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Strategies for Developing a Quality Course: Teaching Methodologies/Faculty Development

Course Number: 398

Writing Course Objectives

With broad course goals (Figure 1 - outcomes) as a starting point, the next step is the development of objectives that are performance based and measurable. Objectives should focus on what the student needs to do and know, not on what content will be covered. Again, the student-centered approach to teaching is evident in this approach to course design.

Diamond11 refers to three basic elements of an objective:

  • A verb that describes an observable action

  • A description of the conditions under which the action takes place

  • The acceptable performance level

    • States, where applicable, the standard for acceptable performance

An example of an objective as describe by Diamond would be:

Assess the need for dental radiographs of a new patient that presents to the dental clinic that follow the standards set by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, American Dental Education Association and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the objective above, “assess” serves as a verb that describes an observable action, “assessing the need for dental radiographs of a new patient;” with “dental clinic” describing the conditions under which the action takes place. The standards of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, American Dental Education Association and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provide an acceptable performance level.

A strategy for providing structure to objective writing is the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy. An excellent overview of the history of this longstanding taxonomy can be found in a piece written by Mary Forehand.2 In the overview, Bloom’s Taxonomy is defined as a multi-tiered model for classifying thinking according to six cognitive levels of complexity (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating). In this taxonomy, Bloom attempts to organize learning into levels according to the sophistication of mental effort necessary to meet a given goal. During the 1990s, a group of cognitive psychologists, curriculum theorists, instructional researchers and testing and assessment specialists convened to discuss the revision of Bloom’s original taxonomy. The result of their efforts was published in 2001 and remains pertinent today.1  Figure 3 illustrates the original and revised taxonomies. The most obvious difference between the old versus the new version is that the six major categories were changed from nouns to verbs. The reasoning behind this change was to be able to write objectives where the verb illustrates an observable action by the learner. For example, Knowledge was changed to Remembering, Application was changed to Applying. Comprehension and synthesis in the old version were renamed to understanding and evaluating, respectively. Finally, where originally the evaluation category was at the top of the pyramid, the new version has placed creating at the top. A list of action verbs can be found in Table 4. While it is not within the scope of this learning module to fully describe the process of revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy, there are many excellent resources on the internet to assist the reader in more fully understanding this revision and subsequent development.

Figure 3. Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning - Old Version

Table 4. Action Verbs for Writing Objectives.

The Cognitive Processes Dimension
Lower order thinking skills ↔ Higher order thinking skills
• identifying

• retrieving
• list
• clarifying
• paraphrasing
• representing
• translating

• illustrating
• instantiating

• categorizing
• subsuming

• abstracting
• generalizing

• concluding
• extrapolating
• interpolating
• predicting

• contrasting
• mapping
• matching

• constructing models
• carrying out

• using
• discriminating
• distinguishing
• focusing
• selecting

• finding coherence
• integrating
• outlining
• parsing
• structuring

• deconstructing
• coordinating
• detecting
• monitoring
• testing

• judging
• assessing
• hypothesizing

• designing

• constructing