In the final three chapters of Teaching Naked, Bowen argues that we need to not only change our idea of what the product is in higher education, but that we also need to work to improve the product to the point where institutions will be competitive in a truly global market (2012). The product should be learning; and it must be measured and evaluated in order to improve it. And currently, the product is a piece of paper that is obtained by sitting in a seat for a sufficient number of credit hours.
This suggestion that a university degree is obtained mostly by putting in time rang very true to me. Sure, some of the classes I took while an undergraduate student at SFU engaged me to the point where I can honestly say that I learned something, but not many. One class, a third year course in an subject matter area that greatly interested me, sticks with me not because I remember a thing about the content, but because it was so depressingly pointless. I attended three classes; the first class, the midterm, and the final. And I got an A. At that point in my educational journey I was so disillusioned that I didn’t really care about the fact that I took nothing away from the course. I got an A in an upper division class; mission accomplished and on to the next.
So reading Bowen’s (2012) suggestions of curricular progression and focussing on learning outcomes was like the experience of someone reading my mind (as has been the case for large portions of this text). I even went to the SFU Department of Psychology’s website to check out their “learning outcomes”. I put that phrase in quotes because, as PIDP 3210 taught me, these are not good learning outcomes:
“Every undergraduate program is organized to facilitate students’ acquisition of specific knowledge and skills. Four general goals of the undergraduate program in psychology can be identified. First, students with a B.A. in psychology should acquire knowledge of the central questions or issues in psychology, of the methods that are used to gather data relevant to these central questions, and of the range and quality of answers presently available. Second, through written and oral presentations, students should attain proficient language skills. Third, practice in the close and critical analysis of issues in psychology should improve students’ empirical, analytical, and inferential skills, resulting in high levels of problem-recognition and problem-solving abilities. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, exposure to a variety of perspectives on central psychological issues should result in an enriched personal, social, and cultural life.”
Acquire knowledge?? As a pretty hardcore constructivist… well don’t get me started. I suppose that I did achieve the high levels of problem-recognition abilities, because I can see so many problems with this paragraph! That being said, I am not here to shake my fist at the psychology department at SFU. I will do my best to learn from their mistakes!
I wondered, what does it look like for a higher education institution to attempt to create program level student learning outcomes? I found one pretty good attempt; Jennifer Lindholm (2009) from UCLA has developed guidelines for creating and evaluating learning outcomes at the undergraduate program level. This document is really interesting from the perspective of large scale change in an educational organization, as it drills down from the conceptual level to actually provide real examples of how to move to an outcomes based environment.
What I really found compelling is in the introduction; Lindholm (2009) comments that the move to prioritizing outcomes has ‘led to process being as important as product’ (pg 4). And really, isn’t that how learning happens in a natural environment? There aren’t end products of knowledge that we work towards in life, rather we continually evaluate how effective our beliefs and actions make us in our own personal slice of the world and adjust them as needed by trying new things, failing, and trying again. Children don’t learn to speak simply because they can, they do it because they become capable of using a better method of getting food, or getting picked up, or whatever it is they would like to accomplish.
And it isn’t easy. Learning is rarely easy. So I suppose that could partly explain why there would be such resistance to creating such significant change in the way things are done in an educational institution. I don’t work in such an institution, and even still implementing the ideas for innovation and change that have come up for me as a result of reading and reflecting on this text will be a daunting task. But perhaps I can use some of the strategies and skills that I have learned in course design and instructing to increase my chances of success.
My understanding of the best way to help learning happen is to create activities and experiences that challenge current ways of thinking, feeling, or doing things in an environment that fosters students’ confidence. This environment rewards risk and doesn’t punish failures, but encourages students to take those mistakes and learn from them. So wouldn’t this be the best way to also help change happen?
When I think about trying to enact change in my own workplace, resistance always seems to be coming from a place of fear. Fear of being replaced, or of being not good enough, or no longer being valued. I think that often people do see the value in a new way of doing things, but they lack the confidence to take risks and fail. I like Bowen’s (2012) suggestions around how Deans can foster change in their institutions, especially when he writes of supporting risk taking in the name of development.
I need to remember this as I move forward to try to implement some of the ideas for improvement that I’ve come up with while taking this course. I want to flip my workshops. As well, our instruction and curriculum has no current form of evaluation other than student surveys; we provide no grades and students complete workshops simply by putting in the time. This needs to change; I plan to propose that we develop real learning outcomes, and that students will provide portfolios to demonstrate their learning. From those portfolios we can recommend further instruction or other services, as necessary.
I can already identify a few people that will push back. I need to ensure that they will feel confident enough to try out this new structure, make mistakes, and reflect on them. As part of that process I plan to propose that our team works toward having a more reflective practice, individually and as a team (Merriam & Bierema, 2014 & “What is reflective practice”, n.d.). I think that by providing a team based space in which to reflect upon our risks and mistakes and grow from them, we will all feel more supported and safe in taking those risks.
Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lindholm, J. A. (2009). Guidelines for developing and assessing student learning outcomes for undergraduate majors. Retrieved from www.wasc.ucla.edu/eer_endnotes/Learning_Outcomes_Guidelines.pdf
Merriam, S. B. & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Undergraduate Studies (n.d.) In Simon fraser university. Retrieved from http://www.sfu.ca/psychology/undergraduate-studies.html
What is Reflective Practice? (n.d.) In Brightside knowledge. Retrieved from http://www.brightknowledge.org/knowledge-bank/medicine-and-healthcare/spotlight-on-medicine/what-is-reflective-practice