Learners choose learning outcomes

Learners choose learning outcomes

Last year, I asked students in my Introduction to Public Humanities course to write the syllabus. I wrote about this here: you won’t believe what happened next!

I didn’t repeat that project this year. In part, that’s because of different circumstances: teaching the fall, not the spring, means that students are new to the program, and the field. It doesn’t seem fair to ask them to design the whole course.

And while the end result last year was fine, a number of the students were uncomfortable with the process. One student wrote, in evaluation,

“a cool opportunity and an interesting exercise, but many of us felt that since we had not read everything (or even very much) about the field of public humanities, making the syllabus was more guess-work / conforming to your recommendations than an informed decision.”
So I backed off a bit this year. I gave them a syllabus (based on last year’s; you can see it here), and asked them to work together to create the “learning outcomes” part of it. What did they want to get out of the class? In this I was inspired by Cathy Davidson’s article suggesting this, “Design Learning Outcomes to Change the World.
We did it using Davidson’s “single best trick,” slightly modified. Each student wrote their desired learning outcome on a card. They got together in groups of 5 to talk about them, and to decide on one to present to the whole class. And as a class we worked to come up with a set of learning objectives.
Here’s what we hope to get out of the course this year:
  1. Build a broad and rigorous framework for conceptualizing and evaluating work in the public humanities including an understanding of conversations and difficulties of the field in its present incarnation.
  2. How can I fit my community and other underrepresented communities into the work of public humanities beyond museums.
  3. How to engage with the community as professionals; when to take the lead, when to follow their lead; how to serve communities responsibly and effectively.
  4. Understand the historiography of public humanities; where it grew from, where it is now, and where it can go; and at each stage, reflect on what we mean when we analyze accessibility, the public and expertise.
  5. How to get our work beyond ourselves, our institutions, the academy; understanding the idea of the public or publics and how it’s changed over time; what does this mean for practice.
We’ll check back, throughout the course, to see if we’re meeting these goals.

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