Direct Evidence of Student Learning (DESL) Initiative

Direct measures of assessment require students to represent, produce or demonstrate their learning. Direct measures provide direct evidence of student learning. By intentionally linking direct evidence of student knowledge or skills – e.g., assignments, quizzes, exams, etc. – to course and/or program learning outcomes, instructors are able to obtain clear, compelling and actionable information about how well students are doing. This helps faculty and instructors answer some of the most common – and critical – questions about their students’ learning:

  • Are my students learning what I expect?
  • What concepts need further explanation or delineation?
  • Are the course activities aligned with the learning outcomes?
  • Overall, how will I know that learning has taken place?

Hear from two UW-Madison professors using direct evidence of student learning and what they see as some of the most important benefits.

The Office of the Provost Student Learning Assessment (SLA) team established the Direct Evidence of Student Learning (DESL) Initiative to better support faculty and instructors’ evaluation of student learning. As part of the initiative, the team is enhancing campus-wide systems and tools to allow instructors to capture learning data digitally, in real time, in addition to providing consultative support and related resources.

Direct Evidence of Student Learning in Canvas and AEFIS

Many faculty and instructors already evaluate students’ learning using direct measures (scores, ratings, grades, etc.); however, linking student work directly to learning outcomes, and tracking, analyzing and using the data can be complex and time-consuming.

To make the process easier and more efficient, the DESL Initiative designed a way for instructors to capture and track direct evidence of student learning data digitally, in real time, over time (within and across courses, and programs), through Canvas and AEFIS, the campus assessment management system.

  • Faculty link course assignments – and other direct measures of student knowledge or skills – in Canvas to student learning outcomes in AEFIS.
  • Student learning data is then automatically captured in real-time and displayed in an interactive, digital dashboard in AEFIS.
  • Faculty can use the data to monitor students’ performance relative to the course or program learning outcomes, inform students about their progress throughout a course, and make pedagogical or curricular improvements.
  • Students can access the data and track how they are doing in real-time throughout the course

Getting Started

For more information on how to capture direct evidence of student learning in Canvas and AEFIS, contact Regina Lowery, senior assessment coordinator, at