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Secret Destinations

David Buss, University College for the Creative Arts

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The concept of learning outcomes is now firmly embedded across the higher education sector. A typical definition of learning outcomes is that they provide ‘a statement of what a learner is expected to know, understand and be able to do at the end of a period of learning.’ Advocates of learning outcomes claim that it is impossible to evaluate learning unless clearly defined goals have been specified and agreed. But if learning outcomes prescribe the results of a period of learning before the outset of the ‘journey’, how appropriate are they to learning in subjects where we are ‘educating for creativity’, subjects where often we want our students to discover the ‘secret destinations’, and where we may deliberately wish to avoid prescribing clearly defined goals? Can learning outcomes be articulated in such ways that they encourage the traveller (i.e. the learner) positively to seek out secret destinations, destinations that may be unknown to the tutor as well as the student? Or do we need an alternative to this behaviourist approach to learning?
     Dr Elliot Eisner, the US arts educationalist, believes that to expect all of our educational aspirations to be either verbally describable or measurable is to expect too little. Eisner has advocated the use of what he calls ‘expressive outcomes’ as the consequences of ‘curriculum activities that are intentionally planned to provide a fertile field for personal purposing and experience.’ For Eisner, Purposes need not precede activities; they can be formulated in the process of action itself, while Allan Davies has identified what he refers to as unintended learning outcomes. (I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be. Douglas Adams.)
     This presentation will begin with a consideration of the appropriateness or otherwise of learning outcomes for study and practice in the creative arts and a brief examination of alternative approaches to learning outcomes in the context of ‘education for creativity’. It will then address issues relating to how ‘secret destinations’ might be assessed while maintaining the spirit of section 6 of the QAA Code of Practice, Assessment of Students.

Author Bio(s)

David Buss is Deputy Rector and Professor of Higher Education, Art and Design, at University College for the Creative Arts. Previous posts include: University of Plymouth, Birmingham and Wolverhampton Polytechnics, University of Kansas, and Kent Institute of Art and Design. David served as a member of the Editorial Board and Reviews Editor for The International Journal for Art and Design Education, and has presented research papers to international conferences in Japan, Australia, South Korea, Finland, Sweden and Norway. A member of QAA’s Benchmark Steering Group, he also chaired the QAA Subject Benchmark Group for Art and Design, and held offices with the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design, the National Society for Education in Art and Design, and the Group for Learning in Art and Design. Other experience includes Quality Assessment for HEFCW, Institutional Audit and Subject Review for QAA, and external evaluation for the FDTL project ADEPTT.