Thursday, October 22, 2015

Defining Learning/Assessment Objectives

Bob Parson (University of Ottawa) said:

In my continuing quest to refine, define and sublime learning outcomes, objectives and competencies I would like to share a new challenge. All of the above require clarity (both parties should be able to agree on what that goal or outcome is) and be able to be assessed. I thought of one that fit both those requirements but…

In the department of “That sounds simple, yes I agree, and of course, I’ll get right to it!”, I would like to offer an example of how the warm reception of an agreed-upon outcome/objective can be misleading:

“At the end of this lecture/course/event the student will be able to… get their ducks in a row"

This is a very common expression. We use it all the time: it can be agreed-upon as an outcome or objective because it sounds reasonable, constructive, observable and easy. But, have you ever thought of how difficult it would be to actually get ducks in a row? How would you do it? Who do you know that can talk “duck”? and if they did would the ducks pay any attention to them? I don’t think so.

If you had treats they might come to you, but in a row? Are you kidding me? (Perhaps polite Canadian ducks might line up but I wouldn’t bet my B+ on it.)

Is this an impossible goal that we keep striving for?

Perhaps this is a complete misunderstanding on my part, a trick question. Perhaps it is very easy to get all the ducks in a row. They would have to be immobilized (as in tranquilized or shot) but I never considered that as an option when contemplating the task: sounds pretty nasty even if it does get me the B+.

For an “A” I think you have to herd cats, but that’s another story.

Beware the simple-looking objective my friends.

As I often say “Every job is easy!... until I have to do it.”

To which I might add:

If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, probably a duck. If they produce six duck-like ducks in a row (i.e., multiple data points) then pretty sure that's an 'A'. So I don't have a problem with students getting their ducks in a row.

It's what grade to give the student who turns in a goose that I have a heard time with. Is that an original, better-than-asked-for duck...or did that student miss the target completely?

[Which is why, when multiple markers weigh in on the same paper, a small percentage of papers get an F from some instructors, an A+ from others. Doesn't mean marking is completely and randomly arbitrary; just means one interpreted objective literally and sees answer as off topic, while the other saw paper as thinking outside the box.... (In Alberta provincial exams, such a paper goes to a special committee to decide which of the two markers is correct in this instance.)]

Monday, October 19, 2015

I'm An A Student, But You Only Gave Me a C

I get this from students fairly often; enough that I wrote a paper on how to turn such incidents into a more positive learning experience for the students: I'm An A Student, But You only Gave Me a 'C': Addressing Student Misconceptions of the Grading Process. The introduction provides some general strategies for reducing student confusion (and therefore complaints) but the best part is the section entitled "Sample Responses to Common Student Misunderstandings" that provides solutions for the most common (and annoying) student complaints.