Off the Chart: CBL and a Counter-Culture of Learning Outcomes in the U.S. History Survey
The application of finer and finer measures runs counter to the values of community-based learning’s objectives, which are integrative, interwoven, critical, conversational, and multi-voiced.
The CBL project learning objectives were aligned with the objectives of the course, which were to: 1. Recognize and define main themes across the broad sweep of U.S. social, religious, and political history; 2. Find and analyze primary sources;3. Question and evaluate historiographical debates among U.S. historians across a range of topics; 4. Recognize the sources and interpretive frameworks that have shaped the way in which the story of the American past has been told; 5. Articulate your own critical views, both in class discussion and in written work; 6. Think clearly about the creation and meaning of knowledge in political, social and intellectual context; 7. Create connections between your work as a student and the community beyond the classroom; 8. Engage the larger question of the relationship between academic history, and a broader public consciousness that often places a different value on knowledge of the past.
Learning Outcomes Assessment: A practitioner’s handbook - http://www.heqco.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/heqco.LOAhandbook_Eng_2015.pdf
Limits of the Numerical” project description, http://ihum.innovate.ucsb.edu/
Overall, Off the Chart sought a systematic, qualitative strategy that would help me to understand the ways in which participation in innovative community-based research helps students meet complex course and programmatic learning objectives--the fostering of a critical historical imagination, for example--that are central to my teaching, and yet resistant-by-design to quantitative measurement. I have developed community-based learning projects in classes at Huron since 2009, but have relied on largely anecdotal evidence about the ways projects worked in relation to course objectives, and about the place students afforded to CBL in relation the rest of their studies. Survey results indicated robust student interest in the value of community-based learning, but as a research instrument, the survey also points to its own limitations.
In the context of what a recent Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations blog post calls the “metric-obsessed” culture of higher education, it is particularly important to recognize that progress toward course learning objectives cannot be entirely captured by the focused language of measurable learning outcomes. Learning objectives for the CBL project were carefully mapped to the OCAV “Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations", to Huron’s Strategic Plan, to the FASS academic plan, to History program objectives, and to course assignments. The anticipated outcomes-- of developing critical thinking, historical empathy, historical imagination, and grappling with the interplay of change and continuities over time --all speak of process. They resist the culture of quality assurance metrics that replicate, like fractals, through the materials of teaching in endlessly rarefied measures. The project challenges the idea that “learning outcomes are only meaningful if they are measurable."
A recent interdisciplinary project in the emerging field of critical university studies, “The Limits of the Numerical” offers insight a culture of learning outcomes that has replaced qualitative assessment with quantitative quality assurance metrics. In their investigation of learning outcomes as a measure of education’s effectiveness, the authors point to the problem of an uncritical acceptance of metrics as a more objective form of evidence. They raise the possibility that quantifying a learning outcome may “work against the values it is introduced to support, promote or capture.“ The application of finer and finer measures runs counter to the values of community-based learning’s objectives, which are integrative, interwoven, critical, conversational, and multi-voiced.
A counter-culture of learning outcomes for community-based research learning recognizes that “the opportunity for students to bring thoughtful knowledge and ideas based on personal observation and social interaction to a course's themes and scholarly arguments brings depth to the learning experience for individuals and to the content of the course. The communities of which we are a part can benefit from the resources of our faculty and students, while the courses can be educationally transformative in powerful ways.” (http://www.swarthmore.edu/lang-center-civic-social-responsibility/community-based-learning-cbl)Using this model of CBL as educationally transformative, we can look beyond the surveys to the research itself, to the student reflection papers, and to the documenting of the research process. Learning outcomes for the project are embedded in the research outcomes, and are contextual, creative, and open-ended.
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