Listed below are selected learning outcomes in the areas of critical thinking and writing that Western Washington University is actively integrating into its curriculum. Each learning outcome is listed with its definition, along with a description of how Carolyn Nielsen's teaching strategies meet each of these student learning outcome goals.


Critical Thinking

Learning Outcomes Definition Course Outcomes
Identification Accurately identifies and interprets evidence. Students learn to seek out and identify the evidence that is missing and to question the evidence that is present. Is it generalizable? If not, is generalizability indirectly/falsely implied?
Alternative Consideration Considers major alternative points of view. Students learn to be constantly aware of their positioning and question the role it plays in what they consider, discard, or don't see. They learn to seek out perspectives other than their own, which includes defining expertise in two ways: those who study the issue and those who live the issue. The latter is often absent from news coverage in which people are talked about rather than to. Students learn the importance of allowing people with relevant lived experience to speak their own truths. They learn to question rather than unconsciously repeat the binary divides endemic in U.S. cultural and media systems. They learn to probe the gray areas in an effort to shed light rather than intensify heat.
Accurate Conclusions Draws warranted, judicious, non-fallacious conclusions. While journalism students who are writing news articles are taught not to draw conclusions, the sources in their articles do that for them. Students learn that by incorporating a wide variety of views, they can accurately portray a spectrum of truths and avoid participating in the type of sense-making communication that privileges one perspective to the exclusion of others. In our theory courses, students' own conclusions fall along a spectrum of beliefs. For example, in mass media ethics, conclusions require justification and explanation, but don't amount to "right" or "wrong." In this way, the approach to critical thinking is consistent across the curriculum.
Justification Justifies key results and procedures, and explains assumptions and reasons. Journalism has the power to shape and change society. It's essential that students understand the responsibility that comes with that power. Central to that responsibility are the goals of telling the truth from many perspectives, showing the full picture of a community by speaking to rather than solely about people, and avoiding hegemonic narratives, stereotypes, and oversimplifications. Students who bring this experience and mindset into the newsroom will be responsible journalists.
Source: Adapted from the California Academic Press's Holistic Critical Thinking Scoring Rubric (HCTSR).


Learning Outcomes Definition Course Outcomes
Rhetorical Knowledge Focuses on a clear rhetorical purpose and responds appropriately to the needs of varied audiences and situations. Our students communicate others' varied perspectives, which is a heavy responsibility because often times, the perspectives are at odds with one another. The students learn to accurately and fairly characterize each perspective and to allow each side to respond to accusations. In doing so, they must constantly question themselves and their own biases and "blindspots." They are keenly aware that they are writing for a broad, diverse audience and their goal is to accurately reflect that audience.
Critical Analysis Develops, examines, situates, and communicates a reasoned perspective clearly to others. Students are taught to be the medium through which their sources tell their stories. This doesn't, however, mean simply transcribing what is said. It means questioning, clarifying, and verifying statements, understanding fact versus opinion and understanding that facts can be selectively used to shape rhetoric. I often tell my students what one of my favorite journalism professors, a longtime former journalist, used to say: If your mama says she loves you, check it out.
Composing Processes Understands writing as a recursive process that involves drafting, re-thinking, editing, reconceptualizing. The reporting course, in which students are assigned to cover a specific neighborhood for the term and identify its key issues, concerns, and points of pride, focuses on recursivity in many ways. Students peer-edit one another's work, rewrite their articles, and then publish their work on neighborhood news sites, which allows sources to weigh on how they were characterized in the coverage.
Convention Knowledge Uses appropriate conventions for documentation and for surface features such as syntax, grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. In terms of documentation, students discern from primary, secondary, and human sources of information. With the plethora of information available online, it's more important than ever for them to be able to evaluate whether information is credible. Of course proper grammar, strong sentence structure, spelling, etc. are all essential. Beyond that is the importance of the use of accurate and person-centered language in news stories. This is constantly evolving and students must often weigh whether definitive reference sources, such as the Associated Press Stylebook, are the most accurate. For example, while the AP Stylebook says to use the term "American Indian," a source may self-identify as "Native American" or "indigenous." The student must then make an informed word choice and be able to justify straying from the normally strict adherence to AP Style. As well, students are taught they can and should question this source. A broad understanding of diversity is essential. For example, it is more accurate to say "wheelchair accessible parking spot" rather than "handicapped parking spot." Common phrases such as "women and minorities" are not accurate because they exclude women who are people of color. Whether to use "illegal aliens" or "undocumented immigrants" or yet another term is an important word choice and the subject of much debate in newsrooms today. My students learn to think through those questions and shape a justification for the terms they choose. Exposure to these concepts empowers students to critically question language use in important ways.
Source: Adapted from Western Washington University's Learning Outcomes for Writing II.