In a previous blog post I detailed a current project that we are working on which concerns engaging students in the process of developing learning outcomes (LOs). I had a very interesting conversation with a colleague the other day in which he asked me:
‘if you are asking students to develop LOs, how are you defining to them what LOs are?’
Now, anyone familiar with this area will probably know the definition of LOs commonly given in the literature, i.e. that they are statements of what a student should understand, know and/or be able to do at the end of a learning period. This is not to say that this definition is unanimous or problem-free. However, it is a definition that most teachers would recognise.
But this definition is not what my colleague was asking me to recite. Rather, he was asking me: what are LOs to students? What are we asking students to consider as LOs? Now we could simply say here that we are asking them to think about what they will know and be able to do at the end of a module or course. But this may be a challenging process for students at the beginning of a learning period when they don’t have the contextual knowledge of the content that the module will cover, what will be included in the assessments, etc. So, if students are going to be involved in developing their own LOs, we have to have a definition for them that goes beyond LOs as simply what they will know or can do.
My thoughts are that a student-focused definition has to centre more on their motivations for doing the module/unit/course/etc, and their aspirations for it. It has to engage with the experiences and knowledge that they will be bringing to that particular learning situation. Overall, the process of developing LOs with students has to engage them in thinking about and reflecting on themselves as learners and the learning journey that they want to take.
So how do we condense that down into a meaningful definition of what we are asking students to consider as LOs? That requires some thinking. In my ongoing and very wide searching of the LOs literature I have not come across anyone offering a definition of this kind. If any reader has then please do get in touch. It would also be very useful to find out if any reader does give a definition of LOs to their students that differs from the common academic one.
I guess what I’m really asking is how is the concept of LOs framed for students? Is it framed for them or do we just expect them to take the same meaning from it that we, as teachers, do? Would the common definition that we have be as useful and meaningful to students? I’m asking lots of questions here because I’m still trying to clarify my own thinking around this issue. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts or any ways in which you may actually be addressing some of the points I’ve raised.