Learning Outcomes: Evolution of Assessment

“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” 

Two days after the Learning Outcomes: Evolution of Assessment conference, this quote as shared by keynote speakers Charles Blaich and Kathy Wise, rings through my reflections. When it comes to intentional process and action, fast can’t come first without sacrificing either quality or cost. We must first slow down, pay attention to each of the parts and make adjustments, before bringing elements back together again in a highly refined, smooth process. Only then can we expect the speed of efficiency.

There are two key take-aways I wish to reflect on as being a delegate at this conference. Both of which will take time, ongoing and thoughtful exploration of the parts that make up a larger whole, to reach a point of refined practice.

The Answer to a Program’s Quality is Not Found in the Tables

As you can guess by the title, we talked a lot at this conference about learning outcomes, the quality assurance process, and assessment of course, program, or institutional quality. There were a lot of beautiful examples of program mapping software and processes for analyzing learning outcomes….Many of which have inspired my thoughts for supporting faculty to engage creatively with investigating and articulating  arguments for program quality in, say, self-studies for program review processes.

Interspersed between conversations of methods, software, data, and reports was this key message: Assessment is about more than data sharing; the answers concerning a program’s quality is not found within the fancy display of data.

Assessment, rather, is an inquiry-focused process of taking data and converting it to evidence (making sense, interpreting) and experimenting by trying something new. It is about engaging in the dialogue necessary for moving beyond the appreciation of tables and figures to figuring out what it all means with an appetite for tinkering with possibilities.

What are the actionable steps forward for me?

  • Developing strategies for facilitating curriculum review processes as an inquiry-focused process
  • Fostering a “Creative Commons” atmosphere, where faculty come together in the spirit of collaboration to wonder and experiment together
  • Pose questions with regards to the data produced from self-study initiatives that focuses attention on making sense for trying out something new and sharing lessons learned with the community

7th Generation Outcomes

One of my favourite sessions at the conference was Called to Action: Creating Learning Outcomes Based on the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Kahente Horn-Miller and Andrea Thompson, Carleton University). The session explored what’s currently being done to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action in post-secondary education across Canada. Further, it challenged delegates to identify how learning outcomes can be used as a way of expressing truth and reconciliation in curriculum.

While the authors work on developing TRC inspired learning outcomes that can be adopted and adapted by Carleton University instructors, more broadly, I’ve been thinking about how learning outcomes might embrace Indigenous perspectives by aiming 7 generations ahead.

Throughout the conference, there was lots of talk of skills development (e.g. “The New Skills Agenda” as posed by Ross Finnie during the State of the Union closing panel). We talk of what sorts of skills do we want to see in students as they graduate, start their jobs, participate in society…. What sorts of skills, values, or attitudes do we expect students to pass along seven generations into the future?



What are the actionable steps forward for me?

  • reflect on what ‘thinking 7 generations ahead’ means for my upcoming teaching of a course on university teaching and learning
  • spend some more time getting better acquainted with the TRC and indigenous leaders on campus



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