A Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy

A few years ago at an instructional workshop for university professors the following question was posed to the attendees: “What do you know about Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain?” Most of the respondents answered, “Whose taxonomy of what?”

That answer indicates a general lack of knowledge about one of the most basic pedagogical principles in education. Here are some straightforward guidelines on what Bloom’s taxonomy is and how you can use it in your class.

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom (an American educational psychologist),with collaborators Max Englehart, Edward Furst, Walter Hill, and David Krathwohl, published a framework for categorizing educational goals: Taxonomy of Educational Objectives familiarly known as Bloom’s Taxonomy. The framework consisted of six major categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities,” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.

The New Version of Bloom's TaxonomyIn 2001 Bloom’s taxonomy was revised by a group of cognitive psychologists, led by Lorin Anderson (a former student of Bloom). To update the taxonomy to reflect 21st century work the authors used verbs to re-label the six categories and included “action words” to describe the cognitive processes by which learners encounter and work with knowledge. The figures accompanying this article reflect that work. This revised Bloom’s taxonomy proves to be a very useful tool that can be used in all classrooms for several reasons listed below.

Bloom’s Levels of Understanding - ActionsAbout ninety percent of the questions students handle in any class are memory questions. The memory level is perfectly respectable and even essential in many learning situations. There are, however, disadvantages in using pure memory that an instructor should keep in mind. The memory level is a tool that promotes the use of short term memory, and the information may be forgotten if it is not used. Another problem with the memory level is that it does not guarantee understanding. We often assume that just because a student can cough up words, facts, and figures that s/he has “learned” and understands the material. That is simply not the case. By moving up the scale to teaching that involves students understanding, applying, and analyzing information, their learning outcomes will improve.

That is not likely to happen, though, without some thoughtful preparation. In instructional design, questioning strategies can be as simple as the intentional progression of questions leading to higher levels of thinking and involvement. Bloom’s revised taxonomy can provide a framework for constructing those questions.

Some examples of how to incorporate Bloom’s taxonomy into classes include the following:

1. Creating Course Learning Objectives 

In education, learning objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of a course, unit, or class period. Instructors can benefit from using a framework to construct and organize learning objectives for themselves and for students. Having an organized set of learning objectives helps instructors plan and deliver appropriate instruction, design valid assessment tasks and strategies, and ensure that instruction and assessment are aligned with the objectives.

For example, learning objectives following Bloom’s revised taxonomy could be constructed as follows.
Students should be able to:

  1. Exhibit previously learned material by recalling facts, terms and basic concepts.
  2. Demonstrate understanding of facts and ideas by organizing, comparing, interpreting and giving descriptions and stating main ideas.
  3. Solve problems by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules in a different way.
  4. Examine and break information into parts by identifying motives or causes; making inferences, and finding evidence to support generalizations.
  5. Compile information together in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.
  6. Present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria.

2. Asking Questions

In-class questioning can be varied from the most simple to those that require more thought. These questions can be categorized following Bloom’s hierarchy of cognitive skills. Here are some examples of questions asked about the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Do you remember the story line? The little girl Goldilocks visits the home of the papa, mamma, and baby bear where she sleeps in their beds, eats their food, and sits in their chairs.

Remembering: List the items used by Goldilocks while she was in the Bears’ house.
Understanding: Explain why Goldilocks liked Baby Bear’s chair the best?
Applying: Demonstrate what Goldilocks would use if she came to your house.
Analyzing: Compare this story to reality. What events could not really happen?
Evaluating: Propose how the story would be different if it was Goldilocks and the Three Fish.
Creating: Judge whether Goldilocks was good or bad. Defend your opinion.

3: Constructing Test or Exam Questions

This is a combination of the above two points. If the course is arranged around learning objectives, designed with Bloom’s taxonomy in mind, then those objectives can be used to construct test and exam questions. This process will ensure alignment between instruction and assessment and provide validity to your evaluation of students’ knowledge and skills.

Additional Resources

  1. Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.
  2. Bloom, B., Englehart, M. Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green.
  3. Davis, B.G (2009) Tools for Teaching, 2nd edition, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco
  4. Southey, R. (1837) The Three Bears. [Note this original version involves a nameless old woman instead of the little girl Goldilocks.]

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Department of Biology
Director, TA Training Institute and The Summer Teaching Institute, Center for Educational Resources

Richard Shingles is a faculty member in the Biology department and also works with the Center for Educational Resources at Johns Hopkins University. He is the Director of the TA Training Institute and The Summer Teaching Institute on the Homewood campus of JHU. Dr. Shingles also provides pedagogical and technological support to instructional faculty, post-docs and graduate students

Image Source – CC Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy: Andrea Hernandez
Image Source – Bloom’s Levels of Understanding – Actions: Preparing Future Faculty Teaching Academy, Johns Hopkins University
http://www.cer.jhu.edu/graduatestudents/pffta.html

Should you ban laptops (and other devices) from your classroom?

Students using laptops in a lecture hall, view from the back looking at the students' screens.This question was cogently addressed in two recent articles. One by Tal Gross, an Assistant Professor at Columbia University, appeared December 30, 2014 in a Washington Post op-ed piece titled, This Year, I Resolve to Ban Laptops from my Classroom. Gross references the other article, by Clay Shirkey, professor at New York University, Why I Just Asked My Students To Put Their Laptops Away, which appeared September 8, 2014 on Medium. To be clear, neither is teaching in an active learning classroom where laptops might be considered a necessary piece of equipment for the pedagogical process.  Gross describes a lecture format with 85 students. Shirkey, who call himself “an advocate and activist for the free culture movement, [and] a pretty unlikely candidate for internet censor” asked the students in his “fall seminar to refrain from using laptops, tablets, and phones in class.”

Shirkey noticed a change over time as mobile devices grew to be both more technically robust and widely used. Rather than being a useful tool for note taking, these devices have become a distraction. There is also the issue of multitasking. Shirkey states, “We’ve known for some time that multi-tasking is bad for the quality of cognitive work, and is especially punishing of the kind of cognitive work we ask of college students.” Any number of studies have shown that multi-taskers are deluded in their belief that the practice enhances their work performance. The seductive immediacy of social media makes it even more difficult for students using laptops, tablets, and cellphones in the classroom to focus on the material being taught. But what tipped Shirkey over was the paper Laptop Multitasking Hinders Classroom Learning for Both Users and Nearby Peers, with results that “demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.” In justifying his decision to have students put away their laptops (and other devices), he says that he now sees teaching and learning as a collaborative effort with his students. “It’s not me demanding that they focus — its (sic) me and them working together to help defend their precious focus against outside distractions.”

Tal Gross focuses on another aspect of the issue—that of note taking. Typing on laptops can become “an exercise in dictation.” In a study undertaken by Pam A. Mueller (Princeton) and Daniel M. Oppenheimer (UCLA) titled The Pen Is Mightier Than the KeyboardAdvantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking, the results showed “…that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.” [Psychological Science, April 23, 2014, doi: 10.1177/ 0956797614524581.]

Both articles provide food for thought. Anecdotal evidence from our faculty here at Johns Hopkins suggests that students are becoming less adept at taking notes by hand, and even writing by hand at all. Old-fashioned essay-style exams taken in blue books seem to provide a challenge to students who complain of hand cramps at the end of the test. Yet the learning gains may be significant. Maybe it’s time to revive an old, tried and true practice. For students (and instructors) who need some tutoring on how to take notes, here is a resource to check out: The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking, by Mike Rohde [Peachpit Press, November 30, 2012.]

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: CC MCGunner on Imgur at http://imgur.com/N2PYK8S?tags

A Manual for Flipping Your Classroom

The Innovative Instructor has featured several posts on flipping your classroom (see here, here, here, and here) a technique that has students learning content on their own time and using class time to work on problems, discuss materials, or engage in collaborative activities.

Text reading flipping the classroom with the classroom upside downJust in time for the upcoming semester, the Chronicle of Higher Education has published A Guide to the Flipped Classroom, available for free download. The manual, in PDF form, collects seven case studies and articles on the process of flipping the classroom that appeared in the CHE over the past three years. Faculty teaching evolutionary biology, chemistry, mathematics, and business topics weigh in on their experiences.

The experiences of Andrew Martin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, are highlighted in the first article. The article notes that innovations in pedagogy, technology such as clickers, support and advocacy from those who want to improve higher education, and economic realities have helped to popularize this teaching technique.

The second article describes a student’s view of a flipped chemistry course at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. With the flipped classroom, learning takes center stage over teaching.

Stephen Neshyba describes his experience flipping his chemistry class at University of Puget Sound noting that moving to a flipped class may change “which kinds of students excel and which ones struggle.”

Two articles by Robert Talbert, a mathematician and educator at Grand Valley State University, look at the pedagogical reasons and advantages for flipping a class, and why students may push back when a course is flipped. There are suggestions on how to handle this. Talbert also blogs for the CHE at Casting Out Nines, where he has documented in detail his experiences with flipping his classes.

A study shows that physics faculty often try new methods and then abandon it in the face of student challenges. An article addresses what faculty who want to explore new teaching methods can learn from this research.

Finally there is a profile of Norman Nemrows, a professor of business at Brigham Young University. He began recording his lectures about 15 years ago. His experience raises the question “Are professors willing to become sidekicks to slick video productions?”

At the end of the manual there is a short list of resources to help you whether you are a novice or a seasoned flipper.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: © Macie Hall, 2013

Scalar: A Multimedia Authoring Tool to Investigate

For a new initiative here in the JHU Center for Educational Resources I have been researching multimedia authoring tools.  What is a multimedia authoring tool? These are software or online applications that allow for the creation web- or computer-based content using multimedia objects. Media includes, but is not limited to, text, image, audio, video files. This is a broad definition and there are many examples of such applications. I’m especially interested in tools that can be used by students (and faculty) for course projects, especially ones that allow for collaboration. Omeka, which I wrote about here, allows for the creation of online exhibitions and display of collections of content, and can be used collaboratively or individually.

Scalar logoRecently another tool came to my attention: Scalar. Scalar, advertised as “born-digital, open source, media-rich scholarly publishing that’s as easy as blogging,” was developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture. ANVC includes people from an impressive list of universities. Scalar was developed with funding from the Andrew Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Scalar allows a user to take media files from multiple sources, lay them out in a variety of ways, and provide extensive annotation or commentary. It is flexible in that it allows users to “take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats.” Collaborative authoring is supported and readers can comment on the materials presented. Showing is better than telling, so take a look at the Scalar Showcase for some examples of how it has been used.

I found a number of articles on using Scalar in teaching by Googling for “using scalar for student projects.” Two immediately caught my attention.

In the Educause Review published on Monday, October 13, 2014, Practicing Collaborative Digital Pedagogy to Foster Digital Literacies in Humanities Classrooms by Anita Say Chan and Harriett Green, has a case study describing students using both Omeka and Scalar in courses on information ethics and economics of the media. The article also mentions two other tools that might be of interest – Voyant (“a web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts”) and Easel.ly (an application for creating infographics). I liked the article because it addressed some of the challenges in introducing “digital pedagogy practices” to students.

Jentery Sayers, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Victoria, notes “research interests in comparative media studies, digital humanities, Anglo-American modernism, computers and composition, and teaching with technologies.” He has a blog and posted examples of his and other faculty use of Scalar in their teaching.

It’s free and easy to create an account and try out Scalar for yourself. Just click on the Sign Up button found on most of the site’s webpages.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Scalar logo – http://scalar.usc.edu/scalar/