Sunday, July 31, 2016

Learning Outcomes: The Next Step

Last week, I discussed learning outcomes, and I presented four learning outcomes from law school websites, which I thought were particularly well-done.  The next step concerns how law schools determine whether learning outcomes have been met.  As James Fischer noted in a comment, "I agree; however, what I believe would be of much greater value would be the identification of ways to meaningfully assess whether students have reached the desired competencies. This would also require that we benchmark what the competency is. It is rather easy to say that someone shall be competent in a particular activity; it is more difficult to define that competency in ways that allow the teacher to see if the desired level of competency has been achieved."

Of course, this issue needs more than a blog post, but I will start a general discussion today.

The best way to measure learning outcomes is to measure them in every class.  However, the present system of law school testing with often just a single exam at the end of a semester is a poor way to measure outcomes.

What is need is formative assessment--frequent assessment throughout the semester with feedback.  Not only does formative assessment aid in determining learning outcomes, it helps students learn, and it tells them how well they are doing.

Frequent formative assessment could be combined with well-designed rubrics.  Rubrics are "detailed written grading criteria, which describe both what students should learn and how they will be evaluated."  I got the above definition from Sophie M. Sparrow, Describing the Ball: Improve Teaching by Using Rubrics--Specific Grading Criteria.  Professor Sparrow continues, "These criteria are based on the learning goals of the course. These goals are what the professor has identified students should learn by the end of the course. Within these goals, benchmarks may describe varying levels of student performance."  Her article contains numerous examples of rubrics.

Based on rubrics, a professor can create a grand rubric at the end of the semester to show how well a students has met the class's learning goals.  These grand rubrics should then be given to the student and the administration.  Based on a combination of the grand rubrics, the administration can determine whether a student has met the institution's learning goals.

The above is just one suggestion on how law school's can evaluate learning goals.  I am certain that there will be many papers and conferences on learning goals over the next few years.

Actually, Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Conference for 2016 will be on learning goals:

Learning Outcomes for Hire

September 22-24, 2016 in Denver.

"Law schools across the country are talking about learning outcomes—what should they be, how do you develop them, and how do you measure them? But what if learning outcomes could be more than an ABA requirement and an internal tool to evaluate student learning objectives? What if learning outcomes could also signal to legal employers that students have the foundations they desire in their workplace?"

More information here.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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