Promoting Essential Learning at UW-Madison (and beyond)

Let us know about your LEAP-related activities!

We know that many people at all levels across the UW-Madison campus engage in activities that promote the goals of liberal education. We're always interested in hearing what you do. Please send information to emklein@ls.wisc.edu, or contact one of the UW-Madison LEAP liaisons.




April 2010, How do We Assess LEAP's Student Learning Outcomes?


Assistant Provost Mo Noonan Bischof, Associate Dean Nancy Westphal-Johnson, and Assistant Dean Elaine Klein presented this question to a standing-room only room of UW-System faculty and staff attending the 2010 UW-System President's Summit on Excellence in Teaching and Learning. (April 29-May 1, 2010)

March and May 2010, Essential Learning in Ethnic Studies Courses

The Ethnic Studies Subcommittee of the University General Committee invited faculty and staff who have taught courses designated as meeting the Ethnic Studies Requirement to participate in a discussion of "Essential Learning" in those courses, and good practices used to achieve them. Dean Gary Sandefur (Dean of the College of Letters and Science), Associate Vice Provost Aaron Brower, and Professor Louise Mares asked the questions that provoked extensive conversations (and many pages of notes) about what these teachers hope students learn in these courses and how that learning transcends the content of any particular course. A follow-up discussion focused on the analysis of those conversations is schedule to be held in May, as part of the Teaching and Learning Symposium.

March and April 2009, Conversations About Essential Learning

Following up on the March 2008 intensive discussions about the Wisconsin Experience and Essential Learning Outcomes, Associate Vice Provost Aaron Brower is hosting a series of conversations about Essential Learning to learn about what instructors are doing differently as a result of last year's discussions.

February 2009, Revision of Undergraduate General Education Requirement Statements

In February 2009, the University General Education Committee approved revisions to the 2009-2011 Undergraduate Catalog text to more clearly convey the purpose of these requirements by connecting them to the learning goals expressed as "Essential Learning" in the Wisconsin Experience. Although completion of these requirements does not encompass the full breadth and texture of the Wisconsin Experience, they do provide an important alignment with (and tools for achieving) the aspirations expressed in that document.

January 2009, "How Do We Assess the Essential Learning Outcomes?" Presentation at the AAC&U Annual Conference

In January 2009, Assistant Provost Mo Noonan Bischof, Associate Dean Nancy Westphal-Johnson, and Assistant Dean Elaine Klein gave a standing-room only presentation on assessment and essential learning at the Association of American Colleges and Universities annual conference, "Ready of Not: Global Challenges, College Learning, and America's Promise." (Jan 21-24, 2009)

Have YOU seen the 2009-2010 UW-Madison Viewbook?

We're letting prospective students and their parents know: What you do at Wisconsin Matters.

Summer 2008, "Information Literacy: An Essential Learning Outcome"

The Library and Information Literacy Instruction Program has articulated the abilities needed to find information and use it effetcively. The detailed description of this essential learning outcome can be found online at http://www.library.wisc.edu/inst-services/overview.html#characteristics.

2008 Teaching and Learning Symposium (May 21-23), "Shaping our Future: Teaching and Learning at UW-Madison"

This annual symposium brings fauclty, staff, post-docs, and graduate students together in support of teaching and learning at UW-Madison. The symposium's goal is to "share best practices, celebrate accomplishments, discuss new teaching pedagogy, and explore themes of mutual interest." This year, the call for proposals included an invitation to focus on the Essential Learning Outcomes for liberal education, and several sessions address specific elements of the ELOs. Two sessions discuss them explicitly:

  • Establishing Institution-wide Expectations for Student Learning at UW-Mdaison
    Participants in this session will learn about the Essential Learning Outcomes devised in the LEAP project, and their connection to the development of university-wide expectations for student learning, which provide an important framework for setting a university-level academic direction.
    Presenters: Jocelyn Milner, Academic Planning and Analysis, and Mo Noonan Bischof, Office of the Provost
  • Learning Circle: How Do We Focus on Essential Learning Outcomes?
    Facilitators: Nancy Westphal-Johnson and Elaine Klein, College of Letters and Science; Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor, German

2008 Showcase (April 1), "Sharing our Best Practices"

Members of the Convergence group presented a poster for the 2008 Showcase. The presentation highlighted the "bottom up" adoption of the Essential Learning Outcomes, and invited participants in the events to join the movement to embrace essential learning.

March 12, 2008 Focused Discussion: "Essential Learning - What do we already do to promote Essential Learning?"

Vice Provost Brower and Associate Dean Groves Lloyd In Spring 2008, the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning invited a small group of faculty and instructional staff who teach or who influence the 15-20 courses most frequently taken by first-time/first-year and new transfer students to meet and talk about student learning in their courses. They were invited to review the Essential Learning Outcomes, and to consider what their courses, in particular, convey to students.

The participants in this discussion were invited from the schools/colleges that teach undergraduates. Members and friends of the Convergence group led discussion on two broad topics:

  1. Beyond the specific disciplinary content of your course, what do you want students to learn that will stay with them into the future? That is, what are your students learning beyond the content you teach them?
  2. In considering the more focused goals of "General Education," what do you try to teach students in your course's general "breadth" or Gen Ed area (communication, quantitative reasoning)? How do you make the ideas that are implicit in the requirements, explicit for students? Participants discussing in small groups

The results of these conversations will be analyzed to consider what migth be done to better assess student learning in the General Education program, to promote more effectively a shared set of First-Year Learning goals, and similar projects.

Notes from this meeting are available here.

October 11, 2007 First Year Conference

On October 11, 2007, 160 people spent the morning examining how the LEAP essential learning outcomes can be introduced to first year students, to lay a foundation for further exploration to come in their future years at the university. Provost Patrick Farrell delivered a keynote address in which he praised the outcomes, which speak to those things that are most important not only to our students but to their families, their future employers, and to the people of Wisconsin and the world. 

See http://www.newstudent.wisc.edu/conference/index.html for links to the conference archive, program, and other information.

March 15, 2007 Advising Summit: "Liberal Education for a Lifetime: What You and Your Students Need to Know About Liberal Education"


Keynote speaker: Dr. Debra Humphreys, Vice President for Communications & Public Affairs, Association of American Colleges and Universities.


  • "Crafting Our Message": Follow-up with Debra Humphreys
  • "Our First Contacts with Students: Integrating Our Messages"
  • "Integrative Experiences: International Education, Service Learning and Internships"
  • "How Do We Know Our Advising is Effective: Accountability and Advising"
  • "Student Panel: How We Come to Our Understandings and Knowledge of the Importance of Liberal Education"
  • "Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities: Liberal Education's Three-Legged Stool"


LEAP Spotting: Where do we see Liberal Education?

  • The Center for the First Year Experience promotes Essential Learning with the UW-Madison Experience in several ways by:
  • Presenting these learning goals to students at their first advising opportunity, at Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR), and in the SOAR Orientation Handbook;
  • Articulating outcomes expected for the student's First-Year Learning; and
  • Inviting members of the faculty and staff to present their thoughts on the first-year experience and its connection to liberal education in its regular publication, Our First-Year Experience (available http://newstudent.wisc.edu/faculty/index.html). In recent issues, several articles have featured LEAP's Essential Learning Outcomes as especially important to the students' first year:
    • "College Learning in the Twenty-First Century: Intentional Teaching and Learning" by Nancy Westphal-Johnson and Jolanda Vanderwal Taylor (Volume 2, Issue 2)
    • "Why the First Year Matters," by Aaron Brower (Volume 3, Issue 1)
    • "Why the First Year Matters," by Nancy Westphal-Johnson (Volume 3, Issue 2)
  • Influenced by the campus-wide audit of undergraduate learning goals (see below), the University Assessment Council has adopted a "preface" to the university-wide assessment plan. This document articulates the overarching goals of undergraduate education at UW-Madison. Please see http://www.provost.wisc.edu/assessment/Assessmentplan2003_R2008.pdf
    The council issues an annual call for proposals, http://www.provost.wisc.edu/assessment/Assessment_Funds.html. The 2007-08 call linked funding priorities to the "Wisconsin Experience" and the Essential Learning Outcomes.
  • Campus-wide Audit of Undergraduate Student Learning Outcomes
  • University General Education. From the 2009-2011 Undergraduate Catalog: "The purpose of the General Education Requirements is to ensure that every graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison acquires the essential core of an undergraduate eductaion. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. These requirements provide for breadth across the humanities and arts, social studies, and natural sciences; competence in communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills appropriate for a university-educated person; and investigation of the issues raised by living in a culturally diverse society."
    Also noted on the General Education assessment webpage, the University General Education Committee has drafted a new plan for assessment of the undergraduate general education requirements, and has mapped the existing GERs to the LEAP Essential Learning Outcomes.
  • College of Letters and Science, "Goals of a Liberal Education"
  • The Division of Information Technology (DoIT) "engage" project provides several examples of how the use of technology may be used to promote essential learning at their website.
  • University Housing: Chadbourne Residential College, "What is a Liberal Arts Education?"
  • Professor William Cronon, "Only Connect"