2.2 Frame the Intended Learning Outcomes
Whether you are designing one or several project courses that will need to provide a progression of project working skills, or only designing a single project course that stands on its own, it is important and useful to define the intended learning outcomes of the project course. What knowledge should the students be able to apply? Which team work skills will be assessed? How should they be able to communicate and visualise their results and solutions? The following section will take a closer look at the choices to be made in the formulation of the intended learning outcomes in a project course.
Many of the aspects covered in the guide will relate to the intended learning outcomes of the course. The intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are statements on what the students will be able to do as a result of the course: what type of knowledge, skills and abilities will be gained, in which contexts, and on what conceptual level. Typically, in a project course, ILOs are re-formulated and new ones added, as part of the continuous course improvement over the years, since many different learning opportunities are discovered when the course is running.
A well designed project course will align the activities and assessment tasks with the ILOs, so that students can practice and show his/her learning progress, and so that teachers can make sure the ILOs are reached.
The main critical aspect when defining the ILOs and starting the design of your project course is finding the balance between focusing on the level of the result of the project work (the solutions, the ideas presented, the products and so on) on the one hand, and the level of the learning and development of the students themselves and their possibilities to explore new ways of thinking, on the other hand. This should be taken into consideration when designing and revising your course.
The formulation of the ILOs, with proper verbs and contexts, are always best handled by teachers within the specific field. In table 1, we have tried to distinguish three levels of skills and abilities with verbs from Bloom’s taxonomy (12), based on our experience with how project courses normally are designed. Level 3 is the highest. At the same time, as described in the previous section on the progression of project work skills, a first level project course can, and often should, involve all crucial steps involved in a project work, while the complexity of the project tasks could evolve over the study years.
Example from Lightweight Design/Naval Design describing intended learning outcomes on a high and universal level: In this master level project course, the ILOs are framed so that they state what the students are expected to be able to do after the course, and not on what they are solving within the particular course:
- Analyse technical problems in a systems view
- Handle technical problems which are incompletely stated and subject to multiple constraints
- Develop strategies for systematic choice and use of available engineering methods and tools
- Make estimations and appreciate their value and limitations
- Make decisions based on acquired knowledge
- Pursue own ideas and realize them practically
- Assess quality of own work and work by others
- Work in a true project setting that effectively utilizes available resources
- Explain mechanisms behind progress and difficulties in such a setting
- Communicate engineering orally, in writing and graphically
The ILOs are on a high and universal level, and they do not state that the students are going to build something as part of the project course. This means that even though every course round has a new and different challenge, the ILOs are the same.
Suggestion: It’s important that you frame the ILOs for your course, and re-frame them when you see that this is needed. ILOs should be formulated in the sense that you can always point to them when discussing with students, external partners, teaching assistants and other teachers.