Passion – Veronica Brown

This is Georgian Bay. North of Parry Sound.

Lake and rocky islands

As a long distance swimmer, it is my favourite place in the world to swim. Not only because it is fresh water, has fewer scary creatures than the ocean (no sharks or jelly fish here), is warm (usually a balmy 75F in the summer), and is relatively calm (unlike the English Channel). But it is also where I learned to swim.

But many changes have occurred in the Great Lakes since my Great Uncle and his father bought the island 100 years ago. The ’30s and ’60s were marked by extremely low water levels while the ’80s had some of the highest water on record. The challenge today, among others, is low water. You see, this is where I learned to swim.

Image of rock with pool of water

In the background, you can see a small green bucket. That’s where our dock used to start. It was moored to the rock in the foreground. The one with the chain attached. There was enough water here to park a 14′ aluminum with a 35HP, our canoes, and, depending on the wind that day, a small sailboat.

Where I used to paddle, now there are trees.

Tree growing in rock

And if you look closely at the island below, you can see the high water mark. The line where the rock colour changes from grey to beige.

Feb25blogConsider the size of the Great Lakes and then look at that image. The water is four or five feet lower. What has happened to all the water?

During the past several weeks, I have shared my exploration of the affective domain. Appreciation. Uncertainty. Honesty. Integrity. Ethics. Awareness of Limits. Open-mindedness. Commitment. Compassion. Cooperation. When I work with departments across campus, these themes arise regardless of the discipline or degree-level. These affective elements give our students a shared experience.

Now, why did I share the water story above? Not because I want you to know about dropping Great Lake water levels but because it is an example of an activity (and assessment) that you could try in your own class to encourage expression of ideas in the affective domain. Here are some suggestions.

  • End a class with a picture that relates to key themes in the class. Ask students to find connections between the image and the theme as part of a short assignment that functions as a review of the past few weeks and helps you assess their readiness for the next unit.
  • Create a 3-Minute Thesis contest in your class around a theme that requires a sense of more than just the knowledge and skills components of the course. If I had presented the above water story in class, it could be done in 3 minutes.
  • Encourage creative responses to assignments through flexible formats for submission. If writing is not a specific objective of the assignment, why not encourage video, poster, or presentations. A well-designed rubric could be used to assess all these formats.

And now, the title. Passion. It is yet another element of the affective domain. In all this need for measurement – grades, program evaluation, accountability – I worry that we are squeezing out the affective elements that are, I believe, critical to success, in school, the workplace, and in life.  Several weeks ago I shared that the affective domain is a mystery to me. I think that mystery was tied to a fear of not “measuring it properly”, as if there was a single answer. Ironically, it is not unlike how my students must sometimes feel when faced with a complex problem, one in which there is no one single answer, one that cannot be measured to two significant digits.

Thank you for sharing this journey with me. I do not have a single answer because it does not exist. But I better understand the tools that can be used, it has reaffirmed my idea that we need to provide multiple opportunities to our students to explore these ideas, and that while they might not all fully embrace these affective elements, we can provide the activities, opportunities, and experiences, that can help them move in that direction.





The One Hit Wonder – Veronica Brown

For several years now, all Ontario degree programs have been expected to demonstrate their students’ fulfillment of degree-level expectations as part of their program review process. There are different requirements at the undergraduate (UDLEs) and graduate (GDLEs) levels (more info is available in the Program Review area of the CTE Curriculum site). There are six UDLEs, which institutions could choose to use, adapt, or create their own and demonstrate how their own fulfilled the six required. At Waterloo, we adopted the six required UDLEs.

  1. Depth and breadth of knowledge
  2. Knowledge of methodologies
  3. Application of knowledge
  4. Communication skills
  5. Awareness of limits of knowledge
  6. Autonomy and professional capacity

But wanted to capture other elements that uniquely define Waterloo and added two more.

  1. Experiential learning
  2. Diversity

Consider the UDLE, “Awareness of limits of knowledge”, which is defined as

… an understanding of the limits to their own knowledge and ability, and an appreciation of the uncertainty, ambiguity and limits to knowledge and how this might influence analyses and interpretations. (Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents in University of Waterloo, n.d.)

How do you measure “an appreciation of uncertainty, ambiguity and limits of knowledge”? I don’t think you can, not as it is stated here. You need to better define this UDLE as it relates to the experience your students have had and what you might expect them to experience. I find Eisner’s suggestions for expressive activities that will lead to expressive outcomes (see my February 18 blog) more and more appealing. Every student might have a different limit of their own knowledge but we can provide experiences that help them explore what those limits are. We can expose them to examples where a lack of knowledge has led to serious analysis and interpretation issues. We can give them labs or problem sets or case studies, etc., that have no single, right answer to help them gain comfort or an appreciation of uncertainty. The final outcome for each student might not be the same but we can control and define the activities that lead to that outcome.

The challenge, however, is to ensure that these experiences are scaffolded throughout the degree rather than being a one-hit-wonder. How can a student gain an appreciation of uncertainty if every question they are asked to answer has a single answer? How is that comfort or appreciation demonstrated by questions like “Will that be on the test”? How do we gauge student’s limits of their knowledge if we gather no evidence of the reflective process they use to review (or not) their performance in our class?

Next week, as I conclude this blog, I’ll explain why I posted the images throughout these blogs. Have a look at the images and try to guess where they are from, why I posted them, and what they have to do with the affective domain.



University of Waterloo. (n.d.). The degree level expectations. Retrieved from on March 4, 2014.



Media and the affective domain – Veronica Brown

I am still letting last week’s thoughts about expressive activities leading to expressive outcomes rummage around in my head. For now, I’d like to talk about the value of media in instruction and assessment of the affective domain. I’d like you to take a few minutes to look at the following three examples.

Example 1 – Tacoma Narrows Bridge

First, watch this video. It shows the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940.

The image of that bridge oscillating has stayed with me all these years. We watched that film (yes, this was pre-YouTube and I’m almost positive it was a film) in high school physics. For me, it was life-changing. Sounds a bit dramatic but I could never look at a structure the same way again. Even watching it today, a thousand questions run through my mind. How did that happen? Not just the physics of it but the human side, too. Who reviewed all the specs? How did this possibly happen? Can concrete actually move like that? Why did that car get stuck there? Was anyone hurt?  But as I sit at my computer writing this blog, a different question comes to mind.

Why did my physics teacher show us that film?

Example 2 – Rural and Urban Life in England

Now, I would like you to perform two Google searches for images (just click the links below to see my search’s results).

Search 1: 17th Century rural England

Search 2: 19th Century Tenements

How do you feel when you see those two images? Where would you rather live? Why? This idea of sharing images for comparison was presented by Linda Hunter at the Teaching & Learning Innovations (TLI) Conference at the University of Guelph (2012). She used two images to help students immediately see the difference between two time periods. She also played examples of the music of the eras (the abstract of her presentation, Making Connections Across Disciplines: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Interpreting Art, Music and Film for Sociological Theory Applications,  is available on the TLI web site). While we might understand that it was crowded in London in the late 19th century, how quickly we might be able to appreciate just how different it was from rural life 200 years earlier. These images and the music served as an introduction to a lesson but could also become an assessment tool. By asking students to find images to represent that era then comparing the images through a written component, students are able to demonstrate their knowledge of the era while also reaching into the affective domain. Another option would be to have students create something to represent both eras, such as a piece of art, a photo, a video, or some other piece.

Example 3 – Durham City Baths

Finally, I’d like you to look at the images in this article, Adventures of a Serial Trespasser. In particular, check out Photo 20 then compare it to the photos on Rob Birrell’s photography blog – Durham City Baths. I can imagine asking students to review both photos in any number of disciplines. They could prompt a discussion in any number of disciplines, such as planning, recreation and leisure, sociology, fine arts, engineering, economics, or environment and resource studies. To encourage students to look beyond the simplistic view that it is an old building that’s falling apart, why not ask students to defend the city’s decision to abandon this facility in order to build a new recreation complex. Other questions could encourage students to consider diversity, societal impact, socio-economic factors, historical factors, political implications, etc.. A broad question, such as What factors might influence the city’s decision not to repair the existing facility?, could provide opportunities to assess whether students are even aware of these factors. In this case, media can be used to encourage students to take a broader view of the scenario beyond addressing only the knowledge pieces.





Standards, Judgments and the Finnstep – Veronica Brown

Until today, I had never heard of the Finnstep. Now, it is streaming across social media as yet another debate emerges on the subjectivity (and potential corruption) of judging figure skating. It’s rather a timely debate as I work my way through Eisner’s (1985) The Educational Imagination. Having skimmed the first few chapters (which deal with social factors that influence the curriculum, an assessment of the state of education at the time, and some curriculum basics), I have landed at Chapter 6, “Educational Aims Objectives, and Other Aspirations”. He begins with a nice overview of behavioural objectives, how best to define and use them, their merits, and their shortcomings.

I am see great value in behavioural objectives because they provide specificity, measurability and, one hopes, objectivity in assessment. Those behaviours are often tied to standards, which Eisner describes as “crisp, unambigous, and precise” (p. 116). They are best when you  know what the end product will look like. Consider swimming lessons. A swimmer must be able to fulfill all criteria for a given level (e.g., complete a front dive off a 1m board, swim front crawl 50m, swim back crawl 25m, tread water 1 minute, etc.) before moving to the next level. Swimming lessons exemplify a competency-based system based on well-defined standards. A swimmer does not move to the next level until all elements of the current level are completed. It is not a system where you can pass 60% of the elements and move on, you must pass everything or you re-do that level. The outcomes are very specific and the same standard is applied across all swimmers in that level. There is a little bit of room for judgment (e.g., the  quality of the front crawl might vary) but most elements are fairly objective (e.g., you can tread water for one minute or you can’t).

The reality, however, is that not everything is as clear as your success swimming across a pool. Eisner acknowledges there is a place for such behavioural objectives, but exposes the limitations of this approach. He asks,

But what about the rhetorical force of a students’ essay ? What about the aesthetic quality of her painting? What about the cogency of his verbal argumentation? What about her intellectual style, the ways she interprets the evidence in a  science experiment, the way in which historical material is analysed? Are these subject to standards? I think not.

But to say that such qualities cannot be measured by standards is not to say that judgments cannot  be made about them. It is not to say that one can have no criteria through which to appraise them. Judgments can say much about such qualities, not by the mechanical application of prespecified  standards, but by comparison of the qualities in question to a whole range of criteria that teachers or others making the judgment already possess. (p. 116)

This is the part that makes me nervous about assessing the affective domain. Before joining CTE, I was an instructional coordinator, managing very large classes. Leaving all this to “judgment” makes me nervous. Some of our courses had more than 40 markers. How could I be sure their judgment was the same? How could I minimize variance in that judgment? Can you really trust “judgment”? How many judging scandals have we heard about? Just how “fair” is judging? OK, I admit maybe I’m just in a slightly cynical mood having watched the Olympics all day only to hear tonight that people are talking about figure skating judges, again. Before worrying about these larger issues, let’s get back to the question of the day, how do we define outcomes related to the affective domain? Not to say behavioural objectives cannot be used in the affective domain, but I do think they are limited.

Eisner gives two alternatives to behavioural objectives, not to replace behaviour objectives but to complement them. First, he describes problem-solving objectives. One of the limitations of behavioural objectives he identifies is the need to know what the end product will be before students begin. But many of the questions we pose to our students do not have a single, clearly-defined answer. Instead, we ask them to solve a problem, with varying constraints. Even in the introductory programming course I taught, students solved the problems in different ways. My solution to the problem was not the only one and so I could not judge them based on whether they solved the problem my  way, I had to develop an evaluation scheme that provided for that flexibility. An example Eisner shares is that of an architect, who must meet the constraints provided by the client, such as budget, site, and architectural style, but the product cannot be fully assessed until it is completed. He explains that, “what is known is the problem; what constitute appropriate solutions remains to be seen after the work has been done” (p. 119). Those constraints can help to form the criteria against which the solution is evaluated but there is no single solution to the problem.

The second alternative is expressive outcomes. Something I missed as I read the earlier part of the chapter was that he used the terms “behavioural objectives” and “problem-solving objectives” but calls these “expressive outcomes“. I tend to use the two interchangeably but he’s sees a clear distinction. Objectives represent the goals we have for our students, which lead to activities. For example, we might have a goal of evaluating students’ ability to analyse a budget, which leads to an activity in which we present a case study and ask them to analyse someone’s budget. But for expressive outcomes, we begin with the activity and the outcome is

essentially what one ends up with, intended or not, after some form of engagement. Expressive outcomes are the consequences of curriculum activities that are intentionally planned to provide a fertile field for personal purposing and experience. (p. 120)

I have read this chapter several times but it is only now that I realized my error. I didn’t pick up this subtle difference because I use objectives and outcomes with the same meaning. But what is truly different about expressive outcomes is that it is the activity that we plan, not the outcome. As an educator, I cannot foresee all the outcomes that activity might yield but I might have the sense that it has value. We trust that while each student might have a different experience, participation in the activity will have value. To achieve such an outcome, Eisner recommends we “have students engage in activities that are sufficiently rich to allow for a wide, productive range of educationally valuable outcomes” (p. 121).

I like this idea of planning the activity and allowing the outcome to come forth. But I am still uneasy. At the end of the day, I have to give my students a grade. How can I assess students who have a different outcome based on that experience. Is one outcome better than another? What is the criteria against which I judge this experience? How can I be assured that a panel of judges (or the 40 people marking the assignment) will yield the same result? Thankfully, we are not starting from scratch. There are many valuable tools that can help us to evaluate these experiences, experiences that I think are critical to the development of elements in the affective domain.


Eisner, E. (1985). The Educational imagination : On the design and evaluation of school programs (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Lake and rocky islands



Begin with the end in mind – Veronica Brown

After writing the title, I could not for the life of me remember where that was from. So I Googled it. Turns out it’s Habit 2 from Stephen Covey’s (2004) 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Don’t worry, I’m not going to write a blog on Covey. But his premise of having a clear direction to take makes sense with our ultimate goal of measuring the affective domain. It’s why I keep coming back to outcomes. If we want to develop certain characteristics in our students or at least encourage a different viewpoint, it is really important to be able to define those characteristics in measurable ways.

Continuing with Krathwohl, Bloom and Masia (1964) from last week, one approach to writing affective outcomes is to consider the outcome as it passes through the various levels from receiving to internalizing. Consider an outcome related to conflict and power. Depending on the level, the outcome might take one of these forms.

  • Be aware of the different power relationships that exist  (Receiving) (NB – This is different than a cognitive outcome that might expect the student to be able to list various sources of power, such as positional or identity)
  • Demonstrate the use of a specific source of power in a given contextual setting (Valuing)
  • Defend the use use of a specific source of power in a given contextual setting (Organization – unlike Valuing, this higher level expects students to compare or synthesize the value, similar to analysis in the cognitive domain)

These examples demonstrate how the same construct can be defined at different learning levels. In lots of ways, the hierarchy makes sense as each level forms a building block for the next step. But this structured approach to defining (and then evaluating) affective outcomes is not without criticism. A concern that I sometimes hear related to defining outcomes is the loss of opportunity for students to find their own way. If we are too prescriptive, do we squash learning opportunities? There are many examples where these behavioural outcomes (i.e., specific, observable, measurable behaviours) makes sense, particularly in some of the lower levels (i.e, receiving, responding, and valuing). But what happens as you move into areas when these “behaviours” cannot be measured or, at least, cannot be measured in a consistent, valid way. For example, how would you evaluate a how a student values critical thinking or demonstrates behaviours related to ethics, diversity, humility, etc.?

While measuring these higher-level elements of the affective domain can be difficult, there might be associated behaviours that are observable. The design of the outcome, known as an expressive outcome, helps us describe or define the learning that might occur through experience, situations, and reflection. My blog next week will explore the work of Elliot Eisner (1985), who describes expressive outcomes as “the consequences of curriculum activities that are intentionally planned to provide a fertile field for personal purposing and experience” (p. 120). He continues by expressing that

it is perfectly appropriate for teachers and others involved in curriculum development to plan activities that have no explicit or precise objectives. In an age of accountability, this sounds like heresy. Yet surely there must be room in school for activities that promise to be fruitful, even though the teacher might not be able to say what specifically the students will learn or experience. (p. 121)

Food for thought.


Tree growing in rock


Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Nov. 2013 edition). New York: Simon & Schuster.

Eisner, E. (1985). The Educational imagination : On the design and evaluation of school programs (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Krathwol, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: David McKay.


Why Krathwohl helps make the affective a bit less mysterious – Veronica Brown

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.




Image of rocks and small conifer trees



Brooks, R. A., (1990, April). A.I. Memo 1227. The Behavior language; User’s guide. Retreived Feb 4, 2014 from

Krathwol, D. R., Bloom, B. S., & Masia, B. B. (1964). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. New York: David McKay.


The mysteries of the affective domain – Veronica Brown, CTE

Image of rock with pool of water

I spent a lot of time during the past year thinking about assessment at all levels. In the Instructional Skills Workshop, we talk about pre- and post-assessments during a lesson to evaluate where our learners are before and after the lesson. During the Teaching Excellence Academy, we discuss assessment as it relates to the overall design of the course. Julie Timmermans and I presented on assessment for learning and asked participants to explore their own assessment philosophy at a recent workshop. Most of the curriculum work I support looks at assessment at a macro level as programs evaluate themselves.

Despite all this focus, the affective domain still remains a mystery. Back in the 50’s, Bloom and his colleagues created their Taxonomy of Learning and split learning into three domains: cognitive; psychomotor; and affective. Today, in course design and curriculum work, we simplify these to knowledge, skills, and values. The affective domain is meant to capture our values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. It encompasses areas such as ethics, impact on society, diversity, creativity, humility, openness to failure, questioning, appreciating complexity, valuing teamwork, professionalism, exploration, critical thinking, etc. It ranges from simply knowing about a concept (i.e., being aware of a given phenomena) to fully internalizing that particular value.

If the affective relates to changing perceptions, attitudes and behaviours, how can we teach it? Moreover, how are we supposed to assess it? Can we actually change behaviour? Should we? We’re expected to. Just look at accreditation requirements from the past 10 years. It’s no longer enough to teach specific subjects for a certain number of hours. Now, we must demonstrate how specific outcomes have been fulfilled, such as life-long learning, professional ethics, awareness of limits of knowledge, etc. But more importantly, we want to. When working with departments on their curriculum, we often begin with an “Ideal Graduate Brainstorm” during which department members list the knowledge, skills, and values they expect an ideal graduate to embody by the time they graduate from their program. And the list of values is often just as long as the knowledge and skills.

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring ideas surrounding assessment of the affective domain, specifically the use of media in teaching and assessing affective elements, Eisner’s Expressive Outcomes (Eisner, 1985), and what I’m going to call, the one-hit wonder phenomena. Throughout the blog posts, you’ll see one picture in each post. At the end of these posts on affective assessment, I’ll share the theme of the images with you (sorry – no prize if you guess the theme before it’s revealed).

See you next Tuesday,


Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives : The classification of educational goals. New York: D. MacKay.

Eisner, E. (1985). The Educational imagination : On the design and evaluation of school programs (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.