General Education Assessment

General Education at UCSB

The General Education program comprises the common intellectual experience of all UCSB Letters and Science undergraduates, whatever their majors. The program orients students to a range of intellectual disciplines, particularly the kinds of questions that different disciplines address and the methods used to create and disseminate knowledge.

The General Education program is designed to expose students to a breadth of ideas that might otherwise lie outside their experience and to encourage intellectual curiosity. It requires study in a variety of areas that may include science and mathematics, human history and thought, social science, arts, and literature, among others. 

In addition, the General Education program helps students to refine habits of mind and approaches to scholarly inquiry that are important within all academic disciplines: asking incisive and fruitful questions; collaborating; analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating data, texts, artifacts, and other sources; developing university-level qualitative, quantitative, and information literacy; and articulating ideas using the stylistic conventions of diverse disciplines.

How Program Learning Outcomes for General Education Were Articulated

The Undergraduate Council of the UCSB Academic Senate sets standards for and policy on undergraduate education and provides advice and consent on all matters that affect the educational experiences of undergraduates at UCSB. In Fall 2011, the Council appointed a group of faculty, administrators, and staff with expertise in undergraduate education and authorized a process to articulate the program learning outcomes of the General Education program.

A large and diverse group of faculty took part in writing these outcomes. Documents such as syllabi and assignments associated with courses within each of the 12 General Education areas were analyzed and used to draft outcomes for each area. Faculty teaching in each area reviewed and commented on these drafts. Outcome statements were revised, based on those comments, and recirculated to faculty for approval. In October 2012, the Undergraduate Council approved the final versions of the General Education learning outcomes.

Assessment of General Education at UCSB

Since 2009, UC Santa Barbara has conducted four major assessments of the GE program.  The fifth assessment, a longitudinal effort, is currently underway.  Launched in fall of 2016, the General Education (GE) longitudinal study investigates both student experience and faculty assessment surrounding four intersecting questions: 

1. To what extent do students find that specific GE courses achieve the overall goals of the program?

        a. Does this change as students make their ways through the GE program?

2. To what extent do students find that specific GE courses help them achieve the outcomes of the GE area in which the course is located?

        a. Does this change as they make their ways through the program?

3. To what extent do faculty find that students are achieving the outcomes of the GE area in which the course is located?

4. To what extent do faculty and student assessments of student performance with GE outcomes overlap? Diverge?

To address these questions, UCSB has recruited ~120 students/year and is following these students through their UCSB educations. Each quarter, students are assigned one GE course on which to focus their responses. At the end of the quarter, they complete a survey focusing on their assessment of both the GE outcomes and their work in the course. They also upload one “course document” (something that they have completed in the course that reflects their work with the course outcome). This then becomes the basis for the direct assessment conducted by faculty/instructor raters. 

GE Assessment Year 1 (2016-17)

In year one, the GE assessment team selected a GE course and a specific learning strategy associated with the outcome for each GE area as the focus of the assessment. Both the course and the specific learning strategy that students were to focus on for their reflection and assessment were conveyed to them in correspondence during each quarter.

For faculty to score the direct artifacts submitted for this assessment, the GE assessment team worked with faculty to develop scoring guides reflecting the specific learning strategy in each GE outcome area. This took place in three steps:

1.Describing the learning strategy looked like in their GE course/s.

2.Identifying patterns across courses, within the area. These were returned to faculty for input.

3.Based on input, creating scoring guides for the overall GE area. These were also circulated to faculty for input.

4.Finalizing scoring guides.

GE Assessment Year 2 (2017-18)

Following an analysis of the process and data from year 1, the GE Assessment Team identified issues with the year 1 methodology and made appropriate adjustments. Specifically:

1.Targeting specific learning strategies rather than the overall outcome was too narrow; faculty and some students indicated that it was difficult to isolate their attention on features associated with the strategy without taking the entire outcome into consideration.

2.Related, the team found that identifying correlations between specific learning strategies did not take into account the important connections between competencies and the overall GE area outcome.

As a result, the year 2 scoring procedures were adjusted. The assessment shifted from a focus on specific strategies (i.e., bullet points beneath the description of the entire outcome) to the entirety of the outcome (i.e., from exclusively bullet points beneath the description of the outcome to the entirety of the outcome in relation to the bullet points).  Students continue to upload a course document as well as indicate which specific learning strategies associated with the outcome they found to be addressed during the course.  Students particiapting in the study:

1.Upload a course document that they feel reflects their work with one or more of the learning strategies that they have indicated was addressed in the course.

2.Describe how they feel the document reflects their work with the learning strategies in relation to the outcome.

3.Assess the course document in relation to the outcome and strategies.

Faculty focus their assessment on the course document uploaded by students in relationship to the overall outcome. Faculty are asked about which specific learning strategies they see reflected in the course document submitted by students. Then, based on a holistic review of the document, they indicate the extent to which they find it achieves the overall outcome for the GE area. Faculty then provide a brief written explanation of their assessment.

These Year 2 changes enable the GE Assessment Team to continue gathering data about the research questions outlined above. It also provides more specific data from student and faculty perspectives about:

1. The extent to which students and faculty find that course documents are achieving the overall outcome for each GE area;

2. Correlations between specific strategies associated with the outcome (i.e., bullet points that describe what students should know and/or know how to do in order to achieve the outcome) and the extent to which the outcome is being addressed.

For questions about GE assessment contact Linda Adler-Kassner, Accreditation Liaison Officer.