Assessing Course Outcomes

Learning Objectives

At the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Describe why assessment is used for teaching & learning.
  • Explain the difference between assessing traditional and open course materials.

Assessment is an integral part of the education process, a method used as a barometer for what changes may be necessary to improve teaching and learning. Assessment is not always a simple process, so it can help to get some support understanding key concepts.

Assessment in the Classroom

Assessment can occur at any time during or after a course. It is recommended that instructors assess their course regularly, but especially when incorporating new techniques or course materials for the first time. The National Research Council describes the assessment process as a constantly evolving enterprise:

“What is important is that assessment is an ongoing activity, one that relies on multiple strategies and sources for collecting information that bears on the quality of student work and that then can be used to help both the students and the teacher think more pointedly about how the quality might be improved.”[1]

One popular method of assessing a course is to investigate whether the learning outcomes you selected for the course have been met.

Learning Outcomes

Elhabashy defines Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) as

“the specific observable or measurable results that are expected subsequent to a learning experience. These outcomes may involve knowledge (cognitive), skills (behavioral), or attitudes (affective) that provide evidence that learning has occurred as a result of a specified course, program activity, or process.”[2]

These learning outcomes are used as benchmarks for assessing student learning and, by proxy, your own teaching. Perhaps the most important type of SLOs are Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs). CLOs are the final outcomes that an instructor expects their class to have gained once they leave a course.[3] These should be measurable items, outcomes for which you can create effective assessments.

Anytime you adjust your syllabus, course schedule, or learning materials, it can be helpful to consult your CLOs to ensure that the new structure you are making for your course is able to accommodate the needs of learners and facilitate the development of your learning outcomes.

CLO Example from Library 160: Information Literacy

After completing this course, students will:

  • recognize how information creation, dissemination, and the research process can impact what is available on a given topic;
  • recognize that information has value and identify how the information you produce is used online;
  • appropriately relate information needs to search strategies, tools, and types of information sources, including recognizing and interpreting different types of citations;
  • appropriately use the web for research, including critical evaluation of information;
  • adhere to academic integrity policies, including those on plagiarism and copyright.

Course learning outcomes can be an invaluable part of the course transformation process for departments hoping to flip courses to open. As Tidewater Community College explained the process for their Z-degree pilot, in which a selection of courses taught at the university were transformed to use OER and other no-cost course materials:

“The faculty team began by stripping each of the 21 courses down to the course learning outcomes and rebuilding them, matching OER to each outcome… Courses were designed consistent with college’s academic and instructional design requirements, and were subjected to a strict copyright review.”[4]

Now that you have an overview of the types of goals you can set for your course, let’s move on to the processes available for assessing whether your students (and, by extension, your teaching) have met them.

Types of Assessment

The point of assessment is to ensure that learning objectives are being met and that your teaching is helping students develop the skills they ought to be achieving throughout your course. The assessment techniques you implement will depend on your preference and the standards in your field, but to help you get started, we’ve listed a few standard assessment types below:

  • Formative Assessment: An ongoing process with a wide variety of formats, formative assessment can include quizzes, papers, projects, and any other formal or informal tests provided to gauge your students’ understanding of course content.
  • Summative Assessment: The final assessment of student learning after a course has completed, summative assessment can include final papers, projects, or exams. Summative assessment should be used to assess both standard teaching procedures and the effectiveness of any changes made following the formative assessments provided throughout your course.
  • Student Self-Assessment: Methods for allowing your students to rate their own confidence in their work and their understanding of course content; examples include writing discussion board posts, drafting exam questions, and filling out confidence rating scales on exams.[5]
  • Student Peer-Assessment: The process by which students evaluate the work of their peers within a course, peer assessment is often used as a learning tool to help students reconsider their own understanding of course content as they evaluate the work of their peers.[6]
  • Student Assessment of Teaching (SATs): The manner in which students report on the effectiveness of an instructor’s teaching on their learning, often given at the end of a course but sometimes handled as an ongoing process. The most ubiquitous SATs are student surveys given at the end of a course.

For additional approaches to classroom assessment, the Iowa State University Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching has compiled a website listing classroom assessment techniques, and the UH instructional designers share guidance on providing effective feedback to online students.

After reviewing these more traditional assessment types, you might wonder how the assessment for a course using OER differs.

Assessment for OER

Assessment for courses utilizing OER does not have to be any different than for courses utilizing traditional materials. Nonetheless, some individuals have developed assessment techniques for the open classroom in particular. One of these is the RISE Framework.

The RISE Framework (Resource Inspection, Selection, and Enhancement) utilizes a 2 x 2 matrix of High Grade/Low Grade and High Use/Low Use to determine how much the use of OER has affected a student’s learning outcomes.[7] The RISE Framework is used to determine how well a student performed in a course and to contrast that outcome with how much they used their provided course materials. This method can help delineate between students who excel in a subject by default and those who have done well in a course thanks to the use of the provided course content. A package in R has been developed for running a RISE analysis quickly and easily. The RISE package for R is openly available in Zenodo.

In the end, what assessment techniques you employ in your course will be determined by a variety of factors, some of which will be out of your control. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand why you’re assessing your course and the impact that assessment can have, particularly for courses changing their materials.

  1. National Research Council. Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2001. DOI:
  2. Elhabashy, Sameh. Formulate Consequential Student Learning Outcomes. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017.
  3. Elhabashy, Sameh. Formulate Consequential Student Learning Outcomes.
  4. Wiley, David, et al. "The Tidewater Z-Degree and the INTRO Model for Sustaining OER Adoption." Education Policy Analysis Archives 23, no. 41 (2016). DOI:
  5. Sorenson-Unruh, Clarissa. "Ungrading: The First Exam." Reflective Teaching Evolution. May 1, 2019.
  6. Stanford Teaching Commons. "Peer Assessment." Accessed July 1, 2019.
  7. Bodily, Robert, Nyland, Rob, and Wiley, David. "The RISE Framework: Using Learning Analytics to Automatically Identify Open Educational Resources for Continuous Improvement." International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18, no. 2 (2017). DOI:

This chapter is adapted from Assessing Course Outcomes in The OER Starter Kit by Abbey Elder.


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OER and Alternative Textbook Handbook Copyright © 2020 by Ariana Santiago is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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