The following is a guest blog from Daniel G. Wilson. In addition to being author of The New PrintScape: A Crash Course in Graphic Communications, he is a professor in the Department of Technology and coordinator of the Graphic Communications degree program at Illinois State University. 

There is a growing trend toward an environment of accountability in higher education today. 

Current U.S. Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan is proposing that federal dollars be linked to college program “quality.” Early in 2006, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education.” A major conclusion of the report is that there is a lack of accountability and transparency in colleges and universities. As a result, there is a major movement toward systems of continuous improvement, and a new emphasis is being placed on a kind of quality assurance called “learning outcomes assessment,” mandated by many states for colleges and university degree programs. 

In college programs, it used to be enough to test the students in each course and assess learning in little bits and pieces along the way and just give out grades. I sit on the accreditation board for graphic communications-oriented college programs, called the Accrediting Council for Collegiate Graphic Communications (ACCGC). We just met at PRINT 13. What accreditation assures is, essentially, that a system or quality assurance is in place for the educational program. This is achieved mainly through a process of learning outcomes assessment.

The essential concept of learning outcomes assessment is to develop very broadly stated knowledge and/or skill-based outcomes that graduates of the degree program are expected to have learned, and then to figure out ways to measure the outcomes.

For example, our faculty and advisory board for the graphic communications degree program at Illinois State University have developed these six learning outcomes:

  1. Create and manage digital media content, including photographic, illustration, video, and animation.
  2. Develop production-ready graphic layouts for digital media, print products, and cross-media products like publications, packages, labels, and signage.
  3. Participate productively in a range of graphic production processes, including printing (litho, flexo, digital), e-publishing, cross-media, and website development.
  4. Employ a technology management skill set, including project management, quality control, and business practices.
  5. Learn independently within the context of the graphic communications discipline.
  6. Solve problems within the context of the graphic communications discipline.

How to measure these outcomes effectively is a challenge. We do this in our program at ISU through a number of different measures. Students have to complete a senior project, we survey employers of our graduates, and we survey graduates themselves: the resulting data give us a pretty accurate picture of learning. But that’s not enough: once measured the program faculty must look for ways to improve the results over time. Check out more about ACCGC here:

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