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Teaching Open Source Learning Objectives

August 24, 2010

My experience is that learning objectives are the centerpiece of program accreditation and review. Although the intention is to be explicit about our student-oriented approach when we design a course and, therefore, always start with stating learning objectives, the reality has shown that students pay no attention to them and teachers kick and scream when they are asked to craft them. Learning sciences and education research have been trying to convince us of the contrary.

One thing I learned though is that learning objectives are of limited help by themselves. The key is to align them with two other indispensable components: (1) assessments to verify that students learn what the objectives claim and (2) pedagogies and interventions that prepare students to learn what the objectives claim. An important ingredient to this alignment is that learning objectives are measurable. I recommend that we add a bullet number #3 where the S-K-A formula is described in Teaching Open Source: How to Write learning Objectives; and list another useful resource, Carnegie Mellon Enhancing Education along with MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory.

My take is that the TOS book (as we think of it being used in a course) should have around 5 learning objectives, and each chapter should refine the granularity of some of these top-level learning objectives for the purpose of validating the kind of assessments included in each chapter. I don’t think it’s useful to have learning objectives for each section. Or, we should replace those section-level learning objectives with assessments that measure how much students have learned according to the initial learning plan (i.e. learning objectives). For example, we probably agree that ‘apply’ or ‘demonstrate’ are very suitable action verbs for TOS learning objectives. However, to reach this cognitive level, it’s useful to expect students to ‘identify’ and ‘illustrate’.

What I’m trying to say is that scaffolding the learning process needs support from instructional means and assessment means, always in line with our mantra-like learning objectives – we got so far :-). These means are the essence of the book anyway. We simply need to tie them back to what learning objectives they serve.

  1. August 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Ooo. Learning objectives are necessary but not sufficient, basically? I’ve seen a worksheet that makes you think of all those three things at the same time – if I’m reading your blog post correctly, you need:

    1) What students should learn (learning objective)

    2) What experiences we’re designing in order to help them learn it / how they’re going to learn it (pedagogies and interventions)

    3) How we’re going to tell whether the experiences we designed actually caused students to learn what we wanted them to learn (assessment)

    So in the case of the textbook, #2 would be the textbook, and in the case of the POSSE curriculum, #2 would be the POSSE workshop itself. And #3 for both would be… well, I’m not actually sure yet. Do you know of any good resources for people trying to learn how to think about assessment design?

    Thanks for these thoughts! One of the most valuable things I personally get out of a POSSE is being able to eavesdrop on profs talking with each other about course design and teaching – it’s just exposure to this very different way of thinking, seeing different ways of thinking about teaching, getting a sense of how that process goes and how that conversations happens among people who know how to do it, that helps me figure out the academic context you all know so well. In a sense, it’s a week of immersion for you folks in open source, but it’s also a week of immersion for us in teaching-centric academia, so it’s a nice bidirectional swap.

    • September 1, 2010 at 6:25 am

      I haven’t thought about the extent to which a textbook or workshop addresses #1, #2, #3 above. I had in mind a typical classroom for an entire term with students, instructors, textbooks and other resources, scheduled classes, and graded work. A good book I recommend for making sense of the many challenges of assessment is Barbara Walvoord’s “Assessment clear and simple: A practical guide for institutions, departments, and general education.” She has another excellent one, co-authored with Virginia Anderson, “Effective Grading: A tool for learning and assessment.”

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