The use of student learning outcomes (SLOs) is commonplace at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States. I have been working with SLOs in one form or another for the past decade, even before they became fashionable. Many years ago, while I was an instructor in the US Navy, SLOs were called Terminal Objectives. After the service, I taught GED classes and at that time SLOs were referred to as Learning Goals. Regardless of the latest trendy technical name, SLOs are clear statements that describe the new skills students should be able to demonstrate as a result of a learning event such as a college course (Ewell, 2001). Whether teaching online, on-ground, or via a blended environment, the importance of defining the intended outcomes, before instruction takes place, cannot be overstated because SLOs identify fundamental and measurable student skills, help outline needed curricular content, and define appropriate assessment.
This article, however, is not about the SLOs we use in our classrooms as we are all very likely already acquainted with this process; it is instead about employing similar outcomes-based tactics in the practical development, facilitation, and assessment of faculty development. As much as our students need effective instruction, faculty members need high-quality training as well. From federal compliance topics such as FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) to instructional strategies related to classroom management, active learning, and technology, to name just a few, there is no shortage of competencies faculty need to develop in order to function well in any learning environment.
Driscoll and Wood (2007) defined the key features of learner-centered, outcomes-based instruction as follows:
- Faculty clearly communicate the intended outcomes of each lesson in advance
- The stated outcomes are accessible and made public
- Students have clear expectations and understand the purpose of the instruction
- Students’ progress is determined by the achievement of learning outcomes
- Assessment results are analyzed and used to improve curricula and align instruction
How far of a conceptual leap would it be to apply these same features to our own development as faculty members? As an instructor, I would certainly appreciate it if (a) the intended outcomes of my own training were communicated in advance; (b) if the outcomes of my training were accessible; (c) if I had clear expectations and understood the purpose of my training; (d) if my progress as an instructor was determined by the achievement of clear training outcomes; and especially (e) if the assessment results of my own training was analyzed and used to improve future training. Take a moment to answer the following questions as you reflect on past training sessions you attended:
- How was the training announced? Were the expected outcomes of the training communicated in advance or was it via an email that read something to the effect of, “let’s get together and chat about FERPA”?
- How was the training presented? Were the training outcomes listed on PowerPoint slides? If not, were they explained verbally? A well-defined outcome for FERPA training would be for example, “By the end of this training you will be able to apply FERPA policy to determine when and when not to disclose student information.” Was the training engaging, relevant, and current? Did you have any input in its content?
- How were the skills you gained during training later assessed? Through classroom observations that focused particular attention on the application of the new skills? A quiz a few weeks after the training? By reviewing students’ related comments on end-of-course critiques?
If the workshop was announced vaguely, presented poorly and without enthusiasm, and the skills you supposedly gained by attending were not important enough to be assessed later, then why hold the workshop in the first place?
Not only does it make perfect andragogical sense to compose faculty training using SLO principles, but it also helps model SLO usage and the learner-centered approaches we are supposed to be implementing in our classrooms. As Barbara Daley (2003) concluded, “the hope is that as teachers experience learner-centered classrooms in their own professional development they will in turn develop more learner-centered classrooms with their students” (p. 29). Let us profit from all of the instructional research of the past 50 years by insisting that an outcomes-based instructional approach be used in our own professional development.
Daley, B. J. (2003). A case for learner-centered teaching and learning. In K. P. King & P. A. Lawler (Eds.) New Perspectives on Designing and Implementing Professional Development of Teachers of Adults. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 23-30. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Driscoll, A., & Wood, S. (2007). Developing outcomes-based assessment for learner-centered education: A faculty introduction. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Ewell, P. (2001). Accreditation and student learning outcomes: A proposed point of departure. Washington, DC: Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Jack P. Macfarlane, EdD, is the director of the Aviation Maintenance Campus of San Joaquin Valley College in Fresno, CA.
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A key element in measuring the accomplishment of learning outcomes is the way we draw closure. I do quite a bit of work in faculty training – primarily focused on classroom teaching skills, and find that a great closure is in two simple questions:
1.For you personally what two or three ideas, statements, principles, discussions, etc. from our sessions together have had the greatest impact on the way you understand your life and work as an educator? What do you remember most distinctly? Why do you think that these have been significant for you?
2.Suggest at least one specific and practical way in which you might be able in the next few months to apply in the classroom one or more of the principles we have studied together. Write your practical step(s) on a piece of paper and have a friend read and countersign what you have written.
Through these simple questions you can discover what exactly the participants have learned, and also challenge them to go beyond passive listening to active engagement.
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One of the faculty’s biggest areas of concern is the articulation of learning outcomes and the assessment of those outcomes. Does the student know what we want them to learn? How do we assess the student outcome to show student learning or change?
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