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Follow Up Friday: Course Objectives Guide & In Case You Missed It

February 11, 2022

Online Teaching Highlight: Measurable, Specific, Learner-oriented, and Appropriate Course Objectives!

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There are four criteria of what makes for a quality learning objective: measurable, specific, learner-oriented, and appropriate. Below I will walk you through checking a learning objective against these criteria and we will see how it develops into a quality learning objective. Let’s see how this learning objective: “Learn about various plant species” becomes this learning objective: “Students will be able to identify various plant species of the Southeastern United States using different standard taxonomies”.

First, let’s assume this learning objective is for a botany course.

Starting out, here is my learning objective: “Learn about various plant species.”

  • Measurable – use an action verb that clearly indicates how you will be able to verify if a learner has achieved the skill/knowledge. Avoid using “learn”, “understand”, or “know”. While these are the goals of education the question here is, how can we measure learning? 
    • My learning objective is not measurable. Fortunately, (and yes, I mean, fortunately) we cannot open up our student’s heads to see what is going on in there and verify if they have learned anything. So we need to see some observable and verifiable action that would indicate that someone ‘knows’ about plant species in order to complete the action.

Measurable learning objective: “Students will be able to identify various plant species.” – This is measurable because I can observe them identifying plant species through a test or a quiz.  

  • Specific – the learning objective should name exactly what learners will be able to do. This goes hand-in-hand with measurability.    
    • My learning objective is not specific because it is not telling my students relevant information about how they will identify plant species and ‘plant species’ could mean every plant species in the world, or it could mean the ones in my backyard.

Measurable and specific learning Objective: “Students will be able to identify various plant species of the Southeastern United States using Dichotomous and PlyClave taxonomies.” – This is specific because it tells students how they will identify plant species in a general region and what tools they will be able to use to do this.

  • Learner-oriented language – the learning objective should be written from the student’s perspective such that it avoids discipline jargon or terminology that is yet to be explained, and so that non-native speakers should be readily able to understand. 
    • In hopes of making my learning objective more specific, I have accidentally made it esoteric through the use of discipline jargon such as “Dichotomous” and “PlyClave”. Students would not know what these terms mean prior to taking the course. Additionally, non-native speakers would likely be at more of a disadvantage since these are hyper-specific English words. 

Measurable, specific, and learner-oriented language: “Students will be able to identify various plant species of the Southeastern United States using different standard taxonomies.” 

  • Appropriate for the course level – the complexity of the action-verbs used should align with the complexity of the course level. 
    • Lastly, let’s assume this botany course is an introductory level course.
    • Since I use the action verb “identify” my learning objective would be appropriate for this course level (and thus meets all four criteria!).
    • But let’s look at an inappropriate level learning objective:
      • “Students will be able to create their own taxonomies for identifying various plant species in the Southeastern United States.” 
        • Creating a species identification taxonomy or key would require having a firm mastery of the various taxonomic categories, various taxonomies that exist, the debate about the strengths and weaknesses of varying taxonomies, as well as discipline theory about taxonomies, which is likely all well above a learner who is brand new to botany. 
        • Verbs such as ‘recall’, ‘identify’, ‘interpret’ are associated with fundamental cognitive learning abilities such as ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’ and ‘applying’, respectively. These would be appropriate for intro students because we need them to master the fundamental skills of recalling and understanding key concepts. 
        • Verbs such as ‘compare’, ‘critique’, and ‘create’ correspond to higher-order cognitive skills that are usable, typically, after the fundamental skills and content have been mastered.

OK! This walkthrough has just scratched the surface! If you want to learn more about course objectives, unit-level course objectives, and alignment between the two, then be sure to register here for our Workshop Wednesday program on writing course objectives! Facilitated by Clemson Online’s Instructional Designer, Laura Scott. This live training will run on Wednesday, February 16th, from 1:30 PM to 2:15 PM. 

In Case You Missed It

Did you know that we had a Quick Hits live training on how to create a rubric and attach it to your assignments in Canvas? If you have 20 to 30 minutes and what to learn about how to create a rubric in your Canvas course, then click this link to access the recorded session.

Be sure to peruse Clemson Online’s Spring 2022 calendar of events for more live training on topics such as why course organization matters for learning, how to effectively create group projects in Canvas, and why using OER and library resources can benefit your students!

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