Reading blogs leads to more work

So I read Alfred Thompson’s blog on What makes a great high school CS program.  Then on to Mike Zamansky’s continuation of that blog, What CS should we teach in high school.  I have been through this thought process before so no great deal here.  OK, it is a great deal since the underlying questions are important but I have considered these questions before and years ago decided there is no correct answer.  I teach what I teach because of resources: my skill level, the hardware and software available and the students I get in the seats. Then I read Gas station without pumps’ blog on learning outcomes.  Now that I have never really defined.  It has always just been a warm and fuzzy mental list of goals.  Now I am thinking. (Bad, very bad. Not one of my strengths.) I am thinking the first two blog questions are extremely dependent on the decision on learning outcomes.  And if the learning outcomes are laid out nicely the “What” and “What” of the Alfred and Mike blog questions becomes much easier to figure out. I really like how Gas’ outcomes are observable skills and not some conceptual thing that fits in that “warm and fuzzy” category that I like so much.  Now I do have learning outcomes for my courses. Admittedly they are not written down or really well defined. They are things like “can problem solve”, “can locate documentation needed to learn a language” and so on. Not real specific and sometimes a bit broad.

I can tell I have been in the classroom teaching groove a bit too long.  I had not really thought about the idea of learning outcomes as a concrete list in a long time nor have I thought if I am achieving any of my learning outcome with the courses I am teaching or within the courses.  I need to nail down some solid learning outcomes then start looking at my curriculum. Am I actually achieving what I want to do with what I am doing? I am just not sure how far I want to drill down on the outcomes.  I could really care less if students know how to write a program to count all the “s” letters in a phrase from a file. I do want the student to be able to find the resources to learn how to write a program that will find all the “s” letters in that file.  (At one time I was big on finding those s’s. But then I got confused with the “what language” question.)

Now I need a strategy on how to build learning outcomes for my CS courses then my CS curriculum.  Something to do in my idle moments.


2 Responses to “Reading blogs leads to more work”

  1. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    If it is any consolation, I’d been teaching for about 35 years before I came up with an explicit list of learning outcomes, and I came up with the list by looking at what I was teaching and grading. That is the opposite of the approach usually pushed for course design, where you start from the objectives and design the curriculum around them.

    I’ve found it easier to start with a fuzzy idea of what I want students to learn, design labs and other exercises, then work out what it is I’m really trying to teach based on the exercises. (This is an iterative feedback process, as I often find that I value some objectives more than others, and rebalance the course based on that.)

  2. Mike Zamansky Says:

    Truth be told, whenever I design a new course, I don’t have hard and specific learning outcomes.

    I set up a path I want to lead the students down along with assorted possible outcomes along that path.

    It isn’t until a couple of times through that it settles into what the course finally becomes

    Unfortunately you can’t do this if you’re bound by a standard curriculum and a big standardized test at the end.

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