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Key personal insight:

Learning is all about outcomes. A key challenge is thinking through the hierarchiccal levels across which outcomes of different focus can be organized (universal, disciplinary, national, university, program, course, unit, lesson, activity); the level of an outcome is important because it relates to the assessment issue, especially when and how it is done. The tendency seems to be to use the terms "objectives and goals" when talking about the larger scale such as course and program which relate to outcomes that need developing over a longer time frame. At these levels, there are stil desired outcomes so the goals and objectives can be easily written in an outcome way, i.e., with outcome verbs. But they don't have to be written with much detail (e.g., I want students to understand and appreciate...); although this style may not be measureable and assessable, that's OK! Wht's that quote? "Not everything that is important is countable." The key for asssessment is to write the goals and objectives with precision which refers to the use of verbs to direct what students to do that can be used for assessment purposes. In sum then, I think it's valuable to focus on outcomes at all levels of planning in the backwards design process; a key step is to make sure outcomes are written in way that is measurable and specific when assessment is needed, no matter what the level.


Good formative assessment (with feedback) integrates studying for summative assessment into the structure of the course. Thus, ideally students don't need to "study" for an exam--they have been studying all along.

But... perhaps at some point, for higher level cognitive skills especially, doing a lot of formative assessment doesn't help them develop the skills. Other pedagogical  strategies are needed to show them how to do something, e.g., build a conceptual map, remember words, synthesize papers. Perhaps we need to model "methods" and skills more to help them improve their skills. But that involves understanding how we, as experts, learn even though we have expert blind spots. Deconstructing what happens in our own thinking then is key (see Decoding the Disciplines reference).


Revised outcome objectives for a unit on Community Ecology and Ecological Webs (within an introductory course on ecology and evolution):

At the end of this unit, I hope that students will be able to (with Bloom's levels):

1. list and define inter- and intraspecific ecological interactions (remembering knowledge)

2. list and define mechanisms that affect the structure and dynamics of a community (remembering knowledge)

3. recognize and describe inter- and intraspecific interactions occurring in an ecosystem, including food webs (comprehension & understanding)

4. explain mechanisms that affect the structure and dynamics of a community, including trophic cascades (comprehension & understanding)

5. illustrate relationships among diverse species within an ecological web using new examples (application)

6. predict how examples of human activities may influence ecological webs (comprehension, application & analysis)

7. analyze the structure and dynamics of ecological webs in novel environmental scenarios (analysis)

8. propose solutions to small, personal- and large, societal-scale problems in or emerging from ecological webs (application, analysis & creation)

9. interpret environmental and evolutionary patterns using a community-level "lens" (application & synthesis)

10. integrate information from diverse "places" (e.g., other courses, personal experiences, case studies, news reports) to discuss and evaluate relationships among ecological webs, ecosystem services and sustainability (synthesis & evaluation)

11. explain & justify their beliefs, attitudes and other personal reflections about the relevance and value of biodiversity and ecological webs for human well-being (evaluation with Fink's caring and human dimensions)


These lesson-level outcomes help scaffold the above unit-level outcomes:

I. How do organisms interact with each other? I. competition & consumption

 1. Describe how two interacting species are each affected by five types of interspecific interactions and provide an example of each interaction.

2. Explain how interspecific interactions can affect co-evolutionary patterns

3. Describe the concepts of niche, niche overlap, fundamental niche, realized niche and relate them to each other

4. Discuss how interspecific competition & competitive exclusion affects the abundance and distribution of organisms in context of their niches

II. What are the characteristics & dynamics of food webs?

1. Define trophic cascade, explain its causes and effects (outcomes), and provide examples

          2. Describe environmental factors that can affect trophic cascades and food web dynamics

          3.  Use correct terminology to describe species’ placement in food webs and trophic levels

          4. Explain how food web dynamics relate to human well-being & ecosystem services

III. How do organisms interact with each other? II. mutualism

1. Define mutualism and distinguish between facultative and obligate mutualisms

          2. Describe why mycorrhizae and lichens are mutualisms with reference to the species involved

          3. Differentiate between symbiosis, mutualism and other types of interspecific interactions

IV. What are patterns & mechanisms of community structure?

1. Differentiate between community structure and dynamics and their associated variables

          2. Explain how interspecific interactions affect community structure patterns

          3. Explain how habitat structure is caused by and causes community structure.

4. Define keystone species and ecosystem engineer and explain how and why these organisms affect community structure

5. Describe the theory of island biogeography and explain how it affects the community structure & dynamics (i.e., extinction and colonization) of an island or patch

V. How do disturbance & succession affect communities?

1. Define succession and distinguish between primary and secondary succession

          2. Describe key stages and processes in succession using example species for a location

          3. Define disturbance and the key variables of a disturbance regime

4. Explain how succession and disturbance interact to affect a community’s structure over time and create landscape patterns

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 Comm Ecology AlignmentGridWorksheet.pdf
Outcomes, activities, assessment grid
211.63 kB08:28, 29 Jun 2012lbyrneActions
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