“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” –Alvin Toffler

by Cordell Briggs and Susan Ingham

Like many of you, we have been involved in education long enough to witness a variety of changes. We’ve seen an emphasis on why Johnny can neither read nor write to more recent debates about students’ having a right to their own language. Like those of you who have recently entered the profession of higher education, our zest for teaching has remained high, not eroded by educational swings and time. We have always recognized our professional responsibility to ensure that our students learn. As a result, developing accountability measures, assessing students’ performance, and rewriting course objectives are just not new issues for us despite the mandate by national accreditation commissions to focus on student learning outcomes.

You can understand our depth of skepticism about how writing student learning outcomes will somehow change the way we do business in the classroom. We’ve always believed that our focus was on students, how they learned, and how they accomplished the goals we set in our courses and programs. Just as accreditation commissions have changed their focus on standards over the years, we believed initially this new focus on student learning outcomes was essentially “old wine” in twenty-first century goblets.

Revisiting the issue of how we teach, how our students learn, and how we measure their learning experience has been a refreshing adventure. Since our approach to education, we believe, is learner-centered, we must also make our course objectives learner-centered. For example, we have moved away from using language such as “This course will cover argumentation, research, and . . .” to using student learning outcomes to indicate what students will have achieved at the end of the course. This move has enabled students to identify, for instance, the various rhetorical modes, to explain the differences among them, and to demonstrate each mode in a written sample to be evaluated by the instructor. Thus, students with a clear list of learning outcomes know where they are going.

We have become convinced that the shift in focus by regional accrediting commissions across the nation is a qualitative shift in teaching and learning. Developing SLO’s will help instructors to do the following:

• Determine what information or skills they want their students to learn;
• Plan the sequence of lessons;
• Decide on instructional methods;
• Assess the effectiveness of lesson and instructional methods;
• Determine whether students have learned what the instructors want them to learn.

In short, clearly written SLO’s will help students to identify learning outcomes they must be able to demonstrate at the end of the course.

Stating student learning outcomes, which identify specific measurable skills and knowledge important to meet a course’s goals, has significant and valuable results:

• Specifying for students what new behaviors they will have gained after a learning experience.
• Enabling us to align our expectations for each course with our assessment of students’ performance.
• Stating specific, detailed SLO’s provides us with a tool to gather and interpret information related to how students achieve in our courses, programs, and overall college experience and eventual work experience after graduation.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of this module you should be able to:

1. Identify the characteristics of SLO’s to measure what students have learned in your course.

2. Create SLO’s to support your teaching goals, and to specify the learning to be demonstrated, including acceptable standards of performance.

3. Compare with colleagues how you and they have used SLO’s to align your course with accreditation standards.



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