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Learning Goals

August 22, 2013

Monday will be the first day of classes in my new job at Howard Community College (HCC). It appears to be standard practice at HCC for faculty to write learning goals for each class they teach.  I haven’t been very good about writing learning goals in the past so I’m happy to be in a setting that will force me to adopt this practice.

I’m going to be writing a set of learning goals for each unit in my classes where a unit is everything that will appear on a single exam. Along with each set of learning goals I’m also going to try to write a set of 3 to 5 general skills related to the content and activities of the unit and a set of 3 to 5 ways in which the content of the unit might impact how the student sees or experiences the world. This is surprisingly challenging and feels like a very worthwhile exercise for me as an instructor and a general advocate of physics.

Coming up with the general skills relevant to each unit is a first small step towards connecting content and skills across courses and across disciplines. Ideally these skills will come out of discussions between myself and other faculty in physics, engineering, chemistry, etc. but as a first pass they will often be things I come up with on my own.

Thinking about how the content might impact how the student views the world comes from Kevin Pugh’s PERC presentation this summer about promoting Transformative Experiences and emphasizing the “experiential value” of the content. Stephanie Chasteen has a nice summary of Kevin’s presentation over on her blog. So far, these have been challenging for me to come up with and challenging for me to figure out the right wording.

Besides writing the learning goals before the start of each unit, I also need to make sure I refer to them when constructing assignments and assessments. I also need to set aside time during class to consult the list of learning goals a few times during the unit to see where students think we are on the list and to see if everyone agrees what demonstrating each learning goal might look like. To be clear, I am not writing learning goals to use with Standards Based Grading. These learning goals are just to set expectations and to make sure I have a game plan and a coherent vision going into each unit.

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