Wednesday, July 19, 2006

GIS Instruction & Learning Outcomes

So, our university is due for a reassessment of our accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). This is a very big deal and we are all investing a lot of time and effort to ensure that we comply with all of the SACS accrediting standards.

The most direct way that this affects me, a bottom feeder in the university's social strata, is a strong push towards measurable student-outcome based learning. (See section 3.4, Educational Programs, of the SACS Accrediting Standards.)

For the quickly approaching Fall 2006 semester, I need to identify and draft learning outcome statements for both my library instruction sessions (GIS workshops and customized class instruction) and the 6 credits I am teaching (Spatial Data Analysis and Advanced Real State Analysis).

What are Learning Outcomes?

Learning outcomes are the expectations of what students will learn/know/accomplish after the class/course. This helps the instructor tell the students exactly what is expected of them. Many instructors focus simply on what they need to cover and do not give enough attention to what the students need to be able to accomplish after the class/course.

The format that I am using is as follows:

  • Context of the lesson
  • Instructor expectations
  • Student learning outcomes tied to expectations
Here is a link to my first attempt at writing a learning outcome. More information about this can be read below.

What do I think about this?

First let's consider time. On the one hand, there is no doubt that this increases the bureaucratic paperwork that I must complete. To do this properly, each library instruction session that I teach will need 1 to 2 hours extra time to complete my preparations. (Let'’s forget about my adjunct courses right now.) Last Spring 2006 semester, I held 20 library GIS instruction sessions and 3 workshops. Most of these are unique and customized for each class/workshop, so let's call it 15 unique classes plus 3 workshops. This comes to an estimated 27 extra hours of work if I spend an extra 1.5 hours on each class. Something has to be cut in order for me to accommodate this extra time. On the other hand, I am told it will get easier as I become more accustomed to writing these up. If I can cut increased development time to 0.5 hours, then there will only be an increase of 9 hours.

Second let's consider the long term benefits. I see this as the most advantageous benefit. It would be great to have a historical archive of these organized learning outcome statements to explore the progression/change of my expectations of student learning over time.

Third, let's consider the measuring/evaluation of these outcomes. No doubt that it is easier to create tests to measure the success of student learning if there is a collection of outcome statements to work from.

Fourth, let'’s consider the effect of writing these outcomes on the effectiveness of the teaching and student learning itself. I intentionally left this last, even though I think many folks would include it first. This is because I firmly believe that I have always taught with a strong focus on student learning. Perhaps this is my own personal hubris, you might suggest. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I think not in this case. This is why the first thing that enters my mind, in the short term, is the time it will take.

Therefore I decide to embrace this style of drafting learning outcomes for the benefit of long-term analysis and to help with measuring the success of actual learning. The short term? Well, I always need something to grumble about, eh?

Enough Talk

Here is the first learning outcomes statement that I drafted. (Actually drafted it this morning.) I used Bloom's Taxonomy to organize my thoughts and to supply the action verbs to correspond to the level of student learning. Be easy on me as this is the first one of these puppies that I drafted.

The scenario for the learning outcomes is a graduate course wanting to know how to integrate Census 2000 data within a GIS project. Students have limited or no experience with GIS. Class held in a GIS lab. Duration is 2 hours. This is a common instruction session that I hold for various social science graduate courses each semester. It was quite difficult to pull together and took me approximately 3 hours. I am still a bit uncertain about the next to last outcome, and perhaps there are too many outcomes, but what the heck, right? Can't spend all day on it.

Also check out the NCGIA GISCC Learning Outcomes Tutorial.

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