General Education Assessment

General Education at UCSB

The General Education program at UCSB provides the common intellectual experience of all UCSB Letters and Science undergraduates, whatever their majors, exposing students to a breadth of ideas that might otherwise lie outside their experience and to encouraging intellectual curiosity. The program orients students to a range of intellectual disciplines (science and mathematics, human history and thought, social science, arts, and literature,etc.), the kinds of questions that these disciplines address and the methods they use to create and disseminate knowledge.

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.


GE Subject Area Learning Outcomes

Program Learning Outcomes for General Education were articulated under direction of the Undergraduate Council of the UCSB Academic Senate, which sets standards and policy for 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 to write program learning outcomes for General Education.

Syllabi and assignments associated with courses in 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 accordingly revised and recirculated for faculty approval, and in October 2012 the Undergraduate Council approved the final versions of the General Education learning outcomes.

Descriptions of these GE subject areas and links to their learning outcomes are below.


GE Program

The broad learning goals of the GE program as a whole are disseminated through 12 focus areas within the GE curriculum. These include following protocols of scholarly inquiry in and across specific academic disciplines; locating sources of information (such as documents, artifacts, performances) for specific audiences and purposes; critically reading and interpreting these qualitative, quantitative, primary, and secondary sources; using effective strategies to approach and understand key ideas within disciplines; and articulating these key ideas through texts, performances, or other materials appropriate to a discipline.

GE Learning Outcomes


GE Subject Areas

Area A: English Reading and Composition

In Area A courses, students learn to analyze purposes, audiences, and contexts for writing. This is accomplished through study of and practice with genres as they circulate among a variety of sites. Area A Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Area B: Language

In Area B courses, students will display basic familiarity appropriate to the discipline with a written and/or oral language other than their own. Area B Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Area C: Science, Mathematics, and Technology

In Area C courses, students learn to distill and solve problems through the application of appropriate models and methods, and to re-articulate their solutions using language appropriate to the discipline. Area C Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Area D: Social Sciences

In Area D courses, students apply perspectives, theories, and methods of social science research in order to learn about what motivates, influences, and/or determines the behaviors and beliefs of individuals and groups. Area D Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Area E: Culture and Thought

In Area E courses, students learn to situate and investigate questions about the ways in which human history and cultures are constructed and negotiated and the roles that citizens play in those processes with the intent of contributing to an informed citizenry. Area E Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Area F: Arts

In Area F courses, students learn to analyze artistic products, articulate the connections between those products and the cultures in which they were produced, and describe the relevance of art in various cultures. Area F Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Area G: Literature

In Area G courses, students learn to analyze texts using methods appropriate to the discipline(s) and to situate analysis within contexts where texts circulate. View Area G Learning Outcomes (pdf)


Special Subject Areas


In Ethnicity courses, students learn to identify and understand the philosophical, intellectual, historical, and/or cultural experiences of oppressed and excluded racial minorities in the United States. Ethnicity Learning Outcomes (pdf)

European Traditions

In European Traditions courses, students learn to analyze early and/or modern European cultures and their significance in world affairs. European Traditions Learning Outcomes (pdf)

World Cultures

In World Cultures courses, students learn to identify, understand, and appreciate the history, thought, and practices of one or more world culture outside of the European tradition. World Cultures Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Quantitative Relationships

In Quantitative Relationships courses, students develop and apply basic quantitative methods to relevant questions or areas of study. Quantitative Relationships Learning Outcomes (pdf)

Writing Requirement

In Writing Requirement courses, students study and practice with writing, reading, and critical analysis within specific disciplines. Students will demonstrate their abilities with these outcomes by producing written work that is independent of or in addition to written examinations and that is a significant consideration in the assessment of student performance in the course. Writing Requirement Learning Outcomes (pdf)


Assessing 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? 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? 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, then upload one “course document” (some work that they have completed in the course that reflects the course outcome). This then becomes the basis for the direct assessment conducted by faculty/instructor raters. 


GE Assessment Year 1 (2016-17): Core Questions

In year one, the GE assessment team selected a GE course and a specific learning strategy associated with the outcome for each GE area, conveying both the course and the specific learning strategy to students during each quarter. For faculty to score the direct artifacts submitted, they developed scoring guides (with the GE assessment team) 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): Improving Data

Following analysis of process and data from year 1, the GE Assessment Team identified issues with the year 1 methodology. First, targeting specific learning strategies rather than the overall outcome was too narrow; difficult for faculty and students to isolate their attention without taking the entire outcome into consideration. Second, 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 from a focus on specific strategies (i.e., bullet points beneath the description of the entire outcome) to the entirety of the outcome. 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 participating 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 are then asked about which specific learning strategies they see reflected in the course document submitted by students. 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, providing a brief written explanation of their assessment. These Year 2 changes provide 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.

GE Survey Results ~ Tableau


GE Assessment to date (2018-21): Writing, Critical Thinking, and Core Concepts Within GE Areas

Our General Education Study continues to examine, as described above, how structured writing-peer review prompts developed and implemented into GE courses are contributing to students’ abilities with core concepts (which serve as the foci of the prompts). Because UCSB has provided extensive pedagogical training and adopted an electronic platform for this writing-peer review activity, it is widely accessible to faculty in all GE areas and their use of the platform is supported. Area C (Science, Math, and Technology) has yielded especially rich data; however, courses across the GE program are participating. We expect preliminary results by Fall 2021.

Beginning in Fall 2016, approximately 120 students per cohort remained throughout the study. Students reported having more opportunity to focus on content and facts (“what”) then critically engage with new ideas related to the content in GE courses (“why” and “how”). Some students reported that while GE courses could feel disconnected, the courses often had unexpected and lasting effects on their worldviews. Students generally said that they enrolled in GE courses based on topics of interest relevant to their major as well as concerns about scheduling and workload.

Generally speaking, recommendations fall into three broad categories for faculty teaching GE courses: 

  • Have more explicit discussions about the value of GE courses within a liberal arts education at UCSB. 

  • Have more explicit discussions about the specific GE-related educational goals throughout a course. 

  • Provide explicit advice and guidance for students about discipline-specific approaches to reading, writing, and conducting research. Further, it is recommended that faculty provide guidance for students about frameworks for thinking through ideas and problems from different angles.


For more details from this study, see the full white paper on our General Education Assessment 2020. For questions about GE assessment contact Linda Adler-Kassner, Accreditation Liaison Officer.