Institutional Student Learning Outcomes

Early draft work on the next college catalog includes the revised Institutional Student Learning Outcomes (ILOs). There were a number of reasons for stepping down as division chair in 2007 after six years, one of them was to take over physical science and to experiment with serving the ILOs I had proposed in 2006.

The recently revised ILOs for the college are more similar to my 2006 proposal than those that had been circulated. The revised ILOs now provide an opportunity to report on course level outcomes in terms of the ILOs, as I had hoped to do over seven years ago. The following report examines how SC 130 Physical Science attempts to inform four of the eight ILOs.

Communication, oral:
1. Effective oral communication: capacity to deliver prepared, purposeful presentations designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors.

SC 130 Physical Science does not currently have this institutional level outcome as a course level outcome. That said, laboratories four and six both include informal student presentations to the rest of the class on the findings of the laboratory groups.



The structure of the presentations is intended to mimic that which often occurs in development work shops (conferences) where one member reports on the progress and results of the work of their team. The students have only ten to twenty minutes to prepare for their presentation to the rest of the class.

The presentations themselves are not marked nor graded, any more so than a presentation in a workshop or conference is marked or graded. One intent is to help the students become more comfortable standing up in front of a group of peers and speaking.

Communication: written
2. Effective written communication: development and expression of ideas in writing through work in many genres and styles, utilizing different writing technologies, and mixing texts, data, and images through iterative experiences across the curriculum.

SC 130 Physical Science is designed with writing wired into the core of the course. This summer the students wrote six laboratory reports that were marked for scientific content, format, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, organization and cohesion. The reports require using spread sheets to generate the data tables, the data graphs, and the linear regression equations. These elements must then be integrated into a formal document. Thus the students are using different writing technologies, mixing text, data, and images (the graphs typically enter the document as an image). The grammar, vocabulary, organization, and cohesion are marked using a rubric not unlike that used to mark the COMET essays.


Although the students usually enter the course with at least one expository writing class completed, their writing skills still show improvement from laboratory one to laboratory fourteen. The following chart provides the distribution of scores for Grammar, Vocabulary, Organization, and Cohesion for laboratory one (first four distributions) and laboratory fourteen (last four distributions).

Given that few students enter the course writing a level which would be scored zero, one, or two points, the room for improvement is small but measurable. Note that organization is altered from the COMET rubric and primarily reflects the overall organization of the laboratory report and that the report includes all required sections.

Problem solving
4. Problem solving: capacity to design, evaluate, and implement a strategy to answer an open-ended question or achieve a desired goal.

In section seven of the course the students are given a Global Positioning Satellite receiver and a latitude, longitude coordinate pair. The instruction sheet also explains how to turn on the GPS. The students have no prior experience with the GPS nor with latitude nor longitude unless they have worked with these elements prior to taking the class. The students are tasked with finding a stuffed animal hidden near campus.



A student this summer, Risenta, showed me her information sheet and GPS, I offered no guidance. This is a pure discovery problem solving exercise, find the lost animal using a knowledge set and technology that are usually both unfamiliar to the students.



Nearing the end of the search for the lost stuffed animal ("Binky") the students are far from recognizable terrain on campus, deep in the tall grass. Rose Ann is just up slope from Binky, Elmihra and Mackleen are just down slope. The students worked in pairs, all of the pairs were in the vicinity of Binky when Binky was eventually found.

Once the stuffed animal is found, and the stuffed animal has been found every single summer, I wrap up with questions about which way latitude and longitude run on the campus, which way the numbers get bigger and smaller, and the location of the cardinal directions. Note that I do not ever explain this to the students, I am only asking questions. And by the end of this exercise, the students have taught themselves the solution. The have solved the open ended problem of locating a lost animal, along the way acquiring knowledge of grid coordinates and a new technology.

Quantitative reasoning
8. Quantitative Reasoning: ability to reason and solve quantitative problems from a wide array of authentic contexts and can clearly communicate those arguments in a variety of formats.

Every single week in the course tackles quantitative reasoning in authentic contexts. This is best documented by the blogs I post each week on the activities of the class. The final examination also measured quantitative reasoning. 47 of the 69 questions on the final examination required quantitative reasoning, the students had a 71% success rate on these 47 quantitative questions. During the term the students communicate their results, their quantitative arguments, via laboratory reports, oral question and answer in class, quizzes, and tests.

The general education program student learning outcome "3.2 Present and interpret numeric information in graphic forms." also serves the quantitative reasoning ILO. This particular program learning outcome was specifically examined using a pre-assessment and post-assessment measurement.


The improvement from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment can be seen in the item analysis based chart above. The left end of the line is the number of students answering that question correctly on the pre-assessment, the left end of the line is the number of students answering the same question correctly on the post-assessment. Although students still show evidence of difficulty writing the full equation in y = mx + b format, all of the students were able to plot coordinates and calculate the slope of the line by the end of the term. The students showed strong gains in their ability to interpret numeric information presented in graphical forms and to engage in quantitative reasoning based on that graphical information.

For reference, the eight institutional learning outcomes presently listed in the next edition of the college catalog are:

1. Effective oral communication: capacity to deliver prepared, purposeful presentations designed to increase knowledge, to foster understanding, or to promote change in the listeners’ attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors.
2. Effective written communication: development and expression of ideas in writing through work in many genres and styles, utilizing different writing technologies, and mixing texts, data, and images through iterative experiences across the curriculum.
3. Critical thinking: a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.
4. Problem solving: capacity to design, evaluate, and implement a strategy to answer an open-ended question or achieve a desired goal.
5. Intercultural knowledge and competence: a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.
6. Information literacy: the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively and responsibly use and share that information for the problem at hand.
7. Foundations and skills for life-long learning: purposeful learning activity, undertaken on an ongoing basis with the aim of improving knowledge, skills, and competence.
8. Quantitative Reasoning: ability to reason and solve quantitative problems from a wide array of authentic contexts and can clearly communicate those arguments in a variety of formats.

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