Gathering input from key stakeholders
This first draft of the program outcomes reflects the interests and requirements of the department. The next step is to gather input from other key stakeholders, which will help the department hone these outcomes. Key stakeholders might include students, staff, alumni, and employers. Sample data sources include:
- exit surveys completed by graduating students;
- focus groups with current students;
- alumni surveys; and
- interviews with current or potential employers (particularly for co-op programs).
Other key aspects to consider are external requirements, such as requisite components for accreditation, or the undergraduate or graduate degree-level expectations.
All undergraduate and graduate programs in Ontario must meet the requirements outlined in the university undergraduate degree-level expectations (UDLEs) (DOC) and graduate degree-level expectations (GDLEs) (DOC) respectively. The DLEs represent a set of minimum requirements all students must attain to earn the relevant degree.
The UDLEs were developed by the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents and institutions could choose to adopt them outright, develop their own, equivalent expectations, or add to the existing ones. At Waterloo, we adopted the original six and added two more to reflect the overarching goals of our institution. Additional information regarding the history of the degree-level expectations and their role in program evaluation is available in our program review and accreditation section.
It is beneficial to compare your program outcomes to the DLEs. First, this comparison can be used in program reviews to demonstrate the fulfillment of these requirements. Second, although they are generic requirements of any program, they might highlight an area of your program that requires greater emphasis or is not articulated fully in your own program outcomes. The following templates, provided in MS Excel format, can be used to document the relationship between your program outcomes and Waterloo’s degree-level expectations.
Professional associations and accreditation bodies
In designing the program, it is beneficial to seek guidance from groups outside Waterloo. For accredited programs, it is critical that the new or modified program meets the requirements of the accreditation body. Other groups can also provide guidance on the attributes to consider developing in our students. For example, the Association of College & Research Libraries has developed Information literacy competency standards for higher education. These standards effectively demonstrate how measurable outcomes can be developed related to research tasks such as the selection and critical evaluation of sources, the application of information to a specific product, and the legal, ethical and social issues associated with the use of information.
Another input to consider when reviewing your program outcomes relates to what your students do upon graduation. Do they pursue professional degrees, such as law or medicine? Do they continue their education in the same field or a related field? Do graduates enter a specific sector? A better understanding of the academic and career paths of our students provides us with additional input to consider in our program’s design.
It is not our task to prepare our students for each of these unique settings; that simply is not feasible. There are, however, benefits to understanding the direction our students will take when they complete our program. As well, there are other elements in the program’s design to consider. Perhaps it makes sense to build some flexibility into the program’s design when students pursue a plethora of options. If a significant number of students are pursuing a similar path, it might be worth investing in creating an option or minor in that area.