Educational Development Digest: September 2023

Learning Objectives – It’s never too late! Strategies to increase transparency

Pedagogy in Practice | By Catherine Ford, Minnesota State Program Director for Educational Development

Welcome to Fall Term 2023! You are now a few weeks into the semester and gaining momentum as you progress through the content and activities in your syllabus. Even though this is the case, I want you to think back to your first class meeting or module and reflect on how you introduced the course learning outcomes or objectives in your syllabus to students.

When you introduced your syllabus, did you call out your contact information on the first page, then lightly reference the heading Course Learning Objectives, then skip to the calendar or assignment descriptions where you spent most of your time?

Let’s return to those Course Learning Objectives (CLO) or Common Course Outcomes (CCO). Chances are these CLOs are written in formal, academic language, and they are a requirement of the syllabus. Here is the thing – they don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, just words that you are required to put in your syllabus with a temptation to pass over quickly when reviewing or introducing the syllabus.

Even if you didn’t spend a few extra minutes during class or in a course introduction video, you can still share important information and ask meaningful questions related to the CLOs. It’s never too late to have a deeper conversation with your students about your course learning objectives.

As you read the CLOs, do you have a clear understanding of what they mean? Do your students understand what these objectives mean? Or how the activities or assessments in your course connect to these objectives? CLOs should be drivers of content and activities. According to the Stanford Teaching Commons, “your course learning goals clearly communicate to students what they can expect to learn and why it is valuable. Clear learning goals will also support the course design process and help align the different instructional elements of your course to one another.” They provide alignment and should be the endgame for you and your students. Once the course is completed, your students should be able to…. Fill in the blank with your CLOs.

Do you have ideas about how you will determine if students have achieved these outcomes of objectives? What will it look like? How will you know? How would a student demonstrate achievement or mastery?

This is similar to the Transparency in Learning and Teaching Project (TILT)’s recommendation for transparent methods that help “students understand how and why they are learning course content in particular ways” (TILT Higher Ed). The transparency applied to individual assignments should also be applied to an entire course. Even if you don’t make a concrete change in assignments, activities, or assessments, you can have a frank conversation with your students to confirm they have been able to decipher and understand the purpose of the class – the CLOs.

This initial and repeated connection to the course outcomes or objectives are also in alignment with Universal Design Guidelines pertaining to checkpoint 8.1 Heighten salience of goals and objectives: “For some learners, they need support to remember the initial goal or to maintain a consistent vision of the rewards of reaching that goal” (CAST, 2018). Consider setting aside a few moments at the midterm to revisit (again) the course outcomes and ask students to first explain again what they mean and the then engage in discussion about which assignments have helped them work toward achievement of particular course outcomes or objectives and/or self-assess how close they are to achieving them.

Additionally, Goucher College highlights that learning outcomes at the course, program, or major levels “give students a way to think and talk about what they have learned. They make it easier for students to ‘know what they know’ …Such awareness is considered central to learning that lasts” (Goucher College, 2023). Introducing, reintroducing, and explicitly aligning to assignments is a pedagogical strategy that can enhance student learning throughout the semester.

So, it’s not too late! Especially if you did not spend a few extra minutes when you reviewed your syllabus or include course outcomes in your online syllabus quiz, revisit your course outcomes or objectives. Add extra sentences or spend  extra minutes or engage in a conversation that explicitly connects the work you are asking students to complete to the corresponding CCO associated with your course.

New Feedback Tools in D2L’s Media Library

Academic Technology Tips | By Scott Wojtanowski, Minnesota State System Director for Educational Technology and Development

In this month’s academic technology tips, we are highlighting some newly available technology tools to support instructors in providing feedback to students. You likely are already aware that you have access to a very robust set of media tools and services (e.g. screen recording, editing, captioning, etc.) that are available on Kaltura MediaSpace.

In addition to the tools on Kaltura MediaSpace, instructors (and students) now have easy access to launch a webcam recorder without leaving Brightspace via D2L’s Media Library tools. Because providing feedback can be a time consuming process, instructors will enjoy the ability to create short webcam recordings can be used to provide feedback on learner assignments without leaving Brightspace.

Wondering why the focus on feedback? Feedback is critical to helping students improve their performance and understanding. Hattie and Timperley (2007) provides three guiding questions to help shape the ways we think of feedback.

  1. Where is the learner going? What is it that learners should be able to do by following any instruction?  Put simply, provide examples or models for students that show learners what success looks like? Describe the process-tasks that assisted in helping students succeed.
  2. Where is the learner right now? What data or evidence do you have about a learners knowledge, skills, and/or performance.
  3. How does the learner get there? Clarify what it is that a learner would need to be able to do to be successful.  This might involve changing your instruction or learning activities.

Because it can be a time consuming process to provide feedback to students, having access to tools that allow instructors to quickly record videos of their feedback can be a great time saver that fits any of the four different levels of feedback (1) task, (2) process, (3) self-regulation, and (4) self that are proposed Hattie.

Consider using the “wise feedback” method in your feedback. Taking this approach, your feedback reminds a student that they have the capacity to complete the task successfully. As an instructor, you describe where they have missed the mark, give them actionable steps to improve, and give them ways to monitor their progress.

If you have joined any of equity focused learning communities through the NED, you likely received a copy of the e-book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students (Corwin, 2014) where “wise feedback” is described in greater detail. Additionally, you may be interested in signing up for an upcoming short course, Teaching with Video Technologies, that starts on October 2.    

Welcome Elizabeth Harsma

Did You Know? | By Scott Wojtanowski, Minnesota State System Director for Educational Technology and Development

Elizabeth Harsma
Elizabeth Harsma

Please join us in welcoming Elizabeth Harsma to the Educational Development and Technology unit within the Academic and Student Affairs Division of the Minnesota State system office. On August 30, Elizabeth started in her role as the Program Director for Technology Integrated Learning. In this role, Elizabeth will be supporting the growing needs of the Network for Educational Development (NED) with a particular focus advancing the array of academic technology offerings.

If you are a regular follower of the NED, you very likely have seen Elizabeth’s name in association with a number of NED opportunities including the popular, Equity and Technology short course.  Elizabeth joins system office after more than ten years at Minnesota State University, Mankato as a graduate student, faculty member, and staff member. For the past five years, Elizabeth has served as an instructional technologist coordinating and delivering technical and pedagogical support to faculty, students, and staff using D2L Brightspace.


Educational Development and Technology, Minnesota State.

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