Proposed Changes in Course Group Reports


Course Group Reports (CGRs) are one of the most important feedback mechanisms we use in the CSE program. Briefly, the mechanism works as follows: All regular CSE courses are organized into groups of related courses. Coordinators of courses in each group are expected to interact with each other and with faculty (including part-time faculty) who regularly teach the courses in question on a regular basis to keep track of any problems that might arise, or to identify any changes that might be appropriate to make in the courses, etc. The coordinators of each group are asked to present a status report, the course group report (CGR), on the particular group of courses to the Curriculum Committee on a regular basis, perhaps once every three years. For each course in the group, the report is expected to address such questions as, are the course objectives appropriate? Are the current pre-requisites appropriate? Does the average student in the course seem prepared for it? Do most students understand the main ideas and acquire the skills that the course is meant to give them? Etc.

Recent CGRs have been typically organized as follows: Section 1 provides a broad summary of the group of courses. Section 2 provides detailed analysis. Subsection 2.1 provides a one-to-two paragraph summary of each course in the group. Subsection 2.2 discusses the relation to the rest of the program. Subsection 2.3 discusses the contribution that each course in the group makes to the BS-CSE program outcomes as well as to ABET Criterion 3 outcomes. Subsection 2.4 discusses the responses that have been made to the concerns listed in the previous CGR for the group. Subsection 2.5 discusses additional changes that may have been made in the group. Subsection 2.6 lists any continuing concerns. Section 3 presents a brief conclusion summarizing how the group contributes to the BS-CSE program and lists the names of the faculty recently involved with the courses in the group. More complete details of the CGR mechanism as well as recent CGRs are available.

Potential problem

One important ABET requirement is that program improvements are based on results of assessments against specific outcomes. In other words, it is not enough to say something along the lines of, "we are evaluating our courses and as we find problems or the need for improvements (possibly because of changes in the field), we will identify suitable changes in the courses to solve the problems or effect the improvements, and implement the changes". Instead, we have to show that we have specific outcomes we are trying to achieve, that we are assessing how well we achieve the outcomes, and that the changes we make (at least some of them) are based on the results of this assessment. Further, improvements based on results of direct assessments, i.e., that are based on evaluations of actual performance of students or graduates of the program (rather than, for examples, results of self-assessments by students via such instruments as exit-surveys), are considered most important.

The changes that faculty make in individual courses as well as the ones faculty groups propose in their respective CGRs are, of course, heavily influenced by student performance in the courses and by the faculty's evaluation, based on that performance, of how well the students are understanding the main concepts and acquiring the skills that the courses are intended to equip them with. But this does not explicitly appear in the CGR and therefore it may not be clear to someone reading a given CGR at some future date, how well the intended course objectives/ learning outcomes were being achieved in each course and how any proposed changes were related to this achievement. The proposal below addresses this problem and help us better meet the ABET requirement described in the last paragraph as well as providing better documentation of how we meet the requirement.

Terminology used in course objectives

In CSE course syllabi, the course objectives strive to capture intended learning outcomes. They use the following terminology to describe familiarity level (most to least) with respect to various kinds of material and procedures: Some CSE course objectives use the following terminology for skill level (most to least) to describe a student's facility in dealing with various languages and notations:


Faculty preparing a CGR will explicitly evaluate how well each course in the group is meeting each of its objectives/learning outcomes based on student performance in the course. In other words, for each learning outcome, the faculty preparing the CGR will provide their evaluation, based on recent offerings of the course, of actual student achievement of the particular outcome. This evaluation will be in terms of the same mastery/familiarity/exposure and writing/using/reading scales as used in specifying the outcomes. For convenience, these might be mapped to numerical values so that the mastery or writing levels map to a value of 3, familiarity or using map to 2, and exposure or reading map to a value of 1. These values can then be compared with the expected levels of achievement, as stated in the respective course syllabi, for each of the outcomes. If the expected level differs from the actual level of achievement by more than a certain threshold (perhaps 1 numerical point according to the mapping just described?) for any particular outcome, that would indicate a potential problem in that course or in related courses and suggest a need for appropriate changes.

The faculty preparing the CGR will be expected to address such differences and discuss ideas for appropriate improvements in the courses. In some cases, the improvement might be to rewrite the outcome or the expected level of achievement of the outcome; in others, the improvement might be a suitable modification in the course content or how it is taught; in yet others, it might be a combination of the two. The evaluation of actual student performance with respect to each outcome of the course could be included as part of subsection 2.1 of the CGR immediately following the summary of the particular course. The proposed improvements to address any substantial differences with the expected levels of achievement could be included as part of subsection 2.6. In any case, the proposed improvments will be clearly tied to a direct assessment of the actual student performance with respect to the intended learning outcomes of the particular courses and the CGR will document this relation.

Neelam went through a "test run" of this process using CSE 655 and 755 as the test courses. He reported the following results based on his recent experiences teaching these two courses.

Neelam suggested that, given these facts, he would want to downgrade to familiarity-level the two mastery-level outcomes in CSE 655 for which student achievement was between exposure- and familiarity-levels; and that he would revise the course content so that the actual student achievements with respect to these outcomes are improved to reach the familiarity level. Clearly no changes seem to be indicated in CSE 755.

In order to help faculty preparing the CGRs to arrive at reliable estimates of students' achievements with respect to each of the learning outcomes of the various courses in the group, it may also be useful to extend the recently created syllabus database as follows. During exam week of each quarter, each instructor who taught a course during that quarter would receive an automated email message that will request the instructor to submit an evaluation of the achievement level with respect to each learning outcome for that course for students in the section of the course taught by that particular instructor. The message would include a url that would bring up a form listing the objectives included in the official syllabus for the course. The instructor would simply have to enter a rating, indicating actual level of achievement, for each of the objectives and submit the form. There would also be room, on the rating form, for any other comments that the instructor wished to make about his/her section of the course. All of the ratings (as well as the comments) from all sections of the course, appropriately summarized, would be available to the faculty in the group when they prepare the next CGR for the group. This would ensure the accuracy of the evaluations of actual student achievements of the various outcomes for the course, and provide a more reliable basis for the faculty to consider possible changes in the courses.


This proposal was developed in email discussions among some CSE faculty following general comments from Dean Baeslack of the College of Engineering and members of the Outcomes Committee of the college, about the importance of direct assessments and of the need to document the relation between program improvements and the results of such assessments. The proposal was briefly mentioned at the CSE Curriculum Committee meeting of April 19 and is expected to be discussed at the committee's meeting on April 26.