March 29, 2019

Creating Learning Outcomes #2: The Academic Library Classroom

Welcome to our Teaching 101 series, through which we will examine library instruction & teaching, highlighting best practices from multiple instructional lenses. The series will feature both how-to and reflective posts that the Teaching SIG Blog Team hopes will help inspire your instructional practices, wherever you are in your career. We welcome feedback on the direction of the series, as well as proposals for your own takes on instructional best practices. 

This month, our topic is creating learning outcomes for specific learners. For our second post of the series, we are delighted to welcome Anna Boutin-Cooper, a member of the Teaching SIG Blog Team. Anna’s post is focused primarily on creating learning outcomes for an academic library instructional session, though some of what’s mentioned below, like applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to create measurable outcomes, can be applied in many contexts. For the first post in the series, focusing on public library exhibits, please click here.

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I’ll be the first to admit that it took me a while to come around to the idea of writing learning outcomes – measurable, specific skills that I want my students to come away with after being in my library classroom. As a firm proponent of feminist and critical pedagogy, I don’t enjoy making specific prescriptions of what students will walk away with, but I’ve since learned that there is room within your learning outcomes for a breadth of student experience and work. I’ve also learned that how you measure those objectives matters, too, and that’s something I’m continually learning – but that’s another post for later!
 
I’m new enough to teaching that I’m still developing my teaching toolbox, a repertoire of lesson plans and activities that I can mix and match, to fulfill different purposes. So, when I sit down to plan a new library session, there are a few different things that I consider that also influence the learning outcomes I perceive as necessary for the session:

  • Are there any class assignments required of students? What skills or resources do students need in order to successfully complete the assignment? 
  • How many library sessions will I have with these students for this course?  
  • What was the faculty reasoning for having a library session? Do they have specific takeaways that they’d like me to address? Do these takeaways match what I perceive to be the information need of the students?   
Two sharpened grey pencils laying on a yellow surface.
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I then use the answers to these questions to further hone in on what students need to come away from the session knowing, and use those to identify my learning outcomes. When constructing the actual learning outcomes, I use simple, straightforward language, and follow a rough format. My learning outcomes usually look something like:  

  • By the end of class, students will recognize how library research integrates with the many facets of theatre work.  
  • By the end of class, students will be able to define and identify examples of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources, per their particular assignment parameters.  
  • By the end of the session, students will be able to analyze potential sources with a critical eye, paying attention to potential biases.  

The key pieces to keep in mind when writing learning outcomes are to keep them simple, measurable, and concrete. To this effort, using a basic structure for your outcomes is desirable, and sketching them out with specific action terminology, like that in Bloom’s Taxonomy [mine are in italics, above] is incredibly helpful. I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble sticking to this, especially when trying to teach more complicated concepts like the nuances of peer review or the research cycle, but having a set template helps significantly. I also always reevaluate my objectives, even within the same course, from semester to semester, to ensure that they’re relevant and purposeful.

Bloom's Taxonomy
Bloom’s Taxonomy Diagram from the Vanderbuilt University Center for Teaching Flickr.

Assessment of outcomes will be another topic in our series, and as I said, it’s still something I’m puzzling through – in terms of what makes sense for the outcomes I write and for my students. I’ve found outcomes to be incredibly helpful in both centering my teaching on the students, and for outlining my own goals for the session.  

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Do you use learning outcomes? Do you find them useful, or not? What challenges do you face in developing and writing your learning outcomes? We welcome discussion in the comments! 


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