Professor and Associate Dean Debra Moss Vollweiler (Nova) has an interesting article on SSRN entitled, “Don’t Panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Learning Outcomes: Eight Ways to Make Them More Than (Mostly) Harmless.” Here’s an excerpt of the abstract:
Legal education, professors and administrators at law schools nationwide have finally been thrust fully into the world of educational and curriculum planning. Ever since ABA Standards started requiring law schools to “establish and publish learning outcomes” designed to achieve their objectives, and requiring how to assess them debuted, legal education has turned itself upside down in efforts to comply. However, in the initial stages of these requirements, many law schools viewed these requirements as “boxes to check” to meet the standard, rather than wholeheartedly embracing these reliable educational tools that have been around for decades. However, given that most faculty teaching in law schools have Juris Doctorate and not education degrees, the task of bringing thousands of law professors up to speed on the design, use and measurement of learning outcomes to improve education is a daunting one. Unfortunately, as the motivation to adopt them for many schools was merely meeting the standards, many law schools have opted for technical compliance — naming a committee to manage learning outcomes and assessment planning to ensure the school gets through their accreditation process, rather than for the purpose of truly enhancing the educational experience for students. … While schools should not be panicking at implementing and measuring learning outcomes, neither should they consign the tool to being a “mostly harmless” — one that misses out on the opportunity to improve their program of legal education through proper leveraging. Understanding that outcomes design and appropriate assessment design is itself a scholarly, intellectual function that requires judgment, knowledge and skill by faculty can dictate a path of adoption that is thoughtful and productive. This article serves as a guide to law schools implementing learning outcomes and their assessments as to ways these can be devised, used, and measured to gain real improvement in the program of legal education.
The article offers a number of recommendations for implementing assessment in a meaningful way:
- Ease into Reverse Planning with Central Planning and Modified Forward Planning
- Curriculum Mapping to Ensure Programmatic Learning Outcomes Met
- Cooperation Among Sections of Same Course and Vertically Through Curriculum
- Tying Course Evaluations to Learning Outcomes to Measure Gains
- Expanding the Idea of What Outcomes Can be for Legal Education
- Better use of Formative Assessments to Measure
- Use of the Bar Exam Appropriately to Measure Learning Outcomes
- Properly Leverage Data on Assessments Through Collection and Analysis
I was particularly interested in Professor Vollweiler’s point in her third recommendation. Law school courses and professors are notoriously siloed. Professors teaching the same course will use different texts, have varying learning outcomes, and assess their students in distinct ways. This presents challenges in looking at student learning at a more macro level. Professor Vollweiler effectively dismantles arguments against common learning outcomes. The article should definitely be on Summer reading lists!