This is a written reflection on the idea of learning outcomes as they relate to curriculum development, as proposed by Bowen in Teaching Naked (p. 263). He speaks about this in the context of “the naked curriculum” and specifically as it relates to improving curricular progression.
I was immediately struck by this topic because at the present time I am working on revising the curriculum of the occupational health and safety diploma program at my college. It’s a daunting task and despite numerous key insights from the PIDP thus far, curriculum development feels like it’s still out of my league. While I have improved as an instructor dramatically from the first time I was involved in this process six-years ago, especially from the sense of being able to envision an alignment between learning objectives, participatory learning activities, and assessments, translating that from a course level to a program level presents a far greater depth and breadth of complexity. It’s definitely something that I’m currently struggling with and am challenging myself to dig deep and do as good a job as I possibly can. After all, students who enter the program over the next five to seven years are going to have to live with these major decisions being made behind the scenes right now. And that’s what’s motivating me.
What this course has taught me and where my educational philosophy is starting to lean is the fact that with each passing day content is becoming more and more irrelevant. Information is out there and increasingly it’s becoming freely available. What I’m wrestling with is the fact that our program development meetings are always so focused on choosing the content that we have to cover and turning those into learning objectives on course outlines. That will ultimately result in the content that we will be held accountable to deliver. While I’m more interested in teaching students the processes of creative and critical thinking, self-regulation of learning, metacognition and reflection, and developing students with growth mindsets and 21st century learning skills, the institution seems much more focused on defining the content that has to be taught. I definitely see merit in both aspects of these educational philosophies but I’m finding it very difficult to blend both sides of that coin into a cohesive curriculum.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to develop a two-year diploma program from essentially scratch. When I first arrived as faculty at my institution, the course outlines for this program were developed by a previous instructor with no experience in occupational health and safety. None of the course material, however, was developed at the time. I spent my first few years developing that content on the fly. When I first had an opportunity to participate in a program review, I only decided on very minor changes as I was still going through the whirlwind of trying to figure out how to be a better teacher and develop more and better content. As the old saying goes, I wish I knew then what I know now.
The program needs a lot of changes in my opinion and the changes are major. The main issue, in my view, is that it needs to be a more cohesive curriculum from start to finish. It needs a better focus on developing students from the time they enter the program until they graduate. Right now, the courses operate as silos and while there are some great learning opportunities throughout the program, none of them are necessarily building on prior ones or really leading to anything bigger or better. And I now realize that our program outcomes are the first thing that needs to be addressed. Once those are developed, creating individual courses with learning objectives will be easier as they will have to be based on the ultimate goals. In essence, there will be an overall map guiding the way.
Dr. Cathy Barrette, Director of Assessment at Wayne State University, provides a great analogy in relation to the difference between course and program learning outcomes. In a PowerPoint presentation about the topic that I retrieved online, she illustrates learning objectives as all of the individual, uncut vegetables and the program outcomes as the salad. She states, “the degree of preparation and integration makes the salad. The ingredients contribute to the salad, but a salad is more than the sum of its parts.” (Barrette, n.d., slide 5). This simple analogy put things in perspective for me. It made it clear to me that my belief in developing graduates who can creatively and critically think, who can execute problem-based learning projects, who can self-regulate and self-direct their own learning, who have 21st century skills and growth mindsets, and who leave as reflective practitioners, are indeed program outcomes. This is the framework under which we can deliver content within. And as long as content delivery is always framed through the lense of these program outcomes, then students should successively build on these outcomes throughout their two-years in the program so that they leave having mastered all of the learning objectives, and in turn, the ultimate goals.
Another key insight I’ve gained while researching program outcomes is the revised model of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is illustrated beautifully online by Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (2017). I really like how the cognitive processes (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating) are run through the various knowledge dimensions (factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive). I can see how this model can also help to provide a roadmap for program outcomes as well as learning objectives for specific courses. For example, perhaps a first year, first semester course would focus on remembering and understanding within the factual and conceptual dimensions, but a final year, final semester course would focus on evaluating and creating in the procedural and metacognitive domains. This model provides a great foundation for the framework of the program outcomes and the successive progression of student knowledge, skills and abilities.
This investigation has given me a much sharper picture of what needs to happen with our diploma program.
Firstly, program outcomes have to be developed. I’ve spent some time trying to develop a first draft of some of my ideas. Graduates will be able to:
- Contribute to the maintenance of a safe work environment by managing OHS administrative processes;
- Use a range of OHS tools and processes to implement OHS programs and integrate compliance with regulations in complex and non-routine environments;
- Conduct training to effectively transfer knowledge and skills to others;
- Work under defined responsibilities with general direction in changing contexts within broad but established parameters and determine when issues should be escalated to a higher level;
- Influence operational, supervisory and middle management staff and consultative groups across a designated area;
- Evaluate the wider implications of OHS strategies and activities for other functions and areas of the organization;
- Apply cognitive, communication and technical skills to identify, analyze, synthesize and act on information from a range of workplace sources to solve unpredictable problems in known environments.
In my view, these are broad outcomes (a salad) that need to be successively developed in students through the various learning objectives (the individual, uncut vegetables) that they will eventually master by the end of the program. Every course that we develop, with its own specific learning objectives, has to be driven by these program outcomes as the end goal. If learning objectives and the progression of courses and content are focused on developing students towards these goals, then instructional strategies as well as assessment and evaluation will become much clearer throughout the program.
At our next program review meeting, I am going to present these program outcomes with a plan to develop courses and their specific learning objectives based on these broad goals. As Bowen (2012) states, “if all faculty expect students to be prepared for, and actively engaged, in class activities there will no longer be just one teacher who is trying to teach higher-order thinking and suffering for it in course evaluations” (p. 264). I never thought that a course called, “Media Enhanced Learning” would eventually end with me going back to the foundations of andragogy. But here I am. And there I go.
Barrette, C., (n.d) Course vs. Program Learning Outcomes: Analogies and Examples. Wayne State University. PowerPoint Presentation retrieved from: https://goo.gl/2zBA0u
Bowen, J.A., (2012) Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology out of Your College Classroom will Improve Student Learning. John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Jossey-Bass; San Francisco
Iowa State University, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (2017). Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. Retreived from: http://www.celt.iastate.edu/teaching/effective-teaching-practices/revised-blooms-taxonomy