Let’s face it. I’m a mathie. Not in the Big Bang Theory way. It’s just that I tend to think in numbers. Numbers help me understand things and explain things. My teaching career reflects that. I taught general math at an agricultural college. Later, I taught introductory courses in computer science (computer usage and introductory programming). As a result, until recently, I haven’t given the affective domain a lot of thought. Not that it wasn’t on my mind. In my research, which has focused on different kinds of support systems (at the workplace and for students), it was a critical element – I just didn’t call it the affective domain.
As I discussed last week, the affective relates to our values, beliefs, behaviours, and attitudes. I am trying to figure out how to effectively assess these elements. Again, my early teaching career was spent teaching first year courses that focused primarily on knowledge and skill development. Topics that progressed in a fairly linear way. It didn’t make sense to ask students to create arrays or debug complex code before they had a decent understanding of the basics, such as variables, repetition, and selection. There’s no need to consider the affective if I’m just trying to teach them these basics, right?
Well, actually, it’s not that simple. As I think back to those programming courses, one of the basics we introduce is documenting your code (adding short comments throughout that explains the code to other users). These were small programs. Most of the code was self-explanatory, documentation wasn’t really necessary. But I wasn’t just teaching them about basic documentation. I wanted them to understand why it was important. I didn’t want them to write good documentation because they were expected to, I wanted them to value documentation so that it became an ingrained habit – where code just wouldn’t look right without a few lines of documentation.
But how could I instill that value with such short programs. Imagine writing a program that is only 20 lines long and having to write 5 lines of comments to explain it. Hardly seems worth it. And so I shared a story with them about why documentation was so important to me, hoping it might inspire them to find value in those comments. My first co-op job involved designing software for small robots. We used a language called Behavior Language (Brooks, 1990), which I had never seen before. I had four months of programming experience (one term of C++) and there was little available to help me learn the language. My best option was to read the code. The problem, I soon discovered, was that the last co-op student decided to use Alice in Wonderland characters for all of the variable and function names. So, instead of writing something like RobotTurnLeft, it said MadHatter.
Did sharing this anecdote mean I saw beautiful documentation in every project at the end of the term. No. But, it exposed my students to a reason to make an effort on documentation. At the very least, now it was on their radar. In 1964, Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia expanded on the taxonomy of learning and explored the affective more deeply. They described five levels: receiving (awareness); responding (complies with set of values); valuing (expresses values through behaviour); organization (considers more critically – compares, synthesizes values); and internalizing (value system that is pervasive and consistent in behaviour). My students probably reached the awareness phase – they recognized that there was value in writing good documentation but might not have internalized it to the point of changing their behaviour.
As I consider how to assess elements of this domain, I come back to the idea of alignment among outcomes, teaching and learning activities, and assessment. So next week, I’ll spend some time talking about outcomes in the affective domain. By defining where I want my students to be by the end of the course, I can plan the activities and assessments appropriately. But the first step is to define the outcome. What would an outcome be in an area such as lifelong learning or diversity? What does it mean to value humility or critical thinking or creativity? How do I define an outcome related to ethics?
These are the questions I’ll be pondering for the next week. I’ll let you know what I find out.
Brooks, R. A., (1990, April). A.I. Memo 1227. The Behavior language; User’s guide. Retreived Feb 4, 2014 from http://people.csail.mit.edu/brooks/papers/AIM-1227.pdf.
Krathwol, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: David McKay.