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Assess Student Learning: Key Assessments, Portfolios, Capstones

Student learning at the program level can be assessed in many ways. Below are a few of the most popular types of direct assessment: Key Assessments, Portfolios, and Capstones. Programs can also be assessed indirectly through a review of program data and alumni surveys.

What are key assessments?

Key assessments are course assignments or exams that are directly aligned to program-level learning outcomes and used to represent student learning on those outcomes.

Why use key assessments?

If a department is using a curriculum map to conduct program-level assessment, key assessments can be chosen within aligned courses to assess program-level learning. This can be an efficient method of program-level assessment as a direct outgrowth of course-level assessment.

What are portfolios?

Portfolios, or more often online "e-portfolios", are archives of an individual student's work. In addition to providing a record of accomplishments throughout an academic career, they often reflect a student's voice or perspective as it develops during their academic experience.

Why use portfolios?

They help instructors and potential employers by providing a way to richly assess a student's learning and experiences, both throughout their development and upon completion of a program. Often this involves the creation of a rubric that ties program-level outcomes to evidence in the portfolio. Portfolios also help students by encouraging the process of reflection and self-evaluation and by providing a way to easily share evidence of their learning with others for feedback and application purposes.

What are capstones?

Capstones are courses taken at the culmination of a program that broaden, deepen and integrate multiple aspects of that program. They often include a final project that provides evidence for learning in multiple program-level outcomes.

Why use capstones?

Capstones help instructors by providing a way to assess the learning of graduating students across multiple learning outcomes. Similar to a portfolio assesssment, this often involves the creation of a rubric tied to program-level outcomes. Capstones help students by providing an opportunity to bring potentially disparate course concepts and skills together into one synthesized project, requiring a higher level of learning that can be showcased to multiple audiences.

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