The substance behind Outcomes Based Education: Lessons from on the ground

Susan D'Aloia
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In Asia’s current era of education reform, institutions increasingly pilot Outcomes-Based or Competency-Based Education models.  The LMS plays a critical role in this pivot as today’s digital systems have the capacity to provide tools to activate pedagogy; organize assessment and feedback at multiple levels, and calibrate results that include measured predictions. Behind such sophisticated systems remain the instructors and administrators who serve on the pedagogical frontlines.

Providing workshops as part of process of implementing Outcomes Based Education and Competency Based Education has given me to the opportunity to more deeply consider the perspective of a myriad of stakeholders throughout Asia. Such lessons that surface from sessions can create more authentic communication with practitioners, and impact larger research projects that support teaching and learning in relevant ways. Today’s reflection shares insights from the field of a recent engagement at Lyceum of the Philippines University.

On the morning of the OBE workshop I give, Mrs. Rose Alday, the Dean at the Center of Computer Studies at the Batangas campus of Lyceum of the Philippines University, begins the session with the institution’s ambitious five- year agenda. This academic roll out includes benchmarks for comprehensive blended learning across every college in the university over the next two years and select fully online course building within five. Implicitly, such execution depends on the will and follow through of the academic deans and instructors sitting in the room. Mrs. Rose concludes her short overview with the following statement of purpose visible on a power point slide:

“We are not the first university to use an LMS. If we cannot take the lead, then don’t let us be left behind.”

Mrs. Rose’s assertion encapsulates the ambivalence and excitement around adopting an LMS, and then spins the tension into a plea towards the positive in the interest of the evolution and development of the institution. As the morning’s workshop leader, I assume a few intertwining realities. The academic leadership and instructors rescheduled their workload to make time for this training, so therefore must attend to their other responsibilities at another time. And perhaps more immediately pertinent, undoubtedly this group has questions and concerns, and yet everyone in the room wants to create practical value from this process.

Conceived in the United States in the early nineties, OBE and CBE emerged out of the notion that actual learning should not be the variable to the constant of time. Early proponents of this framework desired to break from “tradition” by inciting curriculum overhaul with programmatic goals that better prepare and train students. Recognizing that every learner does not thrive with the same linear process towards competency challenges the bell curve, or at least the notion that a bell curve should function as a static conclusion relating to the bounds of mastery. For such a framework to lead to meaningful decision making and practices, as opposed to merely bureaucratic framing, a negotiation between outcomes, competencies and learning objectives needs to be resolved.

I liken the juxtaposition of outcomes, competencies and learning objectives to that of a Russian doll. Let’s say the largest doll is the overarching competency. The medium doll that fits most snuggly is the outcome, while a smaller doll functions as the direct learning objective; and even a smaller one, that can’t be opened, could potentially serve as a remediated learning objective to break through misunderstanding. The dolls can be hidden within one another; unpacked, lined up and ranked by size; or taken apart by halves into a disordered pattern of sorts. This metaphor alone does not automatically provide clarity of how each concept informs one another, let alone translates into conducive practices. It only serves to communicate dimensions of the puzzle many practitioners and learners experience as they engage in the learning experience.

In the interest of further demystification, the workshop includes an examination of a four-minute scene from the Karate Kid (the original) to further illustrate the interplay in action.  The scene depicts the teenager, Danny, as the bullied student of Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese-American karate teacher. Exasperated by the regimen of assigned chores that include waxing his car, painting his house and sanding the floors, the exhausted student confronts his teacher and accuses him of reneging on his agreement to teach him to fight. What Danny can’t fathom is that Mr. Miyagi is not merely an expert at karate, but one with a consciousness of his student’s incompetence, and therefore privy to the learning objectives his student must master so to grow his competence.

At the start of the scene, Danny can only fixate on the outcome of him becoming a fierce competitor and remains directionless on his own course of mastery. Mr. Miyagi subsequently intervenes, calls for him to fight by yelling out the physical moves, “wax on, wax off,” and “sand the floor.”  He coaches him to apply the building blocks from the learning objectives and corrects his application.  By the end of the meta-cognitive experience, Danny has shifted from being unconscious to conscious of his incompetence.  Only now does he fully realize what his body and mind will need to do so to achieve mastery.

Using such a touchstone in the workshop to distinguish the interplay largely garners a positive response from participants as demonstrated in poll responses and informal feedback.  However, the momentary euphoria that unifying film experiences can provide proves to be ephemeral.  When asked to participate in a sorting process of the connectedness of outcomes, competencies and learning objectives in a subsequent activity, Mrs. Rose becomes vocal:

We need to tell you that we use different terminology that we adopted from the United States. We frame these differently.

Mrs. Rose quickly interprets the working negotiation of competency as a student outcome, an outcome as a performance indicator and a learning objective as a CILO, or course instruction learning objective. True to duty, she writes with a black marker on the white board.  This decoding adds another step to the sorting process as participants make sense of how each tenet informs one another.

Instructor PJ Minoza, a philosopher and educator participating, has spent the last five years teaching subjects related to philosophy, sociology, cultural & religious studies, and international relations. During the sorting exercise, he chooses empathy as a competency of focus. He selects the outcome, or performance indicator: Develop a capacity of self-awareness and social insights into South East Asia and the learning objective, or CILO: Develop an understanding of group dynamics by playing a specific role in this week’s group project and then report back on the experience.

“I emphasize empathy in all my classes, as we need to understand the cultural dimension of human relations. Students needs to comprehend the complexities of doing business. In most Eastern countries… Well you know how westerners say, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business. But in the Philippine’s culture, doing business involves third party intermediaries where trust is everything.”

Mr. Minoza mentions how his method of teaching is more in line with the concept of andragogy, or adult education.  He shares how he teaches Beauvoir’s, “The Second Sex”, by introducing the ideas through videos before encouraging them to relate it to social realities in the local context before applying it to other parts of the world.

“Only after doing this will I give them the primary text and assign them independent reading. I see this as providing a variety of ways for students to internalize theory and then we can have even more avenues for feedback.”

Along with his colleagues, Mr. Minoza continues to hone in on a specific learning objective, frame it with learning events as he selects Moodlerooms tools he anticipates uploading under the guidance of my colleague Nick Benwell, who will guide the group during their hands-on session in the afternoon.

Summary of Reflective Lessons from this workshop:

#1: Not so unlike Mr. Miyagi, from the Karate Kid, many faculty still identify as being a mentor. However, with the responsibility of serving up to two or three hundred students per term, they cannot possibly provide personalized feedback for every student individually. That’s the gift of creating adaptive learning processes within the LMS, in this case, Moodle Rooms. Such technology can configure and differentiate activities and assessments that provide “feed forward” in response to the actual student performance.  Faculty and staff need time to situate these learning processes. The written feedback they send anonymously confirms this.

#2: As faculty and staff “adopt” the language of an LMS, they might have to reinterpret a framework they have already had to learn from yet another outside entity.  Often such frameworks and terminology originate out of the US, Europe or Australia. Some impatience or even mistrust would be normal, and even a healthy part of the process of change, though the participants from today’s session respond with nothing but grace.

#3: Witnessing the vibrancy of the “voice” of faculty as they assimilate to new digital processes renders inspiration, as in the case of Mr. Minoza. When a faculty member shares an aspect of their method and philosophy with confidence, they are more apt to experience how the features of Moodlerooms that support OBE/CBE programming do so not at the expense of their unique curation of learning, but in full support of it.


Photos by AFP Danial Hakim

About the Author

Susan D'Aloia
Susan is Client Success Advocate in Asia at Blackboard Inc. She works in partnership with key clients to maximize their eLearning strategies at departmental and programmatic levels.
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