Objectives

I can see that I need to start paying attention to the syllabus more carefully. I posted last week (instead of this week) about Wiggins’ Chapter 3 on Goals and about the Pellegrino article. So this week, I’ll stick to the syllabus: Dick and Carey’s chapter on objectives and the Mager chapter on the same topic. I’m thinking I’ll probably want to read the entire Mager book at some point–the chapter on objective quality was useful but just scratched the surface (plus Dick and Carey cited Mager as a definitive treatment of the topic). The key points from Mager seemed to be:

  • Objectives require specific verbs
  • Objectives have 3 characteristics:
  1. The performance expectation;
  2. The conditions under which that performance occurs; and
  3. The criterion by which the performance is measured (the “score”)
  • Objectives should not specify the procedure or the audience
  • Objectives should not be constrained to a specific format

Dick and Carey offered an interesting mix of theory and practice this time. Since there appears to be only a slight advantage to student learning if objectives are explicitly stated (and since the objective should parallel the assessment, even this slight advantage seems circular), I appreciated the argument that objectives guide the designer and help avoid the Wiggins’ activity-focused sin of irrelevant discussion.

It took me a couple of times through the chapter, but I finally understand that the goal (written first) is the real world context and the terminal objective (written second) is the (artificial) learning context. However, it took me until the next to last page to understand that the goal plus the real world performance context produce the terminal objective plus the simulated (artificial)  performance context. Dick and Carey’s elaboration on Mager’s steps helped: the conditions include the tools the learner is provided; and the criterion “indicates the tolerance limits” (how close the answer needs to be). As far as theoretical camps, I see in Dick and Carey a mix of behaviorist (the performance of every objective must be able to be observed) and cognitive (the conditions component usually include a cue to retrieve information from memory) theories.

Some aspects of the chapter seemed obvious: complex objectives may need sub-objectives; task complexity is controlled by the “size” of the conditions (but also I think by the tolerance limit, although this factor was not stated). And some aspects left me with more questions: is the valid function of a pre-test to test entry behaviors? However, overall I appreciated the practical dimensions: using checklists to specify criteria for acquisition of an attitude or for evaluating tasks without a single answer (I think I can substitute “rubric” for “checklist”) and evaluating an objective by attempting to write a test item for it (again, somewhat circular logic, but if objectives function to help designers, this approach will at least achieve internal consistency).