Climbing Bloom’s Taxonomy

In support of online learning, we often write about climbing Bloom’s taxonomy with the help of learning objects created from templates. Bloom’s taxonomy refers to the work of Dr. Benjamin Bloom who wrote his Taxonomy of Educational Objectives in 1956. Since then the taxonomy has been widely used in curriculum and instructional design to classify the types of educational activities that require students to think. Those activities engage students in remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.

Instructors understand that a curriculum should not only engage students in recalling facts, but should involve students in understanding principles and concepts, applying their knowledge in novel situations, analyzing information with their new understanding, making critical choices and creating something. ‘Creating something’ requires knowledge of the facts, understanding of the concepts and, possibly, an analysis of a problem situation and judgment about what solutions might best apply. ‘Creating something’ is a synthesis of all these things and an observable outcome of what the student has learned.

Climbing Bloom’s taxonomy means helping students progress through the recall of information to higher orders of thinking such as understanding, applying, analyzing, etc. As online learning instructors, we look for opportunities to help students ‘climb the ladder’. In pathophysiology, we might create activities that help students recall the various toxins produced by bacteria or the normal ranges expected from blood tests, but that wouldn’t be enough unless students understood how that information should be applied.

In Biology in Bloom: Implementing Bloom’s Taxonomy to Enhance Student Learning in Biology, the authors provide a Blooming Biology Tool, a tool that lists the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. They also provide examples of biology exam questions aligned to the taxonomy. What follows is a snippet of their work. Their table aligns to Bloom’s original levels of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation. Since Bloom wrote his original taxonomy, a revision has been offered that labels the categories with student-centric action verbs rather than nouns, and places the act of creating at the top of the taxonomy. I have added labels in parentheses to show the alignment to the revised taxonomy.

Knowledge (Remembering)
Identify the parts of a eukaryotic cell; identify the correct definition of osmosis. 

Comprehension (Understanding)
Describe nuclear transport to a lay person; provide an example of a cell signaling pathway.

Application (Applying)
Predict what happens to X if Y increases

Analysis (Analyzing)
Interpret data, graphs, or figures; make a diagnosis or analyze a case study; compare/contrast information.

Synthesis (Creating)
Develop a hypothesis, design an experiment, create a model.

Evaluation (Evaluating)
Critique an experimental design or a research proposal; appraise data in support of a hypothesis. Instructors should analyze their courses in much the same way. They should understand what cognitive level each course element requires of the student from its objectives and content to its activities and assessments.

Biology in Bloom makes several critical points about the use of Bloom’s taxonomy in higher education.

Most faculty would agree that academic success should be measured not just in terms of what students can remember, but what students are able to do with their knowledge. It is commonly accepted that memorization and recall are lower-order cognitive skills (LOCS) that require only a minimum level of understanding, whereas the application of knowledge and critical thinking are higher-order cognitive skills (HOCS) that require deep conceptual understanding (Zoller, 1993).”

A second critical point:

“If classroom activities focus on concepts requiring higher order cognitive skills but faculty test only on factual recall, students quickly learn that they do not need to put forth the effort to learn the material at a high level. Similarly, if faculty primarily discuss facts and details in class but test at a higher cognitive level, students often perform poorly on examinations because they have not been given enough practice developing a deep conceptual understanding of the material. Either case of misalignment of teaching and testing leads to considerable frustration on the part of both instructor and student.”

We see effective climbing of Bloom’s Taxonomy in some of the best materials produced by book publishers. Lippincott, for example, accompanies its nursing texts with multimedia lessons that present factual information and then require the students to apply the facts and understanding of concepts to case studies. One strategy that Lippincott uses is to move students through a case study where an emergency room patient presents a history of complaints that are ultimately related to the topic of study.

Instructors don’t always have access to publisher lessons in their field of study or license to use them. So that begs the question: can an instructor use learning objects to create what the publishers have created: presentation of information, followed by a case study in which students apply the information learned. More specifically can instructors use LodeStar Learning’s templates to help students climb Bloom’s taxonomy?

The answer is yes. As this Web Journal gets developed and new articles get published, we’ll explore many examples of lessons in each of the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  So stay tuned to this journal.

References: Crowe, A., Dirks, C., & Wenderoth, M. (2008). Biology in Bloom: Implementing Bloom’s Taxonomy to Enhance Student Learning in Biology. CBE – Life Sciences Education, 7(4), 368-381. Zoller U. Are lecture and learning compatible? Maybe for LOCS: unlikely for HOCS (SYM) J. Chem. Educ. 1993;70:195–197

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