All posts tagged “learning outcomes

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash; toddler hand moving blocks along a wire toy.
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Teach to Dismantle?

I’m putting together a professional development workshop for my teaching librarian colleagues on creating learning outcomes. It’s part of a larger summer prof dev series on teaching and learning in libraries that really focuses on foundational aspects of teaching IL. We’re essentially walking through the process of initiating, prepping, implementing, and following up on a class. It’s really just me externalizing my internal instructional planning process, which is why I think I am struggling with learning outcomes.

I write learning outcomes when I teach. They help shape and offer a scope to my classes. That said, sometimes those learning outcomes fly out the window when I actually get to class. I write outcomes with the best information I have at the time: assignment details, course syllabus, comments from the course instructor, previous experience working with students in this course, etc. But sometimes even the best planned class doesn’t turn out as planned, and I’ve learned to just go with it. Sometimes my written outcomes become obsolete or silly once I actually meet the students I’m going to be teaching for the next 1 to 2 hours. I’ll admit that in my early teaching years I just powered through my lesson plan, not wanting to deviate from my carefully crafted script. It would have been too scary, too messy, and too out of my control.

Now, I still put a lot of effort into crafting outcomes and lesson plans, but I tend to start every class by asking students if there are things they really want to learn today, questions they want answered, or things they want to get out of our time together. I’ve been reading Learner-Centered Pedagogy by Kevin Michael Klipfel and Dani Brecher Cook and am loving their emphasis on learner motivation, narrative, connection, and meaning making in information literacy education. Their central question is “What is it like to be a person learning something?” which I just want to have printed on a giant poster and up on my office wall. That should be first and foremost on our minds as teachers. One of the first answers that came to mind when I read that question was that as a person learning something, I want to care about what I am learning, and I want my teacher to care about what I want to learn. Yes, I know that’s a terribly constructed sentence, but you get the sentiment. I want to care about what my students want to learn, and sometimes that means my predetermined learning outcomes don’t have a place in my classroom. And that’s ok.

So where does that leave me as I plan this workshop? I’m teaching the standard Zald and Gilchrist model of learning outcome construction, while acknowledging that it’s not the only way to write an outcome. I’m introducing affective outcomes, not just cognitive and behavioral ones. I’m acknowledging that sometimes classes don’t follow our carefully crafted learning outcomes and lesson plans. In short, I’m teaching learning outcomes so that people feel free to disregard, reimagine, remix, or dismantle them later. But should I teach them at all? I know they are an important framework within higher education and our culture of assessment and value. I acknowledge their connection to learner-centered teaching and their ability to help provide structure for new instructors. But I also have first hand experience with their rigidity and constraints. Does bringing this up in a workshop try to do too much? Or does it bring up conversations we should be having as teaching librarians?

Feel free to discuss as I revise my workshop lesson plan yet again…(but do I even need to do so?)

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Standardization without Vanillafication

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My colleagues and I are in the middle of revising our library’s information literacy learning outcomes for our college’s First Year Seminar (FYS)–a course required for all First Year Students that’s sort of an introduction to college life and academic discourse. Course topics vary depending on on the instructor and can be anything from “Modern Heroes” to “Pimp My Ride: Materialism and American Culture,” but the course must incorporate what our college has deemed to be the four liberal arts skills of written and oral expression, critical thinking and, you guessed it, information literacy.

Our original FYS info lit learning outcomes were based on the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, and like the standards, they’re detailed and thorough, but they are also long and riddled with librarian/info lit-speak. Over the past few years it’s become increasingly clear to the instruction librarians I work with that this document that has served us well for the past 5 years is in need of a revision. Rather than wait for ACRL’s revised IL standards to be published, we decided to sit down and ask ourselves one basic question:

What do we want our students to know by the end of their first semester at St. Mary’s College of Maryland?

It’s the driving question behind what we teach (or hope we get the opportunity to teach) in these FYS courses and one that helped us come up with a much shorter list of outcomes that we hope will help demystify the entire notion of “information literacy” for our faculty. They’re devoid of “librarian-ease” and are all things that have come up in conversation with faculty as “what I wish my students knew how to do” items. I won’t share them yet since they aren’t finalized, but if anyone’s interested in the final product, leave me a comment and I can share them with you via email.

One of my biggest hopes with this learning outcomes revision project is that once we have these new, shorter, more manageable outcomes, we can start to come up with a bank of learning activities, lesson plans, and maybe even (gasp!) assessment modules to address each one. The topics of our First Year Seminars may all be radically different, but the information literacy concepts we want our students to learn are all the same. I feel as though I spend so much time each fall building activities and lesson plans from scratch, that I end up suffering from instruction fatigue by October. I think with these revisions my colleagues and I can build a bank of learning activities/lessons that will hit all of our learning outcomes, but still be adaptable enough that modify them for the different topics covered in each FYS.

As an added bonus, this kind of modular (dare I say standardized?) approach to instruction could possibly make the faculty “sell” a much easier process. The learning outcomes are less intimidating, and if we present them with a menu of lessons to choose from, they might be better able to see how we can easily be worked in to their FYS throughout the semester. These might even be lessons that faculty choose to teach themselves! The important thing is that we’re teaching students what we all hope and want them to know by the end of their first semester of college.

At a liberal arts college like ours, no one likes the idea of standardizing anything. I’ve taught research sessions for different sections of the same course that have completely different assignments and approaches. I get it. We all like to do our own thing and don’t like others telling us how to do it. I fall squarely into that category. But I also hate inefficiency, and I think that creating lessons based on our new FYS outcomes will make us more efficient instruction librarians while still giving us the freedom to customize our teaching the way we see fit. I’m not advocating boring, standardized vanilla instruction, but sometimes a little quality control isn’t a bad thing.