How much do you hate assessment? Does the Bloom’s Taxonomy Wheel fill you with despair? What are your outcomes? Are they measurable?
Over the last few months, a low-level debate has buzzed in the background of our office: Should we be encouraging the professors we work with to develop outcomes/objectives that can be measured and overtly aligned with their online course content? Is that even the kind of university we are?
First off, I think it’s important for people to understand why we are asking. Wichita State is trying very hard to encourage the Quality Matters approach to online course development. QM is a national organization that offers special certification to online courses that meet certain standards. Having QM certified courses communicates to the outside world that a school’s online offerings are good. QM isn’t the only measure of quality, but it is a nationally-recognized one.
The thing is, QM’s big focus is “alignment”: overtly linking content, assignments, and assessments to particular learning objectives at the course, program, and college level. For QM certification, the majority of those objectives must be specifically measurable and overtly measured.
So we ask you. What are your course objectives? How are you assessing your students’ learning?
Even asking the questions takes a stand. The very idea of objective/outcome-based education is aligned with a very specific educational camp, and not everyone in the university community lines up on that side.
Personally, I’m okay with that. I’m ready to quit asking folks about their objectives. Many courses at our school are simply not structured that way. They belong to another camp, as do some whole departments. If I see objectives or outcomes in a syllabus, I will start there. No outcomes, no problem. We can take a different tack.
The quality of any given course has more to do with the content, the delivery, and the skill and engagement of the instructor than it has to do with overt measurement. Since coming to WSU I have seen many very high-quality courses with excellent, engaged instructors. Not all of them had outcomes.
What does this mean for QM certification? If you don’t align yourself with outcomes, do you have to give up on your hopes and dreams of QM certification for your course? Maybe so, but I doubt it. Because “objective” and “outcome” are just words; they aren’t exclusive concepts.
When I interviewed for this job, I took a strong stand. When asked where I begin with course design, I was quick to say “I begin with the course and program outcomes.” But life as a professional instructional designer has changed the words I use. Now I would say this: I start by asking what you want your students to know. What new thing are you teaching them? What’s your big idea, and how do you want to get it across?
You tell me your big idea, and we will go from there. If you want QM Certification, I can help you. We’ll figure out a way to get there without any despair.