Tagging for SLOs

As part of my sabbatical, I have promised to not only blog openly as a historian, but also to connect these writings to my college’s SLOs.

An SLO is a Student Learning Outcome. Now, before you roll your eyes, be aware that when the History department was given the task of creating SLOs for all our courses years ago, we were given significant latitude. In our wisdom, we decided to make our SLOs skills-based rather than content-based. Instead of saying what content would be covered, what names and dates and events students had to learn, we would base our SLOs on what skills we wanted students to practice as historians.

We came up with five originally, although it’s really two sets of four, one for General Education Humanities (that’s #5 substituted for #3) and one for General Education Social Science (the reverse).

Other departments, which creating scaled-down lists of their course outlines, have had significantly more trouble developing assessments showing what students can do, which was the point of the SLOs in the first place. Our method gave instructors significant latitude in determining how to assess the SLOs. For example, a student could demonstrate that they can interpret the thesis of a secondary source by doing so with any secondary source they’re given, rather than a particular source.

Some said we were cheating, because our SLOs can apply to many courses (all courses really, except that some instructors liked to make their own when they created a new course). I think we were brilliant.

Here they are, as I’ve renumbered them for my own purposes, with my comments:

1. construct a historical thesis that could be supported by selected primary sources from the era covered by the course

This is the most crucial task of a historian, any historian. A thesis must be interpreted and be able to supported by evidence. Otherwise you may be reading history, but you aren’t doing it.

Chasse with the Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty, 1180–90

2. estimate the correct era from which a primary source derives

I’m not sure this is the best way to phrase this skill, but if you look at writing or art from the 12th century and think it’s from the 18th century, there’s a problem.

3. interpret the thesis of a secondary source

It’s no use constructing your own thesis if you cannot understand the historiography — the writing of history that came before, and what points were being made. This is especially true because your thesis will no doubt overturn someone else’s, or at least, explicitly acknowledge it.

4. articulate the causal and/or consequential elements of an event from the era covered by the course

Post-modernists will object to the term “cause” — I myself, having read Keith Jenkins, prefer “explanation”. But the idea is that knowing which events influenced other events is the key to historical thinking. This skill makes facts and chronology fall into place, rather than having to study and memorize them.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

5. analyze cultural expressions as evidence of an historical theme

This one has been the most difficult for students — it’s the humanities SLO. It’s the rest of the triad represented by #1 and #2. Historians in the humanities must be able to use sources (including cultural expressions like artworks, architecture, literature), set a source in its context, and use cultural sources as evidence of ideas. Otherwise, they’re doing social science instead.

The best way, I think, to organize my demonstration of the SLOs in my own work is simply to use them as tags, but WordPress has made that rather difficult (if you don’t use a tag all the time, you have to type it in manually). So instead I’ll use categories. Then later posts can be called up by SLO for demonstration purposes. So I’ll be doing that soon…

2 comments to Tagging for SLOs

  • I often go foggy reading SLOs but must see these ones are wonderfully concrete and meaningful.

    I agree categories are the way to go. My idea is that categories are the major buckets to use and generally but not always one of them is sufficient. Tags are more like the adjectives one might use to cut across the buckets or beyond.

    Also I would create an SLO category and make your 5 all subcategories. This way when you apply “interpret the thesis of a s come ndary source” WordPress implicitly associates it with the parent category. So you can then have links to show all DLO posts s. Furthermore you can easily rename categories and include a description.

    • Lisa M Lane

      Hi Alan! I’ve got them all as sub-categories, and applied them to previous posts. Description, huh? I’ll look into that – sounds useful. Thanks!