Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Mason Core

Mason Core Program Assessment Overview

Download the complete Mason Core Assessment Guide

The Mason Core (formerly General Education) program at George Mason University organizes courses of study into three main areas. Foundation courses build knowledge and skills to promote success in the major and in future pursuits; core courses introduce students to a breadth of subject matter and intellectual traditions; and synthesis courses encourage the integration of past learning and experiences, develop critical thinking skills, and prepare students for lifelong learning. Student learning outcomes for the Mason Core areas are created and assessed by faculty, primarily through the University Mason Core Committee. Results of assessment activities are reported to the faculty, the Mason community, and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) by the Office of Institutional Assessment.

Mason’s culture of learning outcomes assessment is characterized as course-embedded, faculty-led, and improvement-focused. As with other program-level assessment activities (e.g., writing, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, etc.), Mason Core assessment focuses on the overall effectiveness of the Mason Core program, and is not an evaluation of individual students or faculty members.

More information on Mason Core requirements and approved courses can be found at

Assessment Process

The assessment process follows four major steps:

Step 1: Defining Common Learning Outcomes:

The first step in conducting learning outcomes assessment is to specify expectations for student learning. Learning outcomes are broad goals that reflect the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students take with them from a learning experience. Interdisciplinary faculty groups identify common learning outcomes for each targeted category across courses and disciplines. Once these learning outcomes are approved by the Mason Core Committee, they become the basis for learning outcomes assessment.

Faculty members who teach Mason Core courses are expected to incorporate these learning outcomes in their courses, in addition to course- or discipline-specific learning outcomes. The assessment process focuses on demonstrating how students achieve the learning outcomes in each course.

For each Mason Core category, there is a set of common learning outcomes. These outcomes apply to all courses regardless of the discipline. The assessment focuses on two questions: To what extent do faculty address these learning outcomes in their courses; and how
well do students achieve these outcomes?

Step 2: Assessing Learning Outcomes and Collecting Data

Assessment is the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student learning. Assessment links student performance to specific learning outcomes in order to provide useful feedback to the instructor about how successfully they are meeting these outcomes. Course-based assessment focuses on student learning in the classroom environment, using course goals, objectives and content to gauge the extent of the learning that is taking place. Course faculty (or course coordinators, as appropriate) provide evidence of course content and pedagogy, and collect and submit samples of student work.

Step 3: Analyzing and Reporting Assessment Data

Faculty teams develop review criteria and standards, and conduct course reviews. The Office of Institutional Assessment provides assistance with data analysis and reporting. The results are shared with the Mason Core Committee, department chairs, and the faculty who participate in the assessment. The aggregated results are also reported to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (if required), and are used for institutional accreditation. No individual instructor or student results are made public.

Step 4: Improving the Course and/or Curriculum

Assessment has the potential to improve learning by systematically linking assignments, course structure and grading practices to intended learning goals; it can help instructors become better teachers by offering specific feedback on what is working or not working in their classrooms; and provides systematic feedback to gauge progress. Data are used to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the degree program, and plan for curricular improvement. Faculty may discover ways to modify existing course content, tests, or assignments to better align the outcomes of these activities with learning outcomes.