Beyond Clear and Measurable: Rethinking Outcomes with Adrienne Phelps-Coco

During Digital Pedagogy Lab 2019, Adrienne Phelps-Coco—the Associate Director of Online Pedagogy at the Harvard Division of Continuing Education—will lead a course called Rethinking Outcomes. Participants in this course will rethink the concept of outcomes to include the less tangible aspects of a learning experience and articulate a new vision for outcomes that can replace (or supplement, when replacing is not an option) the clear and measurable learning objective. We caught up with Adrienne to ask a few questions about her course, and what she has in mind for the cohort.

Why have you titled your course the way you have? What does it say about your hopes for the week at DPL?

I think the course title, “Rethinking Outcomes” works on a couple of levels. On the first, we’ll be “rethinking” what the traditional version of clear and measurable outcomes actually captures about specific learning experiences and what it does not. How could we account for the less tangible aspects of learning—the emotions, the human connections formed, the space for student agency—for example? What would “outcomes” look like if they captured these aspects of learning?

On another level, we’ll spend time “rethinking” why clear and measurable learning outcomes became a dominant trend in education in the first place, which was definitely not a given. What values got us to outcomes as we know them? What if we started from a different set of values?

If you were going to describe your course as a narrative–with a beginning, middle, and end–how would the story go?

I’m envisioning this course as something of a classic hero(ine)’s journey—a There and Back Again.

We’ll spend the first part of the week thinking about experiences that we have in our own classes—those we teach, design, or attend. Thinking about our own best learning experiences, we’ll ask What do traditional outcomes capture? What do they miss? And then take it a step further to ask, If we turned these into online or other digital experiences, what might get lost based on how we conceptualize the learning?

We’ll then move out of our own experiences and think about the systems that underpin traditional outcomes—the disinvestment in higher education, the reliance on adjunct and contingent faculty, the rise of online education, the discourses around data and accountability. We’ll ask:

  • Who are outcomes serving?
  • What are they measuring and not measuring–and what’s the point of measuring, anyway?
  • What’s useful that we might want to keep?
  • What might a more inclusive vision for outcomes look like?

We’ll end by coming back to our own experiences and ask how we might take a more mindful approach to outcomes in our own teaching or design practices. How might we adapt our syllabi or our approach to course design—whether or not we jettison traditional outcomes fully? How can we communicate a more inclusive vision of outcomes to others, including our students and colleagues?

To your mind, what is the most important thing participants in your course will walk away with? Do you have learning objectives or outcomes? Do you have a fond wish for them?

Haha! I don’t have clear and measurable outcomes that I’ll be using to judge the “success” of this course. That’s pretty much the whole point! But I do hope that participants will walk away with a sense of possibility for what outcomes might look like and how this might impact their own teaching and design practices. What this means will probably vary quite a bit from person to person and will be driven in many ways by the collective work of our group.

I do hope that this course gives participants a chance to connect with others who care about the same issues that they care about so that these conversations can continue after DPL is over.

Also, I hope the course is fun.

Describe your style of teaching. What is your pedagogical approach and your classroom style? Why?

I see this course as belonging to all of us. We’ll ask big questions, and I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I trust that collectively we can come up with many possible answers. There will be lots of time for brainstorming and for reflecting on how we might incorporate ideas into our own practice. There might be some learning design challenges along the way to get us thinking. And marshmallows.

This will be your first time teaching at DPL. Why have you chosen to join us?

This is my first time teaching at Digital Pedagogy Lab, and I am so excited about it. I came as a participant last year and left with so many ideas that I spent the whole train ride home revising my syllabus.

Teaching has always been my preferred method of engaging with issues of social justice and education, and I was excited to find so many like-minded people at DPL as well as people whose thinking really pushed my own. It’s great to have the opportunity to join this group of teachers.


Registration Now Open

Adrienne Phelps-Coco

Among with Sean Michael Morris, Digital Pedagogy Lab

Adrienne Phelps-Coco is the Associate Director of Online Pedagogy at the Harvard Division of Continuing Education and an instructor in the Learning Design Certificate at Harvard Extension School.

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