This blog was started as my reflections on the 2011 Change MOOC. It is now an on going journal of my thoughts on Higher Education, specifically teaching Biology.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Outcomes vs. Process

I was reading the Learner Weblog by John Mak when I was struck by the dichotomy of student outcome vs. the process of learning.  The administrators of our school are concerned about our outcomes (Pass/Withdraw/Fail), and many of the faculty are worried about student readiness for upper division courses.  So, I live in an outcome system model.

Yet evidence is showing that the process, and not the outcome, is important to learning.  I can easily see this in practice.  Some of my A students who did not have to struggle in my class because they had good prep to get to my level, are actually some of the worst students I've seen.  They don't take ownership of the material, don't pay attention during group work or case studies, and don't pick up on the higher Bloom's taxonomy I'm trying to get the students to see.  They also tend to do poorly once in the higher level classes.

Now, those students who struggled (some with A's, others with B's) ended out doing well in the higher level courses.  They sat with the material, asked questions, worked things out for themselves, took notes in class and actively participated.

Online education, especially MOOCs focus on the process.  This is great if you are an active learner and are not looking for credentials, but many people are looking for some type of acknowledgement at the end of a course (in the case of a University, a grade).

So the question becomes, in an outcome based system (and I do not see it changing from an outcome based system), how do you focus on process?  At the end of a semester, I have to assign grades, so what then is my criteria for reviewing the student's work?  How do you assess their performance in a networked social environment?  Is it even necessary to perform assessments on what was accomplished in the online environment, or just the outcome of what they learned?

Is it enough to provide them with a clear understanding of the objectives, facilitate their travel through online social networks, then periodically assess them?  Part of me says yes, but there is another part that wonders at the role of the teacher.  I strongly believe in the mentor role, as opposed to the lecturer talking for hours, but I am hesitant to just "let them go."  One problem may be that I am concerned about their ability to filter material.  I've seen students with very strange ideas as to what an appropriate internet source can be.

My instinct is to say "try it and see what happens."