Assessing and documenting beyond-the-classroom learning

June 27, 2016
  • Comprehensive Record
  • Technology and Transfer
  • Comprehensive Learner Record
  • Comprehensive Student Record
Female student smiling as she studies in a room with floor to ceiling windows.

How can student records most accurately reflect student learning?--That’s the question driving the pilot Comprehensive Student Records (CSR) project funded by a grant from Lumina Foundation and spearheaded by AACRAO and NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education.

The project is focused on developing comprehensive student records that document evidence of student learning and achievement beyond traditional course names, credits, and grades. The current project includes twelve higher education institutions* – two- and four-year, public and private – that are already developing records that display learning outcomes, use competency-based education approaches to education and/or document co-curricular experiences.

AACRAO is publishing a series of institutional profiles about each model record, the campus-wide collaboration required to enact change, and the goals each model is designed to achieve. Each of the institutions involved in the pilot project serves a different student population. The University of South Carolina  (USC), featured below, is a public research university with an undergraduate population of approximately 25,000 students, and has a residential campus in an urban setting.


Students’ aha! moments don’t necessarily happen in the classroom—which means the traditional academic record doesn’t always reflect some of the major learning breakthroughs a student achieved at college.

“Many of us in higher education believe a lot of student learning happens outside the classroom,” said Pam Bowers, USC’s Associate Vice President, Student Affairs and Academic Support. “But the record keeping processes for students engaged in purposeful programs outside the classroom haven’t been as systematic as academic record keeping, perhaps primarily because student participation in these programs doesn’t count toward graduation.”

Research shows that participation in cocurricular programs can enhance student learning, persistence, timely graduation and success after graduation.

“Those experiences matter,” Bowers said. “They contribute to student success, but our traditional record keeping was not adequate for systematically determining how they contribute to student success.”

That’s why USC undertook a project to build a record keeping system that captures individual student involvement in cocurricular programs in a systematic way.

“This project is primarily an assessment effort,” Bowers said. “It’s evolved into a project where we can understand and represent each student’s holistic learning experience.”

A catalog of learning beyond the classroom

Focused on capturing the holistic educational experience, USC’s extended transcript project--called "Beyond the Classroom Matters" (BTCM)--required the involvement of student affairs, academic affairs, information technology, and the registrar’s office.

“It’s been an organic effort,” said Bowers. “We already have several campus communication avenues with directors of student affairs and academic support programs and other campus partners, and we wanted to enhance our assessment of those programs.”

“All of those individual departments were already keeping records of student participation,” said Bob Askins, Senior Associate Registrar. “We just needed to figure out how to put them together into a standard format and a repository.”

Working with those programs, USC’s team built a catalog of beyond the classroom learning that currently includes approximately 150 cocurricular programs, including community service, undergraduate research, career coaching, supplemental instruction, leadership experiences, peer education and more. Each program is aligned with high impact practices and the educational purpose of each activity is clearly defined in the new database. This catalog has a web interface through which student participation is recorded.

Data integrity for students and institutional purposes

“The registrar is a critical partner in this project, since we are creating official student records.  We’ve been very careful and thoughtful about how we set the system up so that we all have confidence in the accuracy and integrity of the records,” Bowers said. “At some institutions, cocurricular transcripts document experiences that are self-reported by the student. That is not the case here.”

The database includes multiple data points. For each program that engages students in an educationally purposeful way, providers use a standard framework to articulate the active learning done in each activity. They identify what knowledge and skills are practiced and applied, how much time is spent on each task, how students get feedback on their performance and how they’re engaged in reflection on their learning.

That information is then translated into a cocurricular record that the student and his or her advisor can use as a basis for student self-reflection and for planning future involvement.  The student can select items from the record for presentation to potential employers or graduate programs in an Experiential Learning Record. (Click here to view an example BTCM transcript.)

“In addition to improving visibility of an individual student’s educational experience, the new comprehensive student record enhances our assessment capabilities by providing institution-level data about these programs.  We can see the numbers and demographics of student participants in support and enrichment programs across the campus, and more systematically determine how these programs help students learn, persist, graduate, and achieve success after graduation,” Bowers said. “The comprehensive record will help us to understand at an institutional level a holistic view of students’ Carolina experience.”

Project status

Currently, the catalog is operational and student records are being collected and loaded into the system.  Processes for providing students and other users access to the system are being tested and refined. 

The team from USC will talk about the development and evolution of this project in their session at AACRAO’s 2016 Technology and Transfer Conference, to be held July 10-12 in Anaheim, California.

Click here for more information and to register for the conference. 

Other extended transcript and experiential learning sessions at the meeting include:

5611 "Great Scott! Transcript Model Extensions Hit 88 MPH! " (Rodney Parks, Elon University)

5321 "Extending the transcript - it's about the outcome, not the inputs" (Joellen Shendy, University of Maryland University College)

5543 "Engaged Learning Tools" (Cindy Lyons, University of Californa - San Diego)


* The twelve institutions are as follows:

Borough of Manhattan Community College

Brandman University

Dillard University

Elon University

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis

LaGuardia Community College

Stanford University

University of Central Oklahoma

University of Houston-Downtown

University of Maryland University College

University of South Carolina

University of Wisconsin – Extension and Wisconsin Colleges







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