Cutting Edge > Course Design > Course Design Tutorial > Practice goals

If you have dropped into this Course Design Tutorial from somewhere else, you might wish to start at the introduction, overview, or table of contents. If you are working through the tutorial, you should have completed Part 1.1 before beginning this section.

Go back to setting goals

Practice evaluating whether goals meet the criteria

In this tutorial, we ask you to set goals that meet very specific criteria. In this sub-section of the tutorial, you will find a list of overarching goals for courses, some of which meet the criteria and some of which don't. Take the time to read each and evaluate it, then click on the "show evaluation" to read what our take on the goal is.

For each of the goals listed below, answer the questions:


1) I want to introduce students to the fundamental concepts of fluid dynamics.

Not student-focused. The goal focuses on presentation of fundamental concepts to students, rather than on students being able to use fundamental concepts to perform a task or solve a problem.

2) I want students to appreciate the awesome power of Nature.

Student-focused but vague and abstract, rather than concrete. If this were the overarching goal of a course, assessment in the course would need to focus on whether the students do or do not appreciate the awesome power of Nature. What constitutes "appreciation"??

3) I want students to understand the scientific method.

Student-focused, but vague, difficult to measure. Aside from the fact that defining the scientific method is problematic at best, the goal is vague and doesn't provide a clear path to course design. It would be better to decide what you mean by "the scientific method" in the context of your discipline and write a goal that is specific. For example, "I want students to be able to pose a question, determine appropriate methods of data collection, analyze and communicate results, and evaluate uncertainty." Or "I want students to be able to analyze an existing study, assess the methods and results, and evaluation the conclusions." Either one of these goals provides direct clues for the kind of practice that needs to be built into the course in order for students to achieve the goal.

4) I want students to be able to apply geologic knowledge to municipal planning and land use decisions.

Student-focused, higher order thinking skills, measurable outcomes, a bit vague. This goal just needs a little tweaking. Spending a little time up front deciding what "apply" means will payoff in terms of providing a clear path for what specific kinds of activities students need practice in to achieve this goal.

5) I want students to be able to describe the seven major disasters covered in the course and explain the geologic processes involved in the disasters.

Student focused, but doesn't really address higher order thinking skills. This goal asks students to reiterate what they have learned in class and to repeat the analyses covered in the class. This goal is remarkably like the essay questions commonly seen on final exams. Wouldn't it be better to prepare students to do their own analysis of a new situation that they haven't seen before? Instead of reiterating, they would be exercising their knowledge and skills sets. If you could achieve that in the course (instead of reiteration), you would truly have added value to their future decision-making capabilities. And it would be a vastly different course—you would need to give students practice in doing their own analyses, rather than telling them about other people's analyses.

6) I want students to be able to understand why geologic catastrophes happen in some places but not in others.

Student-focused, but vague with no clear measurable outcome. What specifically would a student do to demonstrate "understanding"? Why not phrase the goal in terms of what you would like students to be able to do with their knowledge of geologic catastrophes? Think about the future. Why not phrase this goal as in terms of enabling students to analyze the historical records in an area and predict the likelihood of future natural disaster events? Or enabling students to assess the geologic hazard risk in a new, unfamiliar part of the world? Either might be useful to students in the future, and either provides a clearer path to course design and the kinds of practice that students need during the course in order to achieve the goal.

7) I want students to be able to identify rocks and minerals.

Student-focused, but involves only lower order thinking skills. You may, in fact, want students to accomplish this. But, it's worth giving serious thought to why, for your particular students, this is important because the answer can be important in course design. Suppose, for example, that you are teaching an introductory geology course for pre-service elementary school teachers. What tasks involving rock and mineral identification are your students likely to encounter in the future? Most likely, they will have little kids emptying out pockets of grubby rocks saying, "Ms. Bargsnaffle, what's this rock?" Giving our students practice with pristine rocks in a box won't give them the kind of practice they need. Instead, you need to design the course to give them practice with "backyard rocks". If your students were headed to courses in mineralogy and petrology, you would give them different kinds of practice. Ditto if they were headed toward geotechnical engineering. So, "identify rocks and minerals" is a less useful goal than "identify rocks and minerals so that they can ____", with the blank being a goal that helps drive course design.

8) I want students to be able to analyze historical and geologic records in an area and predict the likelihood of future natural disaster events.

Student-focused, higher order thinking skills, measurable outcomes. Students who achieve this goal will have accomplished more than simply passing the course and getting a grade on their transcripts. They will have added significantly to their skill sets for future decision-making. The goal also provides a clear path to course design and the kinds of practice that students need to have in the course.

9) I want students to be able to go up to an unfamiliar outcrop, ask appropriate questions, make observations and collect data, analyze their observations and data, make interpretations, and make decisions about where to proceed next in the field.

Student-focused, higher order thinking skills, measurable outcomes. Students who achieve this goal will have accomplished more than simply passing the course and getting a grade on their transcripts. They will have added significantly to their skill sets for future geoscience courses. The goal also provides a clear path to course design and the kinds of practice that students need to have in the course.

10) I want students to be able to evaluate old hypotheses in light of new data.

Student-focused, higher order thinking skills, measurable outcomes. Students who achieve this goal will have accomplished more than simply passing the course and getting a grade on their transcripts. They will have added significantly to their skill sets for future courses and to their understanding of how science works. The goal also provides a clear path to course design and the kinds of practice that students need to have in the course. This is a much better and more specific goal than "critical thinking!"
Go back to setting goals


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©2005 On-line Course Design Tutorial developed by Dr. Barbara J. Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Dr. R. Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary) as part of the program On the Cutting Edge, funded by NSF grant DUE-0127310.