Transparent Pathways, Clear Outcomes: Using Disciplinary Tuning to Improve Teaching, Learning, and Student Success

This monograph summarizes outcomes and lessons learned from our cross-state Tuning initiative, which involved teams of faculty from Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri working collaboratively to define what students should know and be able to do upon completing a degree in their discipline. This monograph and the associated Competencies and Student Learning Outcomes document, which was released last summer, are valuable resources that can guide faculty to engage in similar initiatives and can also demonstrate the benefits of Tuning to higher education leaders and policymakers.

“Tuning” is a process through which faculty members create shared understandings of the knowledge and transferable skills students in specific academic disciplines and professional fields must demonstrate upon completion of their degrees. The process helps to clarify to students, parents, and policymakers what degree holders know, understand, and are able to do. In Tuning, faculty use learning outcomes as critical reference points to encourage diverse teaching methods and delivery models. By creating clear, transparent pathways to degree completion, Tuning facilitates retention, especially among students from underserved groups. Through consultation with students, recent graduates, other faculty, and employers about learning outcomes, Tuning better prepares graduates for citizenship and the workforce.

MHEC was awarded a $415,000, two-year grant from Lumina Foundation to engage college and university faculty in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri to “tune” the academic disciplines of psychology and marketing. With the assistance of SHEEO agency representatives and other key stakeholders, two 15-person faculty workgroups were formed for the initiative—one for each of the disciplines. The “Tuning” workgroups were comprised of faculty from two-year public and four-year public and private non-profit institutions.

The MHEC Cross-State Tuning Project launched in early November 2011 with a convening of all project participants in Indianapolis. Faculty participants met monthly during the academic year and collaborated electronically between meetings. Another Lumina Foundation grantee—the Institute for Evidence-Based Change (IEBC)—provided technical and evaluation assistance to MHEC throughout the project. Outcomes from the Tuning workgroups were presented as part of a Tuning conference in late spring of 2013. For further information on Tuning projects throughout the United States, see

Nov. 18-19, 2013, POLICY SUMMIT - Rise of the MOOCs: Foreshadowing the Coming Transformation of Higher Education

The rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and the growth of open educational resources (OER) have the potential to drive significant change in the higher education enterprise including faculty roles, funding and budgeting, student support services, learning outcome definition and assessment, academic credit and credentialing, and the heart of the teaching and learning process.

Through informative and provocative presentations, discussions, and an examination of innovative and promising practices, attendees at the 2013 MHEC policy summit will consider how to position colleges, universities, and higher education systems to be prepared for potential changes brought by MOOCs and OER on 1) faculty/teaching; 2) institutions/credentialing; 3) students/learning; and 4) systems/planning.