Student learning outcomes

Note: The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has changed its accrediting standards to put more focus on student learning outcomes –a shift away from what we teach to what students learn. While we’ve known for some time this was coming and that our community colleges were going to have to show movement this direction, schools have often waited until their turn in the accrediting cycle came up to push their faculty into actually moving.

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Guy thinkingI’ve had several requests from other advisers in the last few weeks about sharing student learning outcomes. Even though we did a workshop on them at JACC Mid-Winter Faculty Conference in Morro Bay a couple of years ago some advisers are just getting around to them now.

I always am conflicted when people ask. I want to help, but I feel that each of us should develop our own outcomes based on what we actually teach. While we teach the same subjects, how we teach them varies from school to school, teacher to teacher.

As I was working with students in my newswriting class this morning –we’re learning AP Style– it dawned on me that the best time to write Student Learning Outcomes was throughout the semester as the class is being taught. This week I’ve introduced them to AP Style. What am I expecting them to learn and how will I evaluate that they’ve learned something? Seems like I should write an outcome expectation right now while I’m teaching it.

In my newspaper class we held our first critique this week. After 31 years it seems like I am always emphasizing the same stuff in the first critique of the semester. Seems like I should write an outcome expectation right now while I’m teaching it.

In my mass comm classes I just lectured on the expectations of the journalism major. Seems like I should write an outcome expectation right now while I’m teaching it.

And a lesson I learned from the Morro Bay workshop that has stuck with me came from Mike Reed, who co-taught the Blue Heron session: Outcomes should be written for more than just the individual classes. The sequence of courses I teach hopefully add up to more than the sum of their parts. There needs to be a set of outcomes for the program: what, additionally, would I expect my students to learn if they take a sequence of courses we call a major?

Just a thought….

P.S. Student learning outcomes are merely make-work if the only reason you do them is to comply with accrediting standards and school mandate. It is only when you truly use them to measure whether students are learning what you say they should be –and altering your methods/goals if students don’t– that they become meaningful.

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