Do you measure your measurable course objectives?

targetAre you an instructor who was asked to develop measurable course objectives? Perhaps, you did review your course objectives and selected the action verbs and followed S.M.A.R.T. rule to develop your measurable course objectives. Great! Now, the question is “How do you measure your measurable course objectives?” After reviewing more than 300 online and face-to-face courses in almost half dozen different universities throughout my career, I have concluded that developing measurable course objectives does not significantly improve the course curriculum unless the instructors take the next step. In fact, the activity does not go beyond a writing exercise of course objectives. I think the reason is partly the compartmental thinking of course design. Compartmental thinking happens when instructors approach the development of course objectives without thinking about their alignment with the learning activities and learning assessments. During the development of your measurable course objectives, you need to ask few additional questions to prevent compartmental thinking:

  1. Is this a course objective critical for my students to accomplish in this course?
  2. If it is, how will I assist my students to learn the necessary knowledge, skills or to gain the necessary attitudes to accomplish the course objective during the course?
  3. How will I assess if the student has accomplished this course objective while providing constructive feedback based on his/her performance?

The answers to these questions allow you properly align your course curriculum where the intended, taught, and assessed curricula are aligned. You teach what you intended to teach, and you assess if your students learned what you taught. What I share here is neither ground-breaking nor innovative. Many publications regarding outcome-based education, curriculum alignment, backward-design emphasize these fundamental ideas. However, I believe it is still important to repeat until we start to see high scale positive changes in education.

Suppose that you have designed your course that your measurable course objectives have corresponding assessments where you will assess each and every student’s performance. The question is how you convert this design into an actual course. There are a couple of scenarios that can help you. For each scenario, you are recommended to use a learning management system (LMS). However, if you do not use a LMS, you can use a spreadsheet to collect this data.

Scenario 1: Do you assess more than one course objectives in one comprehensive assessment?

Consider using a criteria-based assessment rubric in which each criterion or criteria group represents one of your course objectives. This way students see the connection between the assessment and course objective and you will have better insight on how your class performs on certain course objectives when you review rubric statistics.

Scenario 2: Do you assess one course objective in one or more assessments?

Consider referring to individual course objectives while naming your assessments. For instance, Final Paper (Course Objective 1). This change in the assessment name can allow you to exactly assess how your class performed on this course objective by utilizing the grade statistics.

My best advice is to consider utilization of learning analytics systems potentially embedded into your LMS. More to come about learning analytics in the next posts.

If you follow my advice, you will measure your measurable course objectives. Hopefully, your students will have the rationale for your assessments; you will have better data to evaluate your courses. If you find out students are failing certain course objectives, you may investigate if it is an isolated case or you need to make certain improvements. If they are accomplishing the course objectives, now you know that your course prepares students effectively for their future. Of course, I have heard and read this critique many times. “Developing measurable course objectives prevents the instructor to focus on higher goals in the course.” I think this also depends on how you developed your course objectives. If the course objectives are at Recall and Comprehension level, yet you wanted to focus on Evaluation or Creation level, perhaps, you need to rewrite your course objectives. If you would like to see a recent example of the implementations of the recommendations in this post into an actual course, you can check out one of my recent publications: Ozdemir, D. & Duffy, P. A. (2016). Meeting the Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals Using Backward Design. Pedagogy in Health Promotion http://doi.org/10.1177/2373379916666542.

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