Implementing Outcomes Based Teaching and Learning

Grace Ho

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As CityU embarks on a proactive plan to implement Outcomes Based Teaching and Learning (OBTL) in all academic programmes, a series of workshops were scheduled for faculties and schools from early to mid-September to explain how the University plans to strengthen the curriculum through the introduction of OBTL.


In addition, a website, created by the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Education (DUE), has been set up to disseminate information, news, resources, schedules for seminars and workshops, and a glossary of key concepts.


The successful implementation of OBTL will make CityU a leading university in Hong Kong for teaching quality.


A plenary session organized by the Quality Assurance Committee (QAC) and DUE was held on 2 September. Over 160 academic and administrative staff heard Professor Richard Ho, Dean of Undergraduate Education, outline the OBTL project and Professor John Biggs, the Principal Consultant on the project, introduce the concepts behind OBTL and its implementation.


Ms Mary Tsang and Mr David Leung, Deputy Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General (Quality) of the University Grants Committee respectively, were also in attendance.


At the plenary, Professor Ho emphasized that OBTL was a key project for the University, one that would build upon positive feedback from the last two Teaching and Learning Quality Process Reviews in which the UGC commended CityU for its exemplary QA structure.


One of the first steps will be to review the desired learning outcomes of undergraduate education and consider how teaching and learning activities can be better “aligned” with these outcomes.


During his talk, Professor Ho referred to “The Big Picture”, a diagrammatic depiction of an integrated four-year curriculum, developed from the current three-year curriculum, explaining how an outcomes-based learning culture aimed at producing ideal graduates and fulfilling the University’s designated role would work.


In Professor Biggs’ talk, OBTL was defined as a framework in which teachers identified what they wanted their students to be able to do after finishing a prescribed course of study, and then developed teaching and learning activities in such a way that they were likely to achieve those outcomes.


The next stage was to design and carry out appropriate assessment tasks that looked at how well these outcomes had been achieved, he explained.


Professor Biggs, the author of the concept of Constructive Alignment (CA), talked about the strategic and integrated approach to curriculum design which CityU will use as its model for implementing OBTL and how to align teaching, learning and assessment activities to achieve the intended learning outcomes.


“We are delighted to be part of this most important initiative at CityU, and to be working with Professor Ho and his team,” Professor Biggs said. “It is most heartening to see that CityU has adopted the outcomes-based teaching and learning approach in strengthening its role as a higher education institution in Hong Kong,” he said, adding that this approach was supported by the UGC.


At the end of the plenary, Professor Joseph Cheng, Chairman of the QAC, said OBTL would enable staff to be effective teachers and students to be effective learners, and he acknowledged the challenges ahead.


“We are certainly aware of the problems involved, so we very much hope that it will be a bottom up process involving individual initiatives,” he said.


Many participants at the plenary said OBTL was a useful way to help the University produce ideal graduates. Some said departments needed more information, training and resources to move forward towards OBTL.


Initial thoughts on OBTL started in 2003 when the TLQPR Visiting Panel suggested follow-up action to improve the alignment of teaching/learning with student assessments. Concrete plans for introducing OBTL at CityU then emerged in December 2004 when a Working Group on CA was set up to conduct preliminary reviews at the programme level.


The Group subsequently submitted a report to the QAC, recommending a framework to implement OBTL in all taught programmes. QAC then proposed a corporate approach which was approved by Senate in May this year.


Since then, an action plan and key tasks have been formulated, and over the next twelve months starting this month the University will begin to familiarize faculty members with concepts and objectives; help them develop intended learning outcomes and appropriate learning assessments for programmes and courses; and plan the implementation of OBTL in all programmes.


By the end of 2006, all programme aims and objectives and course objectives should have been reconstructed to reflect desirable, measurable learning outcomes and constructive alignment in the programme curriculum.


Professor Biggs said for CA to work, the University must remove any obstacles to successful implementation; set in place policies and procedures encouraging CA; and provide staff with the necessary support and resources.


“Implementation takes a lot of teacher time and commitment. Teachers must be given incentives,” he said. Professor Biggs will visit the University frequently to review and advise on progress.


Dr Catherine Tang, an expert in staff development and the role of CA and assessment in enhancing teaching and learning, has also been invited to join the OBTL project as Consultant.


Working in close collaboration with Professor Biggs, Dr Tang will provide overall teaching development support by conducting workshops on the application of constructive alignment in developing OBTL. She will also be coordinating and supporting subject specific consultants who are involved within each faculty and school.


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