Hey Profs, Show Us Your Outcomes!

I am trying to take seriously two thing. First, my own admonishment not to use the academic cliché “take seriously” in any of my writing. But second, the logical need to clarify to myself what learning outcomes I am trying for, before revising the rubrics for my assignments.

The wording of my outcomes is not yet important to me; it’s okay if they are sloppy or a bit rambling. For example, in “Introduction to the Old Testament”:

    1. Students will become fearless researchers in the field, getting over the “but I’m not a scholar” mental hump, and also the “but what if I find something that upsets my faith” hump.
    2. Students will embrace collaboration, eschewing narrow competitiveness or fearful isolation and growing into the conviction that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” As Harry Tuttle put it, “We’re all in it together, kid.” I do well if we do well, and we do well if I do well.
    3. Students will comprehend the difference between “Bible study” (devotional, expository; our theologies about the Bible; not primarily what we’re doing) and “biblical studies” (exegetical, literary and historical; the theologies discerned in the texts; what we are primarily doing).
    4. Students will learn the details of the different historical situations in Canaan between the 13th and 2nd centuries B.C.E. They will be able to talk clearly about why those differences matter to how we exegete specific biblical texts.
    5. Students will get a sense that, if they ever want to interpret the Bible with anything resembling authority, they are going to have to take Elementary Hebrew 1 and 2 the following year.
    6. Student will just love the living bejeezus out of the Hebrew Bible.

      [Edit: changed list from bullets to numbered list.]

      I have other outcomes taking shape for Elementary Hebrew.

      Readers, if you teach any courses at all, what are they and what learning outcomes are essential to you? If you do not teach, what learning outcomes have you experienced as essential, or what outcomes do you wish had been prioritized?

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      7 Responses

      1. Ah, the dreaded learning outcomes section. We are hearing more and more about these and other assessment issues from ATS.

        At the regional SBL we had a session on a syllabus exchange. In that session I presented my syllabus on “Ezekiel and the Theology of Exile.” The final presenter for the session evaluated the syllabi from the perspective of a dean worried about accreditation review of assessment policies.

        Here were my objectives:
        • To gain basic knowledge of the content, structure, and current scholarly study of the book of Ezekiel.
        • To develop fundamental exegetical skills through readings, weekly journal entries, a short exegetical paper/presentation, and a critical review of an academic article.
        • To develop a large-scale project students can use in either ministerial or academic contexts based both on sound exegetical work and creative presentation.
        • To develop a deeper respect for the text of Ezekiel and a sophisticated response to the theological problems the book raises through reading and class discussion.

        The main thing he critiqued was my last goal because it was not “measurable.” His argument was that, in the eyes of accreditation reviewers, each goal had to be objectively measured. Of course my frustration with this is that, especially in seminary courses (but also in liberal arts courses), many of the things we are trying to teach are not quantifiable. In a school of theology, how do you quantify someone’s experience of the “numinous other” in a text, or someone’s increased love and respect for the textual tradition? Yet those are major objectives in a seminary education.

        Looking at your learning outcomes above, it seems that only number four is measurable. Unless, of course, you have a way of quantifying a “bejeezus” standard of love for the Bible.

        This, of course, is exactly what gets under my skin about assessment policies. Too much of what we do is not quantifiable. I can give objective exams about the history, geography, characterization, plot, and structure of biblical texts, but that is not the highest level of learning. For me, integration of the material and the articulation of one’s argument are the most important learning outcomes (along with creative presentation). Those are so much more difficult to quantify.

        When I speak of my rubrics in class, I often introduce them as “quantified subjectivity” in order to let the students know that, yes, there is a great deal of subjectivity in assigning grades to exegetical essays, but that I am trying my best to be fair.

        So much for my rambling … I hate assessment. I just wish we could get on with teaching.

        • A big “right on,” Dave. For my own in-class purposes, the *rubrics* for individual assignments are where measurability comes in, because the rubrics are expressed in terms of performance, with descriptions of what it means to perform the aspects of the assignment “more than well enough, well enough, or not well enough.”

          With the ATS thing, yes, I think of it as a kind of honest subterfuge. First I define my outcomes the way I really think about them and really talk about them with other teachers. Then, if I must, I am willing to translate them into the required, quantitative, form.

          Here might be my first swat at trying to bend my actual outcomes (above, post) into something quantifiable:

          1. Students will accomplish independent research on an approved thesis question, demonstrating confident and informed engagement with several kinds of critical resources.

          2. Students will participate meaningfully in a variety of collaborative projects. Also, they will substantively critique the individual projects of others in progress, and they will substantively revise their own individual projects in response to the critique of their peers.

          3 In written assignments and in discussion, students will perform textual interpretation in an exegetical mode, demonstrating that the recognize the difference between exegetical (what it may have meant) and hermeneutical (what it may mean) questions.

          4. In exams, written assignments, and in discussion, students will demonstrate detailed knowledge of the different historical situations in Canaan between the 13th and 2nd centuries B.C.E. They will be able to talk clearly about why those differences matter to how we exegete specific biblical texts.

          5. A critical number of students will choose to take elementary Hebrew (to be measured through surveys of outgoing Intro students and incoming Hebrew students).

          6. Students are able to express and defend positive or negative value-laden claims about the Hebrew Bible that concern its intrinsic worth (not, for example, concerning its utility for other goods, positively [“Knowing the Hebrew Bible is great ammo for arguing with atheists”] or negatively [“The inadequacy of the Hebrew Bible is great for showing the need for the New Testament”]).

          In some ways, this exercise serves as a half-way step to articulating my rubrics on specific assignments. And yes, obviously, even this version would not be really ATS-ready, it’s just a step in the direction of an ATS-ready draft.

          • Subterfuge (@ Bryan) or not, your rewritten objectives do beat your old ones on measurability. “Demonstrate detailed knowledge,” for example, is not only measurable, but active.

          • I wonder what would happen if you actually gave your students the first version of the outcomes. I wonder what effect it would have on incoming intro students who don’t yet speak the language of academia fluently, that is, aren’t yet able to extract the first list from the second. Perhaps its the control freak side of me, but I tend to “get on board” more willingly when I understand where the train is headed.

          • @Amanda,
            Definitely. Writing about collaboration generally, here’s what Pallof and Pratt say in Collaborating Online (2005): “Beginning an online course with a discussion of learning objectives and working toward a common goal not only creates the foundation of that learning community, it is also the first step toward collaboration.”

            As you say, I’m inclined to give them some plain-English version in that context. It’s more lively and inviting. I think the more quantifiable version might be usefully kept “on tap” for explaining the link between our learning outcomes and the rubrics given for specific assignments. Taking #1 as an example, the quantifiable version might help a student see the link between the goal of “fearlessness” and the requirement that she track down some journal articles for her paper instead of just using a lot of preaching commentaries.

      2. I was scrolling down to say similar things to what Dave has already said. (We were in that same session together.)

        I must say, looking at your “translations” in the response to Dave, you are a gifted subterfugist.

        • This is @Bryan and @Chris,
          Maybe “subterfuge” (even of the honest variety) isn’t quite right. I do happen to be a big fan of numerals: I like to be able to measure things, calculate them, and act on those measurements. In response to a Facebook comment I had written,

          “That said, I think quantification should, in principle, have exciting potential for accurate action. To paraphrase a favorite sci-fi novelist, ‘If you can measure it, it’s science; if you can’t, it’s just an opinion.’ And in the end, I don’t just want to *think* this stuff is happening, I want to know whether it is or not. Nonetheless, I do believe in starting with the more unguarded, ‘know what’d be cool?’ mode of expression.”

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