“Learning Outcomes” in a Time of COVID: What Happens When Students Say What They Aspire To?

“Learning Outcomes” in a Time of COVID:  What Happens When Students Say What They Aspire To?

What happens if we give up the idea that our course should begin with a prescriptive list of “learning outcomes” and offer students the chance to express their own?  Even if you are at an institution that requires you to submit your outcomes in advance (as many do), you can simply put those on the syllabus and structure an opportunity where each student contributes two or three of their own.

This is what we did in this week’s class “College for Everyone” that focused on community college (Chapter Two in The New Education) and on Transformative Activist Stance (TAS), a concept of engaged, culturally specific activist pedagogy most eloquently espoused by Eduardo Vianna and Anna Stetsenko.

In the hour before our Webex remote class meeting, we offered students the opportunity to their own learning outcomes and comment on everyone else’s.    Enjoy!


Topic:  “College for Everyone”

2-3 pm:  At the bottom of this Google Doc, please write out 2–3 aspirational  “learning outcomes” for our course, including for our changed situation of learning online during a health crisis. Read the ones by your classmates and edit or make comments and leave your own.

For privacy, we have removed student names and the comments on one another’s outcomes and removed their personal comments.  We have not edited for grammatical consistency but left them as written.  Inspiring!


1. Flexibility in the face of barriers; learn to carve a new path when the old one is overgrown whenever possible.

2. Generosity and good faith for ourselves and others.

3. Learn to let go: of how we thought our semester, our careers, our lives might go; of what we expected of the “before”, to broach the “now” and the “after” with courage and fierceness; of the idea of “normalcy” and returning to normalcy.



  1. How the sharing and breaking down of experiences into their academic components can inspire formal learning.

  2. How to integrate informal learning into pedagogy to promote well-roundedness in students.

  3. Rebooting education, making universal morals and ideals the focus and purpose of pedagogy.



  1. Incorporating different techniques for tapping into students’ varied ways of learning.

  2. Integrating history and its impact into chosen subjects.

  3. Openness to fun, creativity, compassion, and mindfulness into interactions and when navigating obstacles.


  1. Understanding how our conceptions of learning and teaching impact our teaching practices, including but not limited to what is prioritized in the classroom and the harms it can cause to students.

  2. Problematize taken-for-granted educational principles that reproduce colonialism, racism, ableism, and heteropatriarchy.

  3. Teach about uncertainty. Not only about what might happen in the present and the future but the uncertainty of science and knowledge. Teach about knowledge as a process (not progress) that is rooted in the unknown and not knowing. This also includes, embracing mistakes in the classroom as what constitutes learnings. Mistakes are okay and students shouldn’t be made to think there’s only “one correct” answer (depending on the subject, of course, but even then I think we need to emphasise experimentation and treat ‘failure’ as part of learning rather than penalizing students for “not knowing).  


  1. Advocate for a wide range of communication forms that befit every individual’s comfort level to make discussions possible for engagement, learning, and teaching.

  2. Admit that there are disparities in accessibility and availability of resources that could potentially enhance one’s learning experience, but have been made impossible to reach due to one’s circumstances AND the unjust systems that maintain that barrier.

  3. Acknowledge all different kinds of knowledge that can be applied in a collective/communal space, which can be shared/exchanged with one another.


  1. Critically think and evaluate the readings, discussions, and materials to design and apply pedagogical concepts and techniques into our own classroom. 

  2. Be cognizant of coloniality and embrace individual differences to spread decoloniality.

  3. Learn how to be productive under stressful circumstances and appreciate the work that was completed.  



1. Recognize how our experiences as graduate students and the experiences of our undergraduate students are shaped by assumptions, frameworks, methodologies that are exclusionary and outdated.


2. Consider learning as a physical and emotional experience, as much as an intellectual one. These aspects of our lives are interconnected and influence each other. When we can’t be in a physical community, find ways to build community online to support our emotional and intellectual needs.


3. As an instructor, embrace experimentation but also share why you are trying a new approach. As a student, be open to new perspectives and approaches and be generous in your feedback.



1. Deploy fluid and equitable teaching practices aimed at framing critical thinking skills as practical tools in service of individual and collective agency.

2. Promote collaborative learning activities that challenge the banking model of education by immersing students in fun, team-oriented projects.

3. Emphasize engagement with discourse communities not only across multiple disciplines but also beyond the academic domain, focusing on the practical affordances of addressing broader and more heterogeneous publics than are available to scholarly inquiry.



  1. The modern post-secondary students look for a learning that has the 21st Century skills (critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication). 


  1. Active learning, self-guided instruction, and group work that are transforming teaching approaches.


  1. Make use of contemplative pedagogy practices  which include: “mindfulness, concentration, open awareness, and sustaining contradictions”. Contemplative practice, even if performed for short periods, improves attention, cognition” and strengthens attention while also cultivating emotional balance. Especially when teaching remedial  class, medical students,  



  1. Learning outcomes need to remain fluid and functional and should always be collaboratively reflected on and decided upon. Transparency is a necessary part of learning and can further help to plug in students who are asking “why” we are learning. Transparency is necessary for classroom democratic process and participation! (general thoughts, not just for this course).

  2. Flexibility is not antithetical to (academic) rigor.

  3. Continue building community in and outside our virtual spaces. Community is necessary for collective action and transformative change.

  4. This learning (and these relationships) will continue (in many capacities) even as this semester goes forward and eventually ends.



  1. Each one/teach one

  2. Care/share

  3. Learn/Unlearn

  4. Move from critical thinking to creative improvement/solution/implementation 

  5. Make the final exam and the graduation be the beginning, not the end, of education



  1. Develop a deeper understanding of the relationships that exist between the classroom and the world outside the university. Critically analyze discourses and policies around teaching and learning in a time of crisis–what inequities and systems of oppression are being legitimized and delegitimized? Think about how this experience will impact our work as we return to a state of “normalcy”.

  2. Build community in the (virtual) classroom. Look out for one another, as empathy and care are necessary (and often disparaged) aspects of being a person in a classroom. 

  3. Organize! Many students and workers at CUNY and other universities (and outside the academy) are particularly vulnerable this semester. As students and faculty in a social justice education course, I believe that we have a responsibility to connect what we are working on in class to the larger situation in higher education right now in ways that will support marginalized people in the university. For example, given the new grading policy passed by the Board of Trustees, I would like to figure out how to encourage professors not to fail any students this semester (or ever…).


1.   Experiential learning has a place in formalized education & a role in inspiring whole-life/whole-person learning.

2.   A deep, true, and profound respect for all kinds/types of knowledge (cultural, academic, esoteric, holistic, etc.) – that each has value and a place & should be appreciated for its ability to contribute to the collective edification of society.

3.   Ways to enact meaningful education reform, that leads to positively impactful, whole-person/life, global citizenship for all people.

4.  The value of & appreciation for collaborative pedagogy and alternative p.o.v. 

5.  The benefit and importance of mindfulness and wellness – both in the individual & collective sense.

6.  Vulnerability is not a weakness, but a necessary part of the learning process – having the courage simply to say, “I don’t know” and being opening and willing to learn, is truly powerful.




Knowledge is embedded as a form and tool of social practices

Constantly ask what the purpose of education is, what do we want and need to learn?

Academic and everyday or indigenous ways of learning need to be separated and dichotomized

Learning is about becoming, transforming our practices and ourselves in the process

The values we commit to are enacted in what and how we teach and learn, and vice-versa


O. : Native American Indian wisdom story:

“A Cherokee elder was teaching his grandchildren about life.

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me… it is a terrible fight between two wolves. 

One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, gred, arrogance, hatefulness, unconsciousness, and lies.

The other stands for joy, peace, love compassion, forgiveness, humility, kindness, friendliness, generosity, faith, awareness, and truth.

This same fight is going on inside of you, and inside every other person, too.”

The children thought about it for a minute. Then one child asked his grandfather.

“Which wolf will win?”

The Cherokee elder replied…

“The one you feed.”

[NB:  This story is often told.  Here is one First People’s site that includes the story and also a way to contribute to the support of the site.

https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html  ]