By: Dr. Jenny Billings – Chair of English and Study Skills, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Cengage Faculty Partner


As someone who majored in and teaches English, I surprise others by how into numbers and data, I actually am. I have always been careful, curious, and strategic; I am always anticipating the outcome, what an action will yield. That’s a trait I have in common with my best friend, who actually teaches Mathematics.

Creating SMART Goals in Higher Ed Courses

While earning my doctorate, I took a class on data-driven decisions and one on planning and assessment. The combination of these classes made me a better instructor, Chair, and administrator. One of the best lessons I learned was how to create SMART goals and from there, assessments that measured what I intended.

According to Professor Robert S. Rubin in an April 2002 article for The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, SMART goals can be clear and reachable as long as they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound. Goals should be simple, yet significant; when measuring the goals, they should be meaningful and motivating. Goals should always be attainable, reasonable, and related to the objectives of the course and to your students’ success. Finally, these goals should be time-sensitive; after all, there is only so much time in a single term.

Be a Data-Mindful Educator

In addition to SMART Goals, there were two other important lessons I learned in those classes:

  • Data must drive important decisions (you cannot assume you know how a decision will impact others).
  • When creating an assessment, focus first on the question or issue at hand—not the assessment itself. The question, issue, or concern will determine the assessment required.

Objectives from Top to Bottom

When getting started, it is best to start with core objectives. This can be tricky though, because there are three types of objectives that need to jive:

  • Course objectives
  • Module/Lesson objectives
  • Assignment/Assessment objectives

When it comes to assessments, there will never be one that meets the needs of all goals, objectives, or students. When choosing and designing assessments, you need to remain flexible and open-minded, and approach them critically, making sure they will yield reliable and accurate data. Luckily though, I have had a lot of success mapping out objectives, goals, and assessments through the integration of MindTap with my Learning Management System. Let’s continue the conversation on October 17.

Want to hear more from Jenny? Register for her upcoming webinar on The Empowered Educator Virtual Events website, where you will find additional, peer-driven resources addressing important topics in Higher Ed.

Interested in ideas from other Empowered Educators? Check out these posts on Becoming Culturally Responsive and Ice Breakers and Topic Starters!