Tip #2 from the Syllabus Challenge

Rewrite your learning goals.

The Syllabus Challenge provides critically reflective questions and practical ideas for inclusive teaching in action. As I mentioned in the Tip #1 issue, no matter the discipline, this one could apply to you. Tip #1 focused on updating our terminology and phrasing throughout the syllabus. For tip #2, I want to move into the realm of looking at those learning goals you have listed at the front page of your syllabus. How old are they? Have you changed them in the last 2 years? Some of my learning goals get rolled over for each new semester. I regret to say I sometimes forget to take the time to update them.

Tip #2 = Rewrite your learning goals

But what if we took a look at our learning goals through an inclusive pedagogy lens? What if we even attempted to update those goals through a critical race theory and intersectional lens?

Rather than view learning goals as something we have to include because accrediting bodies and assessment plans require them, we can think of learning goals as one of our greatest opportunities to draw students in and get them excited about learning. Does that sound too far-fetched?

Let’s try a few of the tips from the Syllabus Challenge and apply them to a set of learning goals. When I present these ideas to faculty, the before and after examples tend to help bring things to life.

The following sub-set of learning goals were pulled from a random, but quite typical, Biology syllabus.

Biology syllabus learning goals

The student will:

* Outline the relationships between genes, inheritable traits and gene expression patterns. 

* Relate key biological themes to examples found in the natural world.

* Explain how scientists learn more about the world around them, and the changing nature of scientific information.

biology 101

The first point is to say there is nothing inherently wrong or harmful about these learning goals. In fact, they are perfectly good learning goals for this Biology course. However, if we apply the principles of inclusive practices that aim to reduce equity gaps and increase student success, we can alter these a bit. Consider the following tweaks to these learning goals.

(more inclusive) Biology syllabus learning goals

As members of this learning community, we will:

* Outline the relationships between a person’s genetic code and traits such as eye color or which hand is dominant. 

* Relate key biological themes to examples found in the natural world, including our/your family & community.

* Explain how bias and lack of diverse perspectives can negatively influence scientific interpretations.

Notice anything distinct about the more inclusive learning goals?

  1. “community, we will” moves from cold, third person, independent, individualistic language to communal, interdependent, collective language. As a first-gen working-class student, communal language made me feel more connected and at home because this aligns with my own family background.
  2. the first learning goal switched from disciplinary jargon to more accessible language by providing examples such as “eye color” and “hand dominance.” Now students reading this can ask themselves “why am I left-handed/right-handed?”
  3. the second learning goal now names family and community which signal interdependent cultural values. This goal also sends the message that biology themes apply to them and their own worlds which may not culturally match the higher education setting they find themselves navigating.
  4. the last learning goal now explicitly names bias in science and recognizes diverse perspectives can help strengthen the field.

okay, your turn!

What tweaks could you make to your learning goals based on the ideas in the Syllabus Challenge? Open the link and skip down to slide #6. That slide provides ideas and reflective questions for updating your learning goals and the course description.

Learn more about the White Anti-Racism and Action course I created for (aspiring) white allies.
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