Goals and Objectives
An excerpt from Learner-Centered Astronomy Teaching: Strategies for Astro 101
Slater, University of Wyoming; & Adams, Montana State University
What is the single most important thing you can do to improve your ASTRO 101 course? Take the time to write down the overarching goals for your course. A well-known adage from trainers in physical fitness and advisors in financial planning is that, "a goal isn't a goal unless you actually write it down—otherwise, it's just a wish." This idea applies equally well to teaching ASTRO 101 because if you don't know where you want your students to get, how will you know if they made it?
Whatever you choose as your overarching course goals, we suggest that you center your goals on students rather than on yourself. In other words, it is often helpful to consider how you want your students to be different as a result of taking your class. Do you want them to be able to point out constellations to their friends and family, or do you want them to be able to explain the inferential evidence that suggests dark matter abounds in the universe? Or, maybe both are appropriate.
Composing Learning Objectives
Once you have written down three, four, or five overarching course goals, the next step is to decide the specific learning objectives for your students—generally related much more to content—that will contribute toward their reaching the course goals. The writing of learning objectives should not be a tedious or time-consuming task and yet it is one that can prove enormously valuable. Learning objectives should be written as a guide for you and your students about what specific aspects of the course are important. And when we say specific, we mean specific. Understand Kepler's Laws is far too general (this is an overarching goal). State Kepler's first law, use Kepler's second law to reason about the position and motion of orbiting bodies, and apply Kepler's third law to the motions of asteroids are learning objectives. They clearly tell the student what they should be studying and at what level of proficiency they need to reach.
Writing learning objectives that simultaneously guide how you present material, help students monitor their own learning, and inform your testing strategies, is somewhat of an art form that improves with practice (and, dare we say, perhaps some friendly peer review). One way that faculty specify the levels of complexity and depth students need to achieve is to employ Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Goals and Objectives. Bloom (1956, 1994) defined "understanding" at six hierarchical levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The first three levels, sometimes called the lower order thinking levels, emphasize recall, literal translation, and application of concepts to well-defined situations. The second three levels, often referred to as the higher-order thinking levels, focus on breaking apart complex ideas for use in novel situations, and integrating ideas across numerous concepts. Although most of us would agree that ASTRO 101 should focus on the higher-order levels, you will likely find that writing learning objectives at the lower-order levels is many times easier than writing objectives at the higher-order levels. More importantly, you will also find that it infinitely easier to create test items that probe the lower-order levels than the higher-order levels. As many of our non-science majors enter our courses with almost no basic knowledge of astronomy and very naïve views of science, it is actually essential that students gain some lower-order knowledge—and that you assess this knowledge. However, this does not mean that your course should be limited to lower-order knowing only; selecting specific topics in which to expect students to gain higher-order understanding enriches your course and, many would argue, is what makes it an engaging college experience.
Bloom (and Krathwohl, 1956a, 1956b, 1994) created three taxonomies of goals: 1) Knowledge-Based Goals, 2) Skills-Based Goals, and 3) Affective Goals. To view tables of each taxonomy with an example of an overarching goal and associated measurable learning objects, please see The Role of Assessment in the Development of the College Introductory Astronomy Course: A 'How-To' Guide for Instructors.
To find out more about goals and learning objectives check out the book Learner-Centered Astronomy or, better yet, attend one of our workshops.
Bloom, B. S., et al. (1994). Excerpts from the "Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of educational goals, handbook I: Cognitive domain." In L. W. Anderson & L. A. Sosniak (Eds.), Bloom's taxonomy: A forty-year retrospective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bloom, B. S. (Ed.). (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of educational goals, handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longsman, Green.
Krathwohl, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives, the classification of educational goals, handbook II: Affective domain. New York: David McKay Co., Inc.
Slater, T. F. & Adams, J. P. (2003). Learner-Centered Astronomy Teaching: Strategies for Astro 101 (pp. 39-41). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Brissenden, G., Slater, T. F., & Mathieu, R. (2002). The role of assessment in the development of the college introductory astronomy course: A "how-to" guide for instructors. Astronomy Education Review 1(1). Retrievable from http://aer.noao.edu