Approaches define the procedures by which information is gathered; whereas, measures (in step four) are the specific instruments used to provide data. Some typical approaches (methods) used to gather information on student learning include portfolios, capstone courses, standardized achievement tests, external reviews, internship performances, focus groups, and so on. Multiple approaches (methods) and administration times are essential to ensure that students who may perform poorly with one method or at one time have other opportunities to demonstrate their learning.

More than one approach should be used to evaluate an objective. A valuable way to avoid the possible bias of using one method is to employ alternative methods at different points in time. For example, with regard to the learning objective for the School of Art specified above, an approach might be student portfolios examined by external reviewers to judge if the artwork meets the criteria specified. An additional method is a student survey at graduation to evaluate to what degree students feel competent to perform the specified elements or criteria that reflect artistic development and self-reflection.

When selecting approaches to use, the following are some questions that need careful consideration:

  • How many faculty are willing to participate in the methods selected?
  • Will all students in a program or course be evaluated or a sample of students?
  • How much time is involved? Determine how this will affect faculty, staff, and student work.
  • How much useable information already exists and is available to the unit?
  • What are possible cost constraints? Are there university resources that can be used for support?
  • Will a study at one point in time (cross-sectional method) provide the information needed or will following individual students or groups of students over several points in time (longitudinal method) be a more useful approach?
  • Does the unit prefer to use methods that rely primarily on numerical analysis (quantitative method) or on observations (qualitative method)?

Multiple approaches and times are essential to ensure that students who may perform poorly with one approach or at one time have an opportunity to demonstrate learning through multiple approaches and measures.