Revolution Lullabye

September 7, 2012

Gallagher, The Trouble with Outcomes

Gallagher, Chris W. “The Trouble with Outcomes: Pragmatic Inquiry and Educational Aims.” College English 75.1 (September 2012): 42-60.

Gallagher uses Pragmatism philosophy to argue against outcome-based assessment, which he contends focuses on the ends of the educational experience, not the means, and argues for articulated assessment, which is an ongoing inquiry process that involves all stakeholders (teachers, students, program administrators) in determining what the hoped-for and actual consequences of an educational experience are, and evaluating and refining programs based on those.

Gallagher uses the CWPA’s “Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition” and the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing to distinguish between outcomes and consequences. Outcomes, he argues, are fixed and rigid, explain what the conclusion of the educational experience should be, and are often handed down from administrators and professional groups to teachers and students.  Consequences, on the other hand, are more open to what happens, are emergent and developmental, emphasize potentiality, and can be surprising. Gallagher doesn’t demonize outcomes: he argues that the outcomes created by our field were constructed to prevent those not in the discipline from imposing their own outcomes, and he does explain how outcomes give programs a shared sense of common values and goals. However, Gallagher argues that when we read student texts through the lens of outcomes, we lose the student and the text: we search for what we want to find as evidence to meeting an outcome instead of reading what is there (and potentially there.)

Gallagher explains in the final section of his essay how he employed the Pragmatistic concept of atriculation to move the teachers, students, and administrators in his wriitng program away from setting pre-conceived outcomes and towards developing ways individual, internal goals for writing classess can be related to larger outcomes statements. The articulation processes he describes engage multiple people in the process, emphasize conversation that relate the program and classroom work to larger department/institutional/professionalal goals, happen in an ongoing, inquisitive process, and find ways to assess and track progress within the goals and also beyond, to the unintended consequences.

Notable Notes

teachers mapped their hopes/goals for writing classes, and those maps were used to discover areas of overlap or tension

John Dewey – pragmatism, inquiry-based learning and assessment.

need to find the spot between coherence and openness to opportunity, potentiality

Quotable Quotes

“Under these conditions, teachers and students merely receive the outcomes; they experience them as imposed, whether they were formulated by a distant regulatory body, a professional group, or some earlier incarnation of the local faculty” (45).

“If close attention to outcomes tends to narrow our view to what we wish to find, close attention to consequences broadens our view to include what we never thought to look for, opening us up (potentially!) to surprise and wonder” (48).

“Regardles of whether we find ourselves working (or choose to work) within the OA model, the challenge before us is to frame and use educational aims in ways that avoid the pernicious separation of means and ends, the rigidity of fixed ends, the narrow focus on predetermined results, and the imposition of external ends on faculty and students – while addressing institutional demands for assessment of student learning and maintaining program coherence.” (49).


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