Tuesday Teaching Topic: Considering the Value of Student Learning Objectives

In the past few weeks, a number of articles have been published that question the value of Student Learning Outcomes (a selection of articles is linked to below). For example, the report that spawned the discussion presents its thesis as such:

“This report takes a look at how government officials have pressed college accreditors to focus more on “student outcomes”—quantifiable indicators of knowledge acquired, skills learned, degrees attained, and so on. It then argues that it is not these enumerated outcomes that are the best way to hold colleges accountable, but rather the evidence of student engagement in the curriculum—their papers, written examinations, projects, and presentations—that holds the most promise for spurring improvement in higher education. Furthermore, this engagement is also a key factor in keeping students in school all the way to graduation. The report concludes that reformers seeking to enhance college performance and accountability should focus not on fabricated outcome measures but instead on the actual outputs from students’ academic engagement, the best indicators of whether a college is providing the quality teaching, financial aid, and supportive environment that make higher learning possible, especially for the disadvantaged.”

I was introduced to the idea of SLO’s soon after being hired at HWC. After hearing the description, I immediately became skeptical. It struck me as a thin and abstracted means of measuring the value of a whole class. But in my own experiences, the great lessons I learned had almost nothing to do with the neat set of skills that the course was supposed to be about. My lessons were more about understanding the sorts of problems that a discipline engaged in, the limits of those problems, how to utilize the structure of those problems in different spheres. My teachers’s greatest lessons were always larger and grander than what could be captured in an SLO. And I wanted to be that kind of teacher.

But others around me have defended SLO’s. What is your take? Join the conversation here or on the CAST Faculty Lounge on Facebook (and if you are not a member of the group, I invite you to join. I will approve all educators).

Some other recent articles critical of SLO’s:

A reflection on the value of the article, generally supportive.

“Ten Theses in Support of Teaching and against SLO’s.” Thanks to Jeni Meresman for this one.

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