What do LPDs Commonly Evaluate and Why?

Whatever aspect of a language program you choose to evaluate, evaluation should answer a question that matters to you. Common evaluation questions for LPDs relate to student, instructor, and program success.

Student Learning Outcomes: Are Students in my Program “Successful”?

As an LPD, you have a set of goals or objectives that you want students to achieve as a result of the courses you oversee. Those goals might relate to linguistic competence, intercultural interactions, or cultural knowledge, for example. Students who achieve those goals are presumably better prepared to participate in our globalized world as well as to move on to the next level of language study. The degree to which students achieve those goals are their learning outcomes. 

Clear statements of expected learning outcomes are fundamental to useful evaluation of your program and of individual courses as well. Learning outcomes connect to the overarching goals of a language program or course, such as communicative proficiency or cultural knowledge. Program-level goals reflect common threads across all the courses you supervise rather than one specific course within the program. Course-level goals reflect common threads across curricular units rather than one topic or section of the course.

To translate goals into learning outcomes, state what students will be able to do if they’ve reached each goal. Learning outcomes should reflect a range of abilities that cross Bloom’s cognitive, affective, and psychomotor taxonomies, which are helpful tools for specifying behaviors that represent the expected level of student performance related to program goals. 

Learning Activity: Learning Outcomes in Your Program

In the box below, brainstorm a list of important goals for your program or course. Once you have generated a list of goals, click on the second tab to see how some sample program goals relate to learning outcomes and to get some ideas for how to align goals and learning outcomes in your program.

Do any of the sample outcomes below align with the program goals you identified? What other outcomes might be a good representation of what students should learn in your program?

GOAL #1 - Communicative proficiency: At the end of my program, students will be able to:

  •   Use common linguistic patterns (e.g., word order, formal vs. informal forms) to express (speak/write/sign) or interpret (read/listen to/view) ideas in the target language.
  •   Use phrases and expressions to build rapport or encourage ongoing interaction with others.
  •   Adapt their language use to cross-cultural differences among the participants in an interaction.
  •   Accurately pronounce or write the target language.

GOAL #2 - Cultural knowledge: At the end of my program, students will be able to:

  •   Describe products, practices or perspectives associated with your target language and its communities.
  •   Show openness to other cultures by learning about them.
  •   Recognize that differing perspectives are valuable.
  •   Identify and use gestures, postures, or physical actions to convey their ideas or attitudes.

When you assess learning outcomes, you provide useful information to various stakeholders. First, students can use this information formatively to direct their own learning by building on strengths and seeking help in more challenging areas. They can also use it to communicate what they know and can do as they seek additional educational opportunities or employment. Second, instructors in the program can review learning outcomes results within and beyond their own courses. In their own courses, they can celebrate and extend areas of success while also identifying areas of student struggle that instructors may need to approach differently. Beyond their own courses, instructors can use outcomes results to discuss articulation across courses, which can inform the deliberate design of students’ experiences to ensure that the curriculum builds learning in an intentional, coherent way. Third, LPDs can similarly look within and beyond their program. Learning outcomes results can indicate a need to introduce professional development or to modify course materials or sequencing if students across the board are struggling with a particular learning outcome. These results can also help to place students into an appropriate level of your program and inform realistic expectations among instructors about students transitioning out of your program and into higher-level courses.

Learning outcomes are most commonly assessed through course-based activities, such as exams, projects, presentations, portfolios, student-to-student interactions, or other opportunities that allow students to demonstrate their learning. When the outcomes closely mirror broadly shared competencies like those in the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, programs may also choose to use associated standardized assessments as an alternative. 

Some resources for designing and assessing learning outcomes include: 

  • Watanabe, Davis, and Norris (2012) provide instructional modules for language professionals to develop learning outcomes, map them to the curriculum, select appropriate assessments, use the results, and reflect on the assessment process. 
  • Bachman and Damböck (2018) provide an in-depth, user-friendly explanation of language assessment in the classroom, elaborating on the advantages and disadvantages of many task types, procedures for administration, and scoring approaches, with detailed examples of assessments for different instructional levels. 
  • Brown’s (2012) volume on rubrics for language assessment is a useful complement to these publications.
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