Iowa law adds improvement plan requirement to large courses

As instructors put the final touches on their fall syllabi, those who are teaching large courses will be identifying student learning outcomes and integrating continuous improvement plans mandated by Iowa law. The requirement applies to all three state Board of Regents universities.

CELT help

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching can help instructors with assessment strategies and tools, such as online Class Climate course evaluation surveys. Contact CELT for more information.

The legislation (SF2284, HF604) will impact more than 560 courses at Iowa State over the next three years. This fall, courses with an annual enrollment of more than 300 students must implement a continuous improvement plan -- a total of 167 courses at Iowa State. Courses with enrollments of more than 200 and 100 students will be added in the fall of 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Courses that fall under the legislation range from introductory to upper-level classes. They also include some lab sections, orientation seminars and even the marching band (Music 114A). The legislation applies to courses with single or multiple sections. For instance, it includes Chemistry 177 -- with an annual enrollment of about 1,700 total students in six sections of 285; and English 250 -- which has an annual enrollment of about 3,600 total students split into in 150 sections of 24.

Continuous improvement plans at all three regent universities must contain four components, including:

  • A focus on student learning outcomes, which are outlined on the course syllabi
  • Data collection on the course and learning outcomes
  • Implementation of changes based on data
  • Continuous feedback and reassessment of data

Staff in the provost's office and members of the Faculty Senate's student outcomes assessment committee are developing a method to collect information about learning outcomes, course assessments and changes/progress made with the continuous improvement plans. The results will be used in the regents' annual progress report to legislators.

Building on what's in place

Karen Zunkel, director for undergraduate programs and academic quality in the provost's office, is helping to coordinate implementation at Iowa State. She said the continuous improvement plans will build on processes that already are in place.

"The implementation plans of all three universities are allowing individual faculty members, departments and colleges to build upon existing efforts as they address this new legislation for continuous improvement plans," Zunkel said. "For example, the mathematics department at Iowa State has been working hard the past several years to improve student performance in some of their entry-level courses. They are monitoring student success data, implementing new course placement systems and course structures, and increasing academic support systems. These efforts align well with the concept of a continuous improvement plan."

Zunkel said the continuous improvement plans must focus on the same requirements, but there is flexibility for implementation. For example, learning outcome assessments may be measured by exam questions, projects or student course evaluations.

"The range of courses and the types of learning outcomes expected in courses covered by this legislation are so diverse that a one-size-fits-all version of a continuous improvement plan is not feasible or appropriate," Zunkel said. "The faculty members and departments teaching the courses are in the best position to determine what makes sense as far as the data and assessments to be used for their courses."