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Category: LOC3 Alignment: Outcomes to Assessment

Brain Freeze

  October 10th, 2011

I’m supposed to write about “learning outcomes”. My brain is frozen. I have no reference for these words—and I am a person who likes to have answers. I am a person with an MFA in Writing from a famous art school in Chicago. I am a person who has dedicated her life to the keyboard and the page.Writing is my strong point in life, it might be my only point! A week ago I was confident, but tonight I’m stretched out like Wiley Coyote squashed flat under the Road Runner’s boulder. Add to that: a growing obsession to check the time as it measures a building storm of anxiety in me.

I look up “learn” in the dictionary, I google it, search for it in Wikipedia, I read up on theories. These are sources I can usually depend on to spark some original thought, but tonight I find nothing. Nothing that inspires thoughts of my own. I need a story, an elaboration, a picture even! I pace the room, eat a bag of Dorritos, have a glass of wine…Where are my finely honed skills? Where’s familiar ground? Where is my faithful muse!!

Sigh. Let it go. Go do something else. Work on the Planning Chart. But there I am surrounded by the auxiliary troops: “Outcomes” “Assessment” “Final Assessment” “Resources Needed.” Someone pushed me out of a plane! I grabbed a book on my way down:

“You cannot fold a flood
and put it in a drawer”
Emily Dickinson

The parachute opens. Emily, in these two brief lines, demonstrates the success of a failure. She writes “cannot” while simultaneously doing the “cannot”; she demonstrates that the flood of her passions can fit into a “drawer”, a container, of a poem. I am on the road to recovery. Another book clarifies it further for me: “…the act of writing is a process of improvisation within a framework (form) of intention.” Lyn Hejinian. Improvisation, the unplanned, paradoxically functions within a framework of intention.

The dilemma for teaching art in a system made up of a web of intentions and outcomes is that creativity happens in the accidental, in the “failures”, in the unplanned moments. Art thrives on chaos. Artists learn to hope for a fortuitous failure of their own planned outcome in hopes that the failure will act as a rupture, opening up the work to a much larger idea than what they could have planned on. How to encourage a Jackson Pollock or Gertrude Stein in an educational system that requires measurable outcomes?

I don’t know, but I’ll throw out some ideas. Feel free to add to this in the comments. I will surely appreciate any help.

Learning Outcomes ask us to state our intentions, not our demands. I think this might be a beginning. This keeps the door open and allows us the means to measure information while leaving the door open for improvisation, spontaneity, and playfulness. It allows us to invite students to design aspects of an assignment that aren’t pertinent to our specific outcomes. For writing it could be word count, style, format, medium, subject…(as some of you have mentioned in the discussion).

My goal: To write the learning outcomes so they function as a support for an open doorway and not a wall.

Thanks for listening. I think I can do the homework now.


Beverly Nelson, Art Department faculty, Classes: Art 199-Writing Art History, Art 400-Writing Art Criticism.
Artist: William Wegman. Title: Untitled. Date: 2000. Genre: color photograph. This image is copyright protected by law.





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Mind the learning gap

  October 9th, 2011

I have my teaching gig by way of my law degree. My career goal was always to pursue farm, food and environmental policy issues, so I feel right at home in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Policy choices and legal problems are inextricably intertwined, so I love thinking about the material. My ultimate goal is to teach my students the process of policy and legal analysis and problem solving.

The traditional law school teaching method is the “Socratic Method,” where professors question students on the cases that we read for homework, but rarely ever make a statement of fact or law in class. As law students, we were most frustrated with our Constitutional Law professor, who would only make non-committal whines and squeaks in response to student answers, so we couldn’t even tell if a fellow student was correctly answering the question!

But by the end of the class, I found that I learned a tremendous amount from that professor because I was challenged to evaluate the answers for myself and check it against my own understanding of the material. We students then wrestled with the “right” answers in our own small groups by articulating the material for ourselves.

Moving from that unique educational environment, I keep in mind that I am teaching an undergraduate course, not a law school course. There is a learning gap here, both in the material, the readiness of the students, and the course environment. I try to use a “modified” Socratic Method of my own invention in my class, and use the same approach on the Discussion Board. I ask students to explain a case and respond to each other. I jump in with clarification or congratulations on a job well done, but I try to let them sort out the issues. My goal is NOT to teach them how things ARE, or SHOULD be, but to give them tools to evaluate these problems and make the arguments themselves.

Ok, so my goal is partially to teach them how things are currently done, how things ARE. We review the current status of environmental law, what the courts have said about different statutes, what it means for polluters and for people affected by pollution. But the law is ever evolving, so it means (almost) nothing to know what the law says right now. Thinking about this helps me to break down my class objectives. We have to start with recollection and comprehension. That will take a more traditional content delivery. But then we need to quickly move to the process tools of analysis, problem solving, and synthesis. Maybe even on to creation of new ideas and tools to solve legal environmental problems. I am realizing that I have been using the “objectives” already without the labels attached. I hope I can do them in a more conscious and methodological way. Now, on to the tools! How to convey this information in the online environment is my challenge.

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Welcome, Course Developing Bloggers!

  July 29th, 2011

What are we doing? Why are we here?

Learning objectives for blog assignments in our workshop:

  • To use social media to reflect on learning and to connect with a real audience
    • Posting your blog entries is one part of what you’ll do here, but commenting on others’ posts is just as important. Who knows? You may also see comments from visiting readers, such as colleagues here at OSU, colleagues from other campuses, authors we’re discussing, or tween pop star Justin Bieber. (Well, it could happen … this is a public blog!)
  • To share artifacts created for your courses
    • Collaboration = Inspiration!
  • To learn from each other’s reflections and creations
    • Two heads are better than one!
  • To bridge the gap from this training to your classroom
    • Blogging begins during our professional development workshop and continues through your first term teaching the course. Hopefully this will help you apply the concepts we study together for the benefit of your students.

How often do you need to blog?

  • Participants will need to post three original blog entries during this six-week professional development, during weeks 1, 3, and 5. Be sure to comment on at least two of your colleagues’ posts, as well. However, you are welcome and encouraged to post and comment more often.
  • In addition, participants are asked to post at least two more times during the term they first teach the course.

What are these categories and tags all about?

  • Categories have been created for you and are based on the learning outcomes for our training. Each post you write should relate to at least one of our class categories. Placing posts within categories is an organizational strategy, but it’s also a form of metacognitive reflection.
  • Tags are up to you. Try to come up with at least three tags for each post.

How long do blog posts need to be?

  • Use as many words as you need to get your idea across. Keep in mind that blogs are not dissertations. Most blog posts are between 100 and 500 words. This one is just over 300, which makes this a good place to stop!


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