June 27, 2007

"Attendance" and "instructional objectives" connection


Last year I blogged about taking attendance in Japanese university classes, particularly about the tendency by so many people in higher education in Japan to use attendance as a measure of achievement, or at least as a factor when calculating final grades.

I've been thinking about it again more recently, after reading Mager's Preparing Instructional Objectives, and I've found a link: vague instructional objectives which specify instructional procedure but not desired student performance (what students are expected to be able to do as a result of the instructor's instruction) seem to often accompany this tendency to stress attendance in a certain number of class-hours as an important factor in calculating final grades.

When I think about it, it's obvious: what else is there? If you don't have a clear idea of what you expect students to be able to do as a result of your instruction, there's not a lot left to go on when calculating grades except how many classes they've attended. Granted, if you need some actual figures, you can always drum some up by having a final exam and by giving students quizzes, or assigning homework and giving them a grade for that, and I suspect this is what a lot of teachers do: I'm guilty, too: I have given quizzes primarily for the (unspoken) purpose of having numbers I can calculate for a final grade.

In the afore-mentioned book, which I heartily recommend (it's a very easy read, written in a breezy, humorous style), Mager writes,
Instructors function in a fog of their own making unless they know what they want their students to accomplish as a result of their instruction.
I was reminded of this today after watching an "open" class taught by a Japanese literature professor at the university. The only clear instructional objective I could glean from her explanation and from her published syllabus was "students will be able to pass the exam I set".

In addition, there was no clear objective for this particular class; there was nothing for students to do except listen and take notes; there was no task, or any opportunity for students to participate.

I'm still a long way from making and adhering to clear instructional objectives myself, but it seems a most worthwhile professional objective at this time, although I'm surrounded by people who think the following is an instructional objective (says me with the sneer of the freshly converted):
Next year will be the 1,000th anniversary of the publishing of The Tale of Genji. This lecture series will survey the 1,000 years of history since the writing of the Tale of Genji to the present day, with that work of literature as a focal point.
This is what the instructor will do. What will the students be able to do as a result of this series of lectures?

OK, perhaps not all university subjects easily yield to such an approach; some might argue, with reason, that some subjects are studied for more intangible benefits. Yet surely there can be few subjects that might not benefit from the rigorous examination that is required when creating clear instructional objectives.

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