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Sustainable Agriculture Institute

Sustainable Agriculture Institute Promotes Sustainable Education through Permaculture Design

Institute’s Taxonomy Plan

The Institute’s Taxonomy Plan consists of the following elements:


Plan → Conduct → Analyze and Use Results → Document




 Table of Contents

    1. Step 1 –  Review the mission and general goals for your program
    2. Step 2. Identify the most important student learning outcomes and program outcomes for your program
    3. Step 3. Check to see where and how the program curriculum addresses the learning outcomes

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Step 1 –  Review the mission and general goals for your program



In Brief: Your statement should include:


Mission – The purpose of the program, focusing on educational values, major areas of knowledge covered in the curriculum, and careers or future studies for which graduates are prepared.

Goals – Two or three most important goals of the program, which should be agreed upon by program faculty. These may be drawn from various areas, including teaching effectiveness, research productivity, and service to the community and university.

Explain how the program’s mission statement and broad goals support the Institute’s goals.

Your program’s mission statement provides the foundation for your teaching and your assessment of student learning. Grounded in the Institute’s Statement of Purpose and Goals, your program mission provides a broad, clear statement of purpose and vision. It addresses the community served, educational values, major areas of knowledge, and careers or future studies for which graduates are prepared.

Flowing from this mission statement are the program’s goals/objectives and, subsequently, the more tightly-defined outcomes. Two types of goals/objectives and outcomes are generally distinguished: learning and program.

Learning goals or outcomes related to student acquisition of knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

Program goals or outcomes address program-wide metrics such as publishing, research, graduation rates, and job placement.

Goals and objectives begin to interpret the mission statement by identifying major areas of learning or other measures of programmatic accomplishment (while the terms “goals” and “objectives” are sometimes used interchangeably, objectives are commonly defined as a subset of goals, providing more concrete statements of purpose).


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Step 2. Identify the most important student learning outcomes and program outcomes for your program



In Brief:


Clearly specify learning outcomes – the important knowledge, skills, and attitudes that you expect students in each program to demonstrate.

Clearly specify program outcomes – in addition to student learning, how do you measure the success of your academic program?

Select outcomes that are important, that you and your colleagues care about, and that you would like to understand better.

Select the level of students (e.g., fourth-year undergrad; second-year grad) that will provide the best measure of each learning outcome. Be clear about the cognitive level that you expect of those students.

Student learning outcomes and program outcomes bring specificity to the program mission and goals.


The focus remains on the program, and the faculty sets the expectations, as in:


Learning outcome: We, the faculty, expect that a student graduating with this (__________) degree will be able to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the major theories of (____________).

Program outcome: We, the faculty, expect to publish research as articles in respected peer-reviewed journals and/or as prominent scholarly monographs.

Learning outcomes are concrete, specific statements that describe knowledge, skills or even attitudes that are considered important for program graduates to demonstrate. All types of learning outcomes describe learning that can be methodically assessed by faculty.

Program outcomes address important program metrics over and above student learning. They may include publishing, university or community service, student retention or graduation rates, student placement after graduation, etc. The rest of this page will focus on learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes can be classified using Bloom’s Taxonomy (below), which categorizes student performance into six cognitive levels, organized from basic (“Knowledge“) to complex (“Synthesis“). You can match active verbs to each cognitive level as you write your student learning outcomes.

Of course, the cognitive levels you choose will depend on which students you intend to focus on in your assessment. Calibrate the level of learning to the student group. Third-year students will likely be at the first level (knowledge), whereas finishing graduate students should be able to perform at the highest levels (evaluation and synthesis).




Recommendations for writing learning outcomes:


Be selective: propose a few learning outcomes for assessment. Don’t try to capture the whole of students’ learning experience. Rather, focus on learning outcomes that you and your colleagues consider to be worthwhile. If you’re going to take the time to conduct a systematic assessment and follow-up on the results, then focus it on an aspect of learning that is fundamentally important to your students’ success as growing scholars or that addresses an aspect of learning that you feel needs specific attention and that you want to explore. In other words, view assessment as a tool that you can use to inform discussion about your program. You begin to use assessment as a tool when you explicitly select which student learning outcomes to focus on.

Keep it simple, but meaningful: in general, don’t write “compound outcomes“, such as “students will know A, B, and C” unless, in your view, A, B, and C need to be considered together. On the other hand, don’t bother to include a learning outcome that is so simple or so general as to be useless.

Word your outcomes to reflect your specific purpose. Select your target students and calibrate the wording to your expectations for their learning. Use active words, and select words that reflect the level of knowledge or skill that you want to assess. This may seem obvious, but misinterpretations do arise, and you will appreciate your careful choice of words when you begin your assessments.


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Step 3. Check to see where and how the program curriculum addresses the learning outcomes



In Brief:


Identify where in the curriculum each learning outcome is taught (curriculum mapping). In which courses are students expected to show mastery of this learning outcome?

Programs and courses evolve. Revisit your curriculum map periodically.

Curriculum mapping is a powerful tool for creating and maintaining a cohesive curriculum.

You’ve identified which learning outcomes to assess. Now, where in the curriculum are those outcomes taught, and in which courses are students expected to demonstrate mastery?

Curriculum mapping is the process of identifying where in the curriculum each learning outcome is taught, and to what end. Through curriculum mapping, the faculty can identify and link course content, learning outcomes, assignments, and assessments.

Resulting syllabi that list learning outcomes and expectations can help students to anticipate, monitor, and evaluate their own learning. Curriculum mapping can also reveal gaps in the curriculum – places where learning outcomes are not covered or not covered adequately.

Curriculum maps can be general (associating learning outcomes with courses) or more detailed (listing specific assignments for assessment – e.g. a particular paper or presentation). Below is a curriculum map that indicates which courses address each learning outcome and with what expectation of students (introduced to a topic; practices; demonstrates mastery):


Course 101Course 223Course 301Course 342Course 425
Learning Outcome #1IntroducePracticePracticeDemonstrate
     Learning Outcome #2IntroducePractice
     Learning Outcome #3PracticePracticeDemonstrate
     Learning Outcome #4IntroduceDemonstrate