Helpful Hints for Writing Student Learning Outcomes
Course Outlines form requests that the student learning outcomes state in specific behavioral terms the minimum skills students should be able to demonstrate at the conclusion of the course. The purpose of the following is to assist instructors when writing instructional outcomes for new courses.
- The format typically begins with the phrase "Upon completion of this course the student will be able to:" with a list of those expectations following.
- The challenge herein lies in distilling the hundreds of specific learning outcomes down to a reasonable number.
- The key is grouping individual items into sets that share commonalties. For example, a sociology course might have many detailed items for students to learn in the area of cross-cultural comparison, but the collective statement in the outcomes might be "Compare and contrast traditions and behaviors in a variety of cultures."
- Degree applicable credit courses are required to demonstrate critical thinking. The incorporation of critical thinking must be evident throughout the course outline but particularly in the outcomes, Methods of Instruction, and Methods of Evaluation.
- The manner in which the Learning Outcomes section reflects critical thinking is in the higher cognitive expectations expressed in this section. Basically, critical thinking involves active higher cognitive processes that analyze, synthesize and/or evaluate information. This contrasts the more passive activities such as recognizing, describing, or understanding information.
- Note that not ALL outcomes need to reflect critical thinking. However, it should be clear that higher thinking skills are an essential component of the course. The course outline must demonstrate that students are taught how to acquire these skills and must master them to pass the class.
define, repeat, record, list, recall, name
translate, restate, describe, recognize, explain, idenitify, locate, report, review
interpret, apply, employ, demonstrate, dramatize, practice, illustrate, operate, schedule, shop, sketch
UC/CSU schools require a majority of the outcomes demonstrate critical thinking.
distinguish, analyze, differentiate, appraise, calculate, experiment, test, compare/contrast, examine, criticize, diagram, inspect, debate, inventory, question, solve
compose, plan, propose, desgin, formulate, arrange, assemble, collect, construct, create, set up, organize, prepare, develop
judge, appraise, evaluate, rate, compare, value, revise, score, select, choose, assess, estimate, measure
Many existing course outlines have outcomes that do not reflect the "active verbs" conveying critical thinking. It is usually the case that the course itself is taught in a way that incorporates critical thinking, but the course outline itself does not reflect those outcomes and methodologies. Bringing the outcomes into line is primarily a matter of reflection on the part of the faculty who teach the course upon those outcomes that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Some "before and after" examples are shown below.
BEFORE: Know the significant art achievements of Renaissance through Modern Europe.
AFTER: Compare and contrast the art works in the same historical period with art works from other historical periods to ascertain their stylistic aesthetic and historical relationships.
BEFORE: Have learned skills in performing and in working with others to create a theatrical event for children.
AFTER: Analyze a text in preparation for rehearsals, including the choice of style, language, and pace.
Critique their own performances and rehearsals using a collectively decided upon matrix. Share these critiques with members of the ensemble in appropriate, culturally sensitive ways.