Monday, July 21, 2014

What makes a good learning outcome?

What makes a good learning outcome?  One word: it is demonstrable.  It should be easy to demonstrate whether the outcome is mastered or not.  Here's an example for the severe convective storms crowd.
"At the end of this section, students will know the difference between LP and HP supercells."

Well that's nice.  How on earth am I going to be able to prove that students have met this outcome and give them, you know, a grade for it?  How many different ways could someone's knowledge be interpreted, rightly or wrongly?  How can I know you know something?  Is there any way to be more precise in expressing what you think is important here?  Let's try.
"At the end of this section, students will be able to:

- sketch and label archetypal models of LP, classic, and HP supercells, including cloud and precipitation extent, updraft location relative to precipitation, surface outflows, and the most likely location of a tornado if any;

- describe the environmental conditions that favor HP supercells over LP, and vice-versa; and

- differentiate between likely HP and LP storms in photographs and/or videos."
You can probably think of others that fit here (please do, and add them below).  I would argue that we should make the effort to be this clear in our desired outcomes for all courses, and all class periods.  Why?  These outcomes are more detailed, they are observable, and they are measurable.  Heck, they are almost ready to be questions on an exam/quiz/in-class exercise as they are written.  Writing specific outcomes removes all doubt about what's important to us as instructors and makes it clear what students should be getting out of the course (and what they "need to know for the test").  There are no surprises, for anyone in the classroom.

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