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."


  1. So, I've had one idea that I started working on last night, and then posted on Open Study.

    To start, build a set of course goals referencing Bloom's Taxonomy, so that the students have a clear idea what is expected by the end of the course. The challenge is in making the goals clear and non-burdensome. 15 pages of goals is not appropriate. Each lesson could break down the the goals into more detail, but the overall goals would be used for the main assessment.

    The next challenge is to build a series of assessments that pin point the student's achievements in the course (i.e., show the outcome of the student's learning). I have a lot of different assessment techniques I currently use, such as online quizzes, papers, discussions, and exams. But most of these are ultimately based upon what is done in class (even the active learning and case study portion of the class). Not sure which of these will work, and so I'm looking for inspiration on different assessment techniques.

    The final plan, and I think this may ultimately be the most useful when it comes to demonstrating outcomes, is to get a snap shot of their knowledge before they start the class, and then when they leave (a pre and post test).

  2. you might find it useful to look at "Understanding by Design"; offers some good guides to thinking through what you are trying to do http://books.google.com/books/about/Understanding_by_design.html?id=N2EfKlyUN4QC

  3. @drbizcom: Thanks for the information, I'll look at the book this weekend.

  4. > 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?

    I think this comes down to the question - What makes for good assessment practice? - or words to that effect. I have always found Gibbs and Simpson's article helpful - http://www2.glos.ac.uk/offload/tli/lets/lathe/issue1/issue1.pdf#page=5

    I think if we want to assess process, then it has to be built into the assessment. I've probably misunderstood what you were getting at - if so apologies :-)

  5. Jenny, thanks for the post. You answered what I originally proposed, but I am now realizing that the issue is more about determining what needs to be assessed. So, in effect, I'm rethinking the actual objectives of the course. There are two objectives, what the University Catalog describes as the outcome of the class, and what I as the instructor want as the outcome. The first I can easily get with standard forms of assessment, it is the second I need to consider.

    Thanks for the article. With a quick read, I can see why you describe it as helpful.