Pretty much anyone involved with higher education knows about Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). If you teach in the public middle or high school system, you know about state standards. In both cases, these are essentially descriptions of what students will either know or be able to do once they have finished a particular class. They can range from something related to content knowledge (Students will be able to recite Pi to 83 places) to a particular skill (Students will be able to add two pages of meaningless writing to a ten page paper without anyone being able to tell).
It’s not difficult to make fun of SLOs, as they’re often terribly specific and, despite the assertions to the contrary, almost impossible to truly measure. Even when we can measure them, we don’t check in with students a year after the class to see if they can still recall the content knowledge they supposedly learned. And I’ve read enough papers from students I taught in a first-year writing class to see that, two years later, they’ve completely forgotten to use an actual thesis sentence, despite their having done so for every paper for my class (note that our SLOs don’t measure students’ ability to transfer knowledge/skills to different situations).
Thus, when I’m honest with myself and my students, I admit that I really only have two goals for my students, maybe three, depending on the class I’m teaching. Continue reading