Sunday, December 04, 2005

To OBE or not to OBE?

After just grading some fourth year projects here at UWC (that’s in Cape Town South Africa) - I realized that as lecturers we really are missing the proverbial boat. We still think like Noah (who thought it took only two to tango and speciate) and put as much content such as names and classifications of the plant and animal kingdoms (yea I know there are as many kingdom classifications as there are biologists) to make students suffer the way we did as undergrads with memorization fatigue. This give the students the opportunity to shed all this superfluous information during the summer vac or for the unfortunate few who were poor guessers to have to re-learn during the vac and do the special exams in the New Year. I discussed the issue of undergrad education with my post-grads and they told me that it goes something like this - only about 10% of undergrad content is considered useful and of that only 10% is retained a year or two on.

Outcomes Based Education

No wonder educationist's are promoting Outcomes Based Education. By adopting OBE we have at least changed the end point by defining what we hope the students might be able to do at the end of their academic programmes. This is better than at present where a student's failure to advance to the next year because they were unable to guess half as much as half the knowledge that the examiner expected them to know -I sound like Bilbo Baggins at his farewell speech to the folk of Hobbiton.

But how do you assess OUTCOMES based education?

In the strict sense you get the student to keep doing the work until you are really sure that they are competent and then you go to the next task, otherwise there is no real marking/assessment. So at the end of the year the students and/or parents and their bursary providers will get reports confirming that they achieved competencies for X, Y and Z subject areas. Possibly we can wrapped it up in a neat computer-generated certificate complete with scanned signatures of everyone important (or thinks they are important) on Campus and then politely send it attached to an automated email just before XMAS as a gesture of individual attention. I wonder how our government subsidies and University administrators would respond to a system like this? Each students will have to repeat each task several times over until they get the absolute competencies OBE requires. Roll on eLearning and Learning Management Systems- silicon chips are way better at repetitive tasks than assemblages of carbon-based molecules!


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