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Learning Outcomes and Assessment | Faculty Views of Assessment

Portrait of Mary Hansen

Photo by Jeff Watts

Case Study: The Economics Department's Experience with Assessment

Professor Mary Hansen likes to see faculty talking about what students know and don’t know.

She has seen these faculty conversations spring up around assessments of student learning, ultimately leading to big changes in her department, Economics.

“Assessment gets everyone on the same page so that you can have a conversation,” Hansen said in a recent interview about her leadership of the Economics faculty in assessing learning outcomes.

Econ keeps things simple: Four basic learning outcomes for the undergraduate program and two for the master’s, all listed in the box below. To determine progress in these areas, Hansen and her faculty use a test of basic knowledge, a brief student survey, and an analysis of capstone work or comprehensive exams.

Before creating these outcomes and measurements, faculty disagreed about basic student competencies.

“We were aware that the students were not as strong as we would have liked,” Hansen said. “But assessment showed us what students really don’t know…and then created momentum around how to do something about it.” Hansen said assessments quickly revealed weaknesses in student work, most often dealing with economic data. “Now we use data in assignments at all levels,” Hansen said. “We made changes in classes and syllabi.” “It was all worth it,” she concluded.

Hansen added that Econ is now at a stage where “…people who’ve done it have gotten some benefit. Now nobody says we don’t need to do assessment.”

All assessment methods have been valuable, but the value of the student survey was most surprising.

“Even if a survey is an indirect measure, it is incredibly valuable. Students need to be asked about their learning—recent alums too,” she suggested. “Faculty don’t see the whole [degree program], but students do.”

Hansen also suggested making assessment “a habit,” or part of departmental routine. It should involve faculty committees right from the start—one for each degree program, she recommended. Assessment results need to be presented and discussed every year at a spring faculty meeting that includes all regular and term faculty, she said.

What is it about assessment that stymies people? “Fitting it in,” Hansen said.

Learning Outcomes for Economics
Graduates of the undergraduate program will be able to
  • use to use the new micro model of market demand and supply to predict changes in price and output that result from exogenous changes.
  • use macroeconomic models to explain changes in output, employment, inflation, and growth.
  • describe the function of key economic institutions.
  • find information on price indices, employment and unemployment, world-wide GDP and human development statistics; organize and manipulate the data in spreadsheets and statistical programs; and interpret statistical results.
Graduates of the MA program will be able to
  • Solve economic models mathematically and provide intuitive explanations of the results.
  • Employ and interpret econometric models to answer a research question.