Sunday, August 28, 2016

SLOs for a Real Education

Really interesting podcast (first in what is hopefully going to be a series) from Michael Wesch. I'm still processing what I think about the entire podcast (there were certainly parts that made me uncomfortable, which probably means it's something I need to think about more), but I wanted to pull out this quote about what real Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) should look like (about 6:53 mark):
And we have to help them achieve all this within a bureaucratic structure that demands that we frame our goals in a few neat bullet points at the top of our syllabus in a section called: Student Learning Outcomes, often called SLOs. I've never been satisfied with these, they never reflect the complexity or necessity of a real education. If I were to write SLOs for a real education, they might be something like this:

Students will be able to:
  1. Ask questions that burn in their soul and take them farther than they ever thought possible.
  2. Open themselves up to others and new experiences, to challenge their taken-for-granted assumptions.
  3. Cross rivers of doubt and conquer mountains of fear to set themselves free.
I think this very nicely identifies the tension between the SLOs we are supposed to write (and achieve) and the ones that really matter. I know there are many that will read the above and completely dismiss them as late-night-college ramblings (which, indeed, they are), but I think we need to take the time to reexamine our "taken-for-granted assumptions".

Yes, there are more specific, down-to-earth learning outcomes for our courses that I think should be part of the discussion, but I think very few of those should be (or even can be) standardized for all students. These "late-night college ramblings", however, are the types of outcomes that I can support being a requirement (or at least a worthy goal) for all of our students.

So I wonder why it is that we shy away from discussions around outcomes such as these, and obsess over measuring how our students do on discrete, isolated skills that very few of them will ever need to actually use. Perhaps it's because we are afraid of what we will discover. As Wesch says (about 49:50 mark):
You can't just think your way into a new way of living; you have to live your way into a new way of thinking.

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