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In this chapter the second and third elements in a systematic approach to course design, namely, aims and objectives respectively, are discussed.
An AIM is a general statement of intent written from the point of view of the course designer. This statement of intent establishes the nucleus around which the course is to be developed. Fundamentally the aims of the course justify its existence and reveal information which is central to the course as a whole.
The aim also outlines some of the broad constraints which govern the implementation of the course. The constraints stipulated are necessarily expressed in broad terms.
Detailed design evolves as the subsequent steps in the systematic approach to course design are implemented. Aims provide the point of departure when objectives are to be formulated, but in themselves contain little precision or direction.
The staff running the Practical English courses at UNISA agreed, in 1984, that the thrust of their endeavours should be to: help students cope with other courses; prepare students to use English in the everyday world; develop the individual’s ability to use both spoken and written English; and to familiarize students with English used well and thereby introduce them to the English heritage. With these prerequisites in mind, the following set of aims is proposed as applicable for the total complement of Practical English students at UNISA or for any other university ESL course:
The aim is to develop/enhance students’ abilities to use English through – o employing English in a variety of communicative contexts o applying skills of comprehension o writing reports, letters, precis, summaries, agendas and memorandums on relevant topics o assessing apt examples of contemporary English prose.
In several respects these aims differ from those enumerated in 1984 at UNISA. The fundamental departure is that the artificial divisions between the two courses are kaleidoscoped together. Whereas the original Practical English course enjoyed historic recognition and content, the Practical English Syllabus B course introduced a remediation component for students who were struggling academically, but with the intent nevertheless of preparing both groups to write the same examination. The basis for the combination of the two courses, in one set of aims, is that there is no
clear division between the two Practical English courses:
the difference is in perceived or actual communicative performance.
A second major shift of intent is the deliberate reiteration of the focus contained in the preamble to these aims, by altering the emphasis from « a study of English usage » (as reflected in the Calendar) to that of « using English in a variety of … contexts ». This differentiation embraces the debate surrounding the distinctions between « langue » and « parole » or between performance and competence. The intention is to focus on the fact that English is meant to serve communication. Grammatical patterns are certainly important, but a theoretical or analytical knowledge of them is in large measure perceived as inconsequential by comparison with the ability both to understand and to make oneself understood.
A course which emphasizes usage builds on the selection and sequencing of the parts of language. When the course aims to develop use, appropriateness rather than formal correctness is the key, while the norms of usage are achieved through gradual conformation as a result of meaningful practice. It must be stressed that even though a shift in emphasis is advocated, the two concepts are interactive: the aim is to give each its proper weighting. English usage may complement or be complemented by English in use.
The third adjustment of intention is to acknowledge the relevance of the topics selected. The outcome of this change is to hone course materials down from those which are perceived to be applicable to a wide range of learners, to a programme which rather seeks to address the requirements of the individual learner through communicative tasks that are pertinent to the learner’s needs and interests. This is achieved by taking into account such issues as the proportion, for example, of practising or aspirant teachers, or those interested in the legal professions, and their
common and disparate needs.
Lastly, by qualifying what is meant by examples of contemporary English prose and stressing their applicability, the relevance of course materials to the individual learner is stressed yet again. The word « apt » highlights the importance of selecting meaningful texts for study. This final point has already gained substantial support in several ESL university courses. However, the debate which underlies this point is perpetuated in departments of English. The reason is that the tradi~ional view has for some time held sway and only recently has been brought into question: no longer is an obviously literature-based course perceived as the panacea for linguistic ineptitude and the core for ESL courses. Indeed, there has been a necessary break with this teacher-orientated concern.
Recognition must be given to the need to develop a conducive learning environment. Firstly, there are a number of relatively large-scale structural factors, such as the way in which the University structures the academic year. Secondly, there is the interest shown by those in control of the learning environment: the staff who run the course. Where the staff show interest and reward endeavour, the climate for learning is enhanced. Thirdly, the consequences anticipated by the learner will have an impact on both the individual’s willingness to learn and what is learned. Even if the environment is encouraging, effective learning will occur only if learning needs have been properly identified. When these needs are then accommodated within the framework of an effective learning environment – which is designed on the basis of stimulus, response, feedback, reward and
reinforcement – substantial strides become possible. The focus of the course aims is, however, not on meeting the needs of the recipient or learner so much as on stipulating the interests of the provider or lecturer.
The specification of aims – and subsequently related objectives – does not automatically ensure greater progress or educational success, nor do stated policies and those policies that are ultimately realized necessarily coincide.
A statement of aims does, however, indicate to staff and student alike where priorities ought to lie. It also encourages action in a stated direction. Any set of aims must be realistically based in terms of required human and material resources, and in the case of UNISA take cognizance of the complications associated with distance education, if these intentions are to prove meaningful. When statements of aims and objectives are defined, clarity regarding existing problem areas and the rationalization of proposed courses of action become feasible.
The allied step to the determination of aims in a systematic approach to course design is the definition of objectives.
As Ramsden (1988), Entwistle (1990) and Edwards (1991) all stress, in developing a course there is probably no single task which is more important than the writing of the learning objectives. The objectives shape the course content and approach, while at the same time directing the instruction or creation of learning opportunities. The irony is that in departments of English at universities there are few courses which are designed upon the basis of the educational objectives which it is hoped will be attained. Furthermore, there is often strong resistance to attempts to phrase the educational objectives of a course. The prevalence of this resistance necessitates a justification for the emphasis which this requirement is to receive in this study.
A learning objective is a statement which encapsulates the proposed outcome of a particular learning opportunity. The outcome represents a change in the perceptions, thoughts, actions or feelings of the learner. The success of any learning opportunity is determined by the extent to which the desired and desirable change has been achieved.
In my experience, the strongest critics of the use of defined learning objectives, when challenged, are seldom able to delineate the intended goals of the teaching which they practise, except in the broadest terms. There is no question about their dedication or concern, but what is missing is, first, an accurate assessment of the level at which the students commence their courses. The effect is that what is offered often does not meet the needs or expectations of the students. Furthermore, there is seldom a sense of progress in performance: often those who start the year by receiving high grades for work done, conclude the year in the same vein, while weak performance at the beginning seldom alters or improves. The flaw, I believe, lies in the subjective approach adopted and the lack of definition of what it is hoped the students will achieve.
In contrast to an aim, which is written from the point of view of the lecturer or teacher, a learning objective is more specific and precise. It is written in terms of what the learner will learn and be able to do as a result of the learning opportunity provided: it is defined in measurable terms.
Davies (1971: pp 73-74) specifies four reason~ for formulating objectives along these lines. First, learning objectives limit the task, diminishing if not removing all possibilities of ambiguity and eliminating difficulties of interpretation. Second, objectives are written in such a way as to make measurement possible and, resultantly, the quality of the learning experience, as well as its effectiveness, can be assessed. Third, learning objectives which are shared with students enable both lecturers and students to select the optimal learning strategies. Fourth, the learning objectives establish a succinct summary of the course which may act as a framework for the organization of learning in advance. Ausubel (1968) stresses that « advance organizers » are extremely important. Learning objectives are able to serve this purpose.
Earlier in this chapter, reference was made to the changes in perceptions, thoughts, actions or feelings which should result from a learning opportunity. These three types of learning are often defined in terms of the three domains: Cognitive, Psycho-motor and Affective areas of learning.
Learning objectives can be classified under these headings. A cognitive objective is directed at the acquisition of knowledge or information. As such it is the central concern of most university-level educational activity. Psycho-motor objectives are aimed at developing motor skills through activities which centre on neuro-muscular co-ordination or the manipulation of material or objects. Such objectives are largely not the concern of language departments at universities, except perhaps in relation to the development of the correct eye movements for different types of reading.
By contrast, as Davies (1971) points out, affective objectives are of central concern in many university-level activities; they emphasize the development of attitudes and values, feelings and emotions.
Within each of these domains of learning, a further classification is possible thanks to the work of Bloom and his colleagues at the University of Chicago. Initially Bloom (1956) defined a taxonomy of cognitive learning objectives:
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4 & 5
Level 6
Analysis and Synthesis
The objectives in each of these levels or classes of the cognitive domain tend to build upon the objectives implicit in the preceding levels. A similar taxonomy for affective learning objectives was subsequently defined by Krathwold, Bloom and Masia (1964).
The similarities between these two taxonomies are readily evident:
Level 1 Receiving
Level 2 Responding
Level 3 Valuing
Level 4 Conceptualization
Level 5 Organization and Characterization
A detailed illustration of the relationships between these
two classifications of learning objectives was presented in tabulated form when Krathwold et al (1964) published their work on the affective domain.
The value of this taxonomy of objectives is that it facilitates the development of course materials along accurate and suitable lines. It makes possible the selection of the relevant range of objectives and test questions, as well as the interrelation of such objectives and questions in these two domains. In the context of any course, such a taxonomy helps to ensure that each element of the course acquires the correct degree of weighting or prominence.
Finally, and most significantly, the taxonomy assists in determining that higher-order objectives are realized, thus ensuring that educational advancement is in fact achieved, as it is only at these levels that the value of what is accomplished is Unquestioned.
The lower level cognitive objectives in particular tend to be unattractive and ordinary in character. Although most courses are intended to evoke positive attitudes towards the subject matter, the higher order objectives are often unattainable because the course commences in so mundane a
manner that students never transcend the lower level objectives or requirements because of an ensuing disinterest.
Each class of objectives builds on the preceding classes. When a conscious effort is made to teach a student to evaluate material which falls into the cognitive domain, the standard of learning attained is of a higher order, since. evaluation involves the absorption and application of each of the other classes of objectives. A university course would ordinarily aim at the levels of synthesis and evaluation in this domain.


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