The SoTL Advocate

Measuring Student Learning in SoTL Project

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Written by Kathleen McKinney, Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

In much of our SoTL work/projects we need and want to measure some type(s) of student learning and other outcomes. When considering how to do this, start by thinking about and, perhaps, discussing with others the following more general but related questions. What, specifically, are the learning outcomes that you think students should be demonstrating? What might be the intervening processes (the why and how) between the teaching or intervention or material…and the learning outcomes? What does past research tell you about what learning and other outcomes to measure and how? What do theories about learning (general and specific to your topic) tell you about what outcomes to measure and how? Given your SoTL research questions and ways you hope to use your data, do you need measures that allow statistical analysis and generalization and/or data that gives student ‘voices’ and offers description?

Next, think about the different types of outcomes you might need to measure including the following:

We can also think about measuring outcomes in terms of several measurement dimensions, each of which can be seen as dichotomies or as continuums. First, measures of student outcomes may be more or less indirect (e.g. student perceptions), direct (e.g., valid instruments/measures of learning), and/or performance (e.g., behaviors). Second, measures could be static at one point in time or growth/change measures (pre-post or follow-up measures after some period of time). Third, we may use single or multiple measures for a given student outcome. Fourth, sometimes we utilize existing instruments; for other situations, creating your own instruments may be more appropriate. Fifth, measures may be quantitative and/or qualitative.

Finally, the ways we measure student learning and other outcomes in our SoTL projects occur within a broader methodology or study design or general data gathering strategy. For example, we may analyze student products, conduct interviews or focus groups with students, have them complete questionnaires, give them pre-post tests, ask them to write learning reflection essays or journals, facilitate and record ‘think-alouds’ of an appropriate learning task, conduct a quasi-experiment, use observational research, and more. Be on the look out for future posts to this blog by Dr. Jennifer Friberg with details on several of these SoTL research methods/strategies.

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