Assessment delivers learning outcomes that will better define honors experience

Jeff Rice
November 03, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – After a comprehensive two-year assessment planning effort led by University faculty, the Schreyer Honors College has developed a new set of intended student learning outcomes.

Working with college administrators and members of the Faculty Advisory Committee and gathering input from staff and students, College of Education associate professors David Guthrie and Karen Paulson collected data, conducted surveys, studied other honors programs, and ultimately helped the college create four intended outcomes.

Students who graduate from the Honors College will:

  1. Develop, engage in, and communicate scholarship in their field in order to examine and critically analyze selected topics, issues, or problems;
  2. Embody ethical principles in personal, academic, professional, and societal contexts;
  3. Demonstrate respect for human differences, understanding of global interdependency, and engagement in civic life; and,
  4. Collaborate with others and demonstrate leadership by exploring opportunities or implementing initiatives.

The assessment team also created suggestions to document achievement of these learning outcomes, such as Scholars tailoring class papers or even their theses to topics linked to at least one of these outcomes, or by providing evidence of the impact of their study abroad experiences.

Beginning in the summer of 2018, Guthrie and Paulson conducted interviews with more than a dozen staff members to gain a better understanding of the day-to-day workings of the college and big-picture goals. They surveyed various student subpopulations to get an idea of their understanding of their honors experience. They also met multiple times with four ad hoc subcommittees, each of which included members of the Faculty Advisory Committee and the Rock Ethics Institute, and each of which focused on one of the four outcomes.

A newly designed ENGL202 honors course, in addition to helping students with thesis prep, will include ethics discussions as part of the curriculum, and a redesigned honors experience tracker in the Student Records System will allow Scholars to track and identify how their curricular and extracurricular activities align with the learning outcomes.

The assessment plan will also help staff ensure that student programming and services have direct connections to meeting the outcomes.

“It has made us more mindful about aligning our policies and trying to make them more coherent,” said Schreyer Honors College Associate Dean Keefe Manning. “The assessment has been a little bit more eye-opening for staff that there’s a more structured way to do this and help us improve the student experience.”

By more clearly defining outcomes, the college also will help ensure that students who enter during their sophomore or junior years will be held to the same standards as the first-year entrants.

“For the first-year student, the change could be significant,” Manning said. “For the third-year student, their change may not have been as impactful, but they’ll have gone through the same experiences as other students in terms of how they’re thinking about themselves.”

To that end, the college will hold workshops for entering students to self-evaluate their moral and ethical baselines. When they are preparing to graduate, they will be asked the same questions in exit workshops.

Paulson believes the assessment will help honors advisers and faculty have a better understanding of what is expected from them in those roles and also give prospective students a clearer glimpse of what the college can provide.

“What do they get from being an honors student?” Paulson said. “The Honors College wants to know ‘Did it make a difference to this student?’ It will also help identify which students actually want to come, which want to do more than their homework and getting straight As. It’s so much more than that.”

Schreyer Honors College Dean Peggy A. Johnson said the outcomes will help students and staff better measure the impact of things like community service – on both the students and the communities – and better define terms like “global perspective.” She also believes it will help Scholars feel more connected to the mission regardless of their level of interaction with the college.

“My hope is that it doesn’t add to the students’ burden,” Johnson said. “I don’t want them to be loaded down with elements that aren’t contributing toward their degrees. At the same time, I would love for them to be aware that what they’re learning ties directly to our mission.”

The college now has an existing framework to use for future assessments, which can be adjusted to changing technology or changing administrators but will provide an important starting point.

“We have now reached a point where we can articulate ‘This is what we want our students to do and think and create,’ but this is an ongoing process,” Manning said. “It’s a process that in any organization, you do yourself a disservice if you’re not constantly evaluating yourself.”

About the Schreyer Honors College

The Schreyer Honors College promotes academic excellence with integrity, the building of a global perspective, and creation of opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. Schreyer Honors Scholars total nearly 2,000 students at University Park and 20 Commonwealth Campuses and represent 38 states and 27 countries. More than 15,000 Scholars have graduated with honors from Penn State since 1980.

Last Updated November 03, 2020