Before the idea of SAIL was fully formed, we were motivated to explore different ways to assess student achievement of program and institutional learning outcomes but we were unsure about what that could look like in our institutional context.
Prior to the creation of SAIL, we engaged with our community members, conducted a preliminary scan of best practices in the North American post-secondary sector, reviewed the literature, and invited guests speakers to share their experiences in undertaking a learning outcomes and assessment initiative. Specifically, we undertook three key steps prior to launching a Strategic Assessment of Institutional Learning (SAIL) initiative at Thompson Rivers University.
Step 1. Approval from oversight bodies: The primary oversight body for Thompson Rivers University’s learning outcomes and assessment initiative is the Assurance of Learning Subcommittee (formerly the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Taskforce). We sought the committee’s approval to embark on the SAIL initiative. The consultation included a presentation from a guest speaker who shared their experience of implementing a similar pilot at a Canadian university. Note that one of the SAIL Coordinators had previously collaborated with this guest speaker and therefore had prior experience with implementing a learning outcomes and assessment initiative. In addition, we sought approval from the Associate Vice President Academic and Director, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, who provided institutional funding for the SAIL pilots.
Step 2. Identification of existing policies, processes, and resources: In seeking to develop a process that fit with the university’s culture, leveraged existing processes and systems, and built upon the internal expertise of faculty and staff, we looked at the wealth of strategies and tools that had been developed during the creation of Thompson Rivers University’s institutional learning outcomes. Namely, we drew upon the ILO Foci Tools, ILO-approved courses, and the Principles for Learning Outcomes and Assessment. We were incredibly fortunate to have these resources to draw upon. If there had been no established learning outcomes definitions or criteria, then the SAIL Planning Cycle and timeline would require additional steps.
Step 3. Creation of a timeline: The success of the SAIL initiative is tied strongly to a well-organized, pre-planned timeline that takes into consideration the multiple demands on faculty time (e.g., beginning of classes, exam season, Reading break), potential delays (e.g., REB approval), and technical difficulties (e.g., uploading and downloading student assignments in the learning management system). Prior to launching a pilot, the SAIL Coordinators drafted a timeline, including key dates, milestones, and responsibilities of Coordinators and faculty members. The timeline included consultations and reviews by privacy and ethics, faculty member recruitment and engagement within the context of scheduled courses and semesters, development of the Moodle site, and several other logistical factors. The timeline is not static but rather acts as a guiding document and planning tool.
Launch and Recruitment
Invitations to participate in SAIL went out to the university community via multiple channels, including: the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching newsletter, the university’s Monday Bulletin, direct emails to the Assurance of Learning Subcommittee, and the faculty listserv.
The open call for faculty did not specify which institutional learning outcomes would be assessed during the pilot in order to gauge interest and allow the pilot to adapt based on faculty engagement. During this early phase, several of the ILOs rose to the forefront as popular based on the number of faculty curious about the pilot and the specific ILOs that they teach. Once we had determined two to three ILOs, we then more actively recruited faculty by reaching out to individuals that we knew taught an ILO-approved course and invited them to attend an info-session or one-on-one meeting with the SAIL Coordinators. Where further disciplinary breadth was needed, faculty who had previously taught such courses were invited for the rubric design step.
To include an ILO in the pilot, we decided that there must be a minimum of three faculty members per ILO Pod in order to create a community of practice environment and provide for two peer assessors for each faculty member.
The information session slides are available here: SAIL Info Session Launch (PDF)
The subsequent chapters and sections in this Handbook describe the eight-step SAIL Planning Cycle and document workshops, resources, reflections, and considerations for implementing a SAIL initiative in an educational setting.