That is, have the course and/or curriculum changes resulted in the students developing more depth or breadth of knowledge of the subject, enhanced written communications skills, the ability to utilize technology to accomplish more difficult simulations, or the ability to integrate better complex concepts?

Similarly, until the late 90’s, accreditors have accepted faculty descriptions of what students have accomplished in terms of majors and minors completed, earned GPA’s, scholarships and other recognition received, and participation in co-curricular activities such as student chapters of professional or honorary societies, student government, sports, etc. What is currently expected is that faculty attempt to analyzetheimpact of these variables upon the student’s ability to accomplish the program’s goals. For example, does completing a minor better prepare students for success in their chosen career or in a graduate program? Does learning to write term papers or to give presentations in a prerequisite course mean that the student is prepared better for upper division course work? What is the impact upon student learning of taking several major courses simultaneously or of participating in an internship, student-faculty research project, or service learning experience? 

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