A National Learning Outcome Map

Most of Open Syllabus’s work is built on citation analysis — on the ability to determine what’s taught and what’s taught together.

But syllabi contain a lot of other information about teaching and learning. For the past two decades, the coin of the realm in many areas of higher ed has been the ‘learning outcome,’ conceived as a way to abstract from course contents to an enumerated set of learning goals. Sometimes these are very concrete and specific to a topic:

Sometimes they describe very broad sets of competencies:

Often, individual learning outcomes are parts of larger frameworks that cover the range of required knowledge for a program or degree. In other cases, faculty rely on learning outcome guidance (such as Bloom’s taxonomy) to develop sui generis outcomes for their classes. With a few exceptions, learning outcome frameworks in the US and Canada are defined locally, at the individual program level. This has the advantage of keeping faculty engaged with the frameworks and of keeping outcomes closely tied to student needs. It has the disadvantage, however, of making them useless for comparative or system-level understanding of the curriculum, and for solving problems that require such perspectives. One example of the latter that we’ve been working on is course transfer, in which the lack of common frameworks for understanding class outcomes makes it difficult to establish equivalence between classes.

There are, according to the Lumina Foundation, over 3000 learning outcome frameworks in use in the US. Despite some notable efforts

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What is a Field?

We take a shot at that question over at Scatterplot.

The Co-Assignment Galaxy represents titles based on the extent to which they appear together on syllabi.  Each title is a dot whose size is determined by the title’s total assignment count in the collection.  This simple principle structures a very detailed map of fields, subfields, and their boundaries.  It also combines what we could call content-based and institutional ways of thinking about fields.  By content based, I mean that the layout is derived solely from similarities in the assigned contents of millions of classes, with no a priori knowledge about how those classes divide into sociology or history or physics (we added the labels later).  At the same time, we developed tools that do sort syllabi into the classificatory schemas used by universities, which reflect a more administrative and institutional view of fields. This institutional account shows up in the graph through the use of color.  A title receives a color based on its predominant field of assignment. Field boundaries and border zones are represented in the Galaxy by this interaction between spatial layout and color.

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Architecture

Another hi-res, giant field poster you can buy at the OS Print Store. Bring joy to the actual, aspiring, or just nostalgic architect/urbanist in your life for the holidays. Click to explore.

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The OS Movie Lab

We’ve wanted to tease out movie rankings for a while. Movies are maybe the most passionately invested category of Open Syllabus citation data, surrounded by scholarly and popular debates and a teaching field that cuts across many fields. That makes them a rich target for a Lab.

GO TO THE MOVIE LAB

The OS Movie Lab (like the earlier Link Lab for journalism) is a navigable ranking of movies taught in college classes–in this case the 1201 movies assigned at least 20 times in the OS corpus since 2015. It sits outside the core OS toolset because we don’t have a reliable ‘Movie ID’ in our citation catalogs that would make them a searchable subcategory. Instead, these rankings are built from a hand-curated list derived from the larger OS dataset.

The rankings provide a snapshot of the thinking of hundreds of thousands of faculty about what movies to teach, drawn from millions of syllabi. Many of these decisions clearly belong to a Film Studies-centered discussion about how to teach the history of cinema. But the data comes from all fields and includes choices that reflect a wide array of teaching rationales.

Overall, the rankings present a very classical view of film canons and film studies — still oriented around the post-war American auteurs and the various European waves. Some of this reflects the national biases of the OS collection: around 55% of syllabi are from the US, 15% from the UK and another 10% split between Canada and Australia. The

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Sociology

We’ve been featuring the new Open Syllabus posters, which are available at the OS Print Store. Mapping the top 600 or so titles in sociology produced an interesting spatialization of subfields: a tangle of theoretical perspectives in the north, shading into French theory in the east; sexuality in yellow in the southeast; criminology and deviance in red; and a number of race and class-focused subject areas to the west. You can zoom in and explore yourself in this semi-hi-res version. It’s also interesting to compare against the much larger Co-Assignment Galaxy, which maps all fields together.

These are very large (36″x48″) posters available for $54.99

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Classics

Following up with another highish-res poster image, here’s Classics (available here as a very large 36″x48″ format print)

Very roughly, it divides into Greek literature in the south (in green) and art and religion in the north (in blue). Rome is in red and purple, with art and architecture on the right and family and gender relations on the left.

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The Galaxy of Philosophy

Last month we launched a print store with 11 ‘field posters’ designed by the great Nadieh Bremer. These are very large 36″x48″ high-res posters that map the top 600 or so titles in different fields. The size of a dot indicates how often a title is assigned. Titles cluster and are colored based on how often they are assigned together.

In addition to being gorgeous, our bet is that they are also instructive for students looking to develop an overall grasp of complex fields. Posters cost $54.99 and sales support the work of Open Syllabus.

We’ll feature these over the next month or two. Here’s Philosophy. You can click and zoom — though the resolution is a bit low.

One interesting thing about this layout, from my perspective, is that it doesn’t strongly reproduce my mental map of the field — which was formed through a political theory education that privileged a division between anglo/analytic and continental traditions. You can find those divisions, but the field overall includes a lot of ‘cross canonical’ works that are taught across multiple themes and traditions. It’s also interesting to compare to the place of philosophy in the larger ‘co-assignment galaxy,’ which maps a much wider array of titles across syllabi from all fields.

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