It’s All About Your Outcomes

Structurally, outcomes are obligations. You need outcomes for your course syllabus, and your program as whole has some form of outcomes. From a teaching and learning perspective, however, an outcome is much more than just a hoop.  It’s at heart of why you’d bother to teach the course you do. Each outcome (and you don’t need that many), describes a skill, disposition, or set of complex knowledge that it is essential for your students to demonstrate to be successful in the course.

What does a good outcome look like?

You can read more about definitions of outcomes (what a student will do) and objectives (what an educator will teach) in another post from Gwenna Moss, but sometimes good examples can help clarify a definition.  A good outcome satisfies key criteria, including:

  • It starts with a specific, rigorous verb that reflects the type of thinking, attitude, or understanding you need students to demonstrate
  • Each outcome is worthy enough that you’ll spend a good chunk of the course returning to it and building your students’ strength with it
  • The outcome is written in language students understand and can explain in their own words

A bad outcome: Understand the definition of a just society

This outcomes is not good because there are too many ways the word “understand” could be interpreted. What would be good evidence of an outcome should be easy for students to understand the same way.  Also, this outcome might be able to be satisfied with a definition from the professor’s PowerPoint, so it isn’t worthy and long lasting enough. It is easy to make the mistake of basically describing content in your outcome, rather than what your students will demonstrate.

A much better outcome: Justify arguments about social justice using precise, accurate examples.

This is better because it specifies the type of thinking and skills student will need to do (justify an argument) and at how (using precise, accurate examples).  Social justice is a complex concept that the course will spend a long time on, deepening student conceptual knowledge overtime. Also, the skill of building an argument about social justice will built upon many multiple times in the course, sometimes in class discussions, sometime in an essay, and sometimes in an examination.  A student reads the outcome and knows the course will help you refine your skills in building arguments, and that the content will relate to social justice.

How do I write good outcomes?

  1. List the key concepts, skills, and dispositions/attitudes you’ll want in the course.  Check to ensure you aren’t just listing content.
  2. Group related things together until you have a smaller number of bigger things.
  3. Try writing statements describing things you’d accept as evidence that a student actually had the understanding, skill, or disposition you are trying to teach
  4. Look at the statements you’ve written, and ensure they each start with an active, specific verb.  Try using this list to ensure you are asking for rigorous thinking, not something students can just memorize and forget.
  5. Get someone who is not an expert to read each outcome and tell you what it says, just to make sure it is clear enough
  6. Double check that each outcome represents something you’ll want to see from students multiple times in the class. If you wouldn’t want to grade things related to it more than once, it is not important enough to be an outcome.