Establishing Powerful Learning Outcomes

Jocelyn McWhirter, Religious Studies

Teaching is all about student learning.  I used to think that it was all about me teaching. But about 10 years ago, I learned otherwise. Since then, I’ve been adjusting every syllabus so that “course objectives” are stated as learning outcomes.

 For example, here’s a “course objective” (dated 2008):

Our overall goal is to learn to interpret the Gospels so that we can understand the beginnings of a religion that spread from a remote corner of the Roman Empire to the throne of the Emperor himself, and that still attracts millions of adherents today.

Here are some learning outcomes (dated 2015):

By the end of the semester, you will be able to:

1)  recall the basic history and vocabulary of the Gospels;

2)  articulate theories of interpretation;

3)  evaluate those theories;

4)  apply basic knowledge and theories to the interpretation of the Gospels.

The ACUE course has challenged me to ensure that my learning outcomes are student-centered, observable, actionable, and developmental. They need to focus on what students will be able to do. Students need to understand them. I need to assess them. They need to cover a range of cognitive levels like remember, understand, analyze, and evaluate. So far, so good, I say.

But they also need to be specific. Students need to know exactly where to focus their efforts. And “articulate theories of interpretation” is not very specific. So I took a stab at revising some outcomes:

2)  explain historical criticism, literary criticism, and redaction criticism;

3)  evaluate their utility.

Now they are more specific but less student-friendly. Dang. Let me try again.

2)  explain three methods for determining a Gospel writer’s historical context, literary design, and editorial agenda;

3)  evaluate the usefulness of those methods.

Okay. I think I’m getting there. Now on to the next syllabus. I want to get this right, because teaching is all about student learning.