Sunday, December 04, 2005

Definitions of OBE and Skills


Outcome-based education is a method of teaching that focuses on what students can actually do after they are taught. All curriculum and teaching decisions are made based on how best to facilitate the desired outcome. There must be a "clarity of focus" so that planners and teachers have a clear focus on what they want the students to be able to do successfully. Further, the curriculum must be constructed "design down" with the desired exit outcomes being planned first and all instructional plans built from there (Spady and Marshall, 1994).


“Outcomes are clear, observable demonstrations of student learning that occur after a significant set of learning experiences. They are not values, attitudes, feelings, beliefs, activities, assignments, goals, scores, grades, or averages, as many people believe” (William Spady and Kit Marshall 1994)

“Outcomes as future oriented, publicly defined, learner-centered, focused on life skills and contexts” (Boschee and Baron, 1994).

Some problems with OBE

OBE needs facilitated and careful planning toward achievement of the outcome, and this is characterized by its appropriateness to each learner's development level.

Towers (1996) described the FOUR requirements for an Outcome-based Education

1) What the student is expected to learn must be clearly identified.
2) The student's progress is based on demonstrated achievement.
3) Multiple instructional and assessment strategies need to be developed.
4) Adequate time and assistance need to be provided so that each student can reach the maximum potential.

By it's very nature, outcome-based education eliminates traditional assessment tools such as tests or grades. A student can either demonstrate the desired outcome or not demonstrate it. The problem is in translating this assessment into a form that the community and state legislators can understand (Furman, 1994). Webster (1994) required her students to master material before they could move on to higher material. This often meant the students were forced to repeat tests or quizzes several times until a required exit point is achieved. Students were consequently forced to work hard and 50% cannot be deemed as a sign of having mastered “competency”. Applying Webster’s methods in our NISL course our quizzes have an 80% mastery and in the words of Webster (1994) this should “reduced the failure rate and at the same time increased student learning and retention”


Boschee, F. and Baron, M.A. (1994). OBE: Some answers for the uninitiated. Clearing House, 67 (March/April), 193-96.

Spady, W. and Marshall, K. (1994). Light, not heat, on OBE. The American School Board Journal, 181 (November), 29-33.

Towers, J.M. (1996). An elementary school principal's experience with implementing an outcome- based curriculum. Catalyst for Change, 25 (Winter), 19-23.

Webster, M. (1994). Try, try again. Vocational Education Journal, 60 (November/December), 30- 32.


Skills are usually acquired or learned, as opposed to abilities, which are often thought of as innate.


The American Heritage Dictionary

“Proficiency, facility, or dexterity that is acquired or developed through training or experience”

Consequently it is a developed talent or ability: hence “writing skills”

Derivation: From the Middle English word skill, which in turn is derived from Old Norse meaning “discernment”


Using a GIS program is a “Technique” but to analyse a spatial problem using a GIS might be considered a “skill” since there are elements of “proficiency, facility or dexterity”. Computer programming and undertaking Research can (and usually are…) considered to be a skill, whereas preparing a solution of a known concentration is a technique. Routine work and most lab-based tasks are considered to be techniques.


Need to define "Biodiversity” and “Conservation Biology”

The BCB “homepage” introduces Biodiversity as “a good indicator of the health of our environment. With a loss of species, environmental problems appear, e.g. the use of insecticides also kills pollinators of our fruit crops, e.g. bees which are species, which if they become locally extinct can cause a cascade of other extinctions – these are "Keystone Species”. Similarly it introduces Conservation Biology as “providing solutions to many of the world’s environmental problems, and correcting past mistakes through applying restoration projects”.

Steps for Designing Curriculum

Collate all module names

Identify links between modules

Define a core “area” for each module to operate in

Define your OUTCOME for each course (link outcomes to student/society needs)

Develop an assessment flow for each module (the demonstrated outcome)

List the “Skills” for your module and compare skills to identify those that reinforce each other the most. (Remember a collection techniques used with discernment could becomes a “skill”)

Finally identify “topics” required to undertake the assignments.

Dr Richard Knight
Co-ordinator: National Information Society Learnerships - Ecological Informatics
Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology
University of the Western Cape
Private Bag X17
Bellville 7535

Phone 27 + 21 + 959 3940
Fax 27 + 21 + 959 1237




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