Outcomes-based Education (OBE) nd Understanding by Design (UbD)

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THE years when the paradigm was input-process-output are long gone.

What’s in these days is input-process–output-outcomes.  Where before accreditation commissions were contented with knowing how many students enrol in each of our degree programs and how many graduate, nowadays we are asked, how many pass the licensure examinations.

Years later, we were further asked, how many of the licensed graduates work in careers their schools prepared them for.  Thus, academic research units work gets busy on tracer studies to find out not only if the graduates work in their respective professions but also whether in their respective careers they have found a niche.

Much earlier than when the Commission on Higher Education instructed HEI’s to adopt syllabi to the Outcomes-based Education (OBE) or Outcomes-based Learning (OBL) format, the Department of Education introduced the understanding by design (UbD) as a curriculum framework.  Similar to OBE, UbD known also as “backward design,” begins with the desired outcomes in the delivery of curriculum content. As in OBE, content should be aligned to their degree program to enable students to acquire desired competencies. The literature says that UbD expands on students being able to demonstrate “six facets of understanding.”


The first facet is to explain. That is, a student is able to provide a thorough and justifiable account of phenomena, facts and data.

The second is to interpret — demonstrated by the student’s ability to “tell meaningful stories, offer apt translations, provide a revealing historical or personal dimension to ideas and events; make subjects personal or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies, and models.”

To apply is the third facet. This refers to the student’s effective use and how such can be adapted to what the student knows in variously differing contexts.

Having a perspective is the fourth facet of understanding expected of a student.  This means that the student sees the big picture presented to him/her and critically listens or sees the point of view of what is presented before him/her.

Empathizing is the fifth facet of understanding. Drawing from a prior related experience, the student finds value in what others might take as strange or odd or improbable.

Knowing one’s self is the sixth facet. The student perceives his/her “own personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape and impede his/her own understanding.”  Furthermore, the student is aware of what is, and why it is hard that such is not understandable to him/her. For more of this, you may click my source, which is the Educational Research Service Web site available at: <http://www.ers.org/ERSBulletins/0399f.htm> .

We may say that UbD may be regarded as the active aspect of OBE/OBL. We replace teaching objectives with learning outcomes. While objectives are from the teacher perspective, outcomes are from that of the students. What behavior change do we expect after the lesson?  Thus, in teaching a course in whatever level, collegiate or graduate or postgraduate, we have to go way back in time when we first met action verbs. We use these verbs for behavioral objectives and the advice to us is in the acronym SMART. This means the behavior change we expect of the student is specific, measurable, achievable (or attainable), relevant or realistic and is time-specific.

Closely related to behavioral objectives is Bloom’s taxonomy with its six cognition levels: knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. The lowest level is mere knowledge (memorization) which can be answered by the four W’s –who, what, when and where. Caution! What may appear to be on the understanding level may really be only at mere knowledge level. For instance, when asked what a balanced aquarium is, the student could simply lift a paragraph from a biology textbook, and dish it out to us without batting an eyelash. The student’s seeming learning is simply memorization, not understanding.  Search the web for Grunland and Mager for the conditions within which an expected behaviour change is to be demonstrated. For the affective level, check writings of Simpson or Dave who defined levels for adult learning.  The third domain, psychomotor skills define levels applicable to 21st century “must have” skills such as in digital technology and call centers. Try clicking this hyperlink: <http://slo.sbcc.edu/wp-content/uploads/blooms-psychomotor-domain4.doc,. 2014>.

For a widened view of why schools have to work on their OBE (OBL) syllabi, we can refer to the Commission on Higher Education Handbook on Typology, Outcomes-based Education, and Institutional Sustainability Assessment. This Handbook contains comprehensive information on the new quality assurance mechanism better known as Institutional Sustainability Assessment (ISA). It replaces the “Institutional Quality Assurance Monitoring and Evaluation” (IQuAME) survey instruments. In the ISA, each academic degree program should state the program’s focus which in turn describes what the graduate of that program can know, do and be. This focus should clearly show in the different course syllabi.

The same Handbook explains how to make a syllabus along OBE which CHED describes as a “Learning Plan.”  Our learning plans are based on the learning outcomes of the degree program to which the course we teach belongs. A sample Learning Plan is available in the same Handbook on Table 9 p.40. The Learning Plan or syllabus should have these six elements clearly indicated: Learning Outcomes, Topics, Activities, Resources and Assessment. With this info, we hope you will have an easier time to convert your syllabi to OBE format.

Email < ttumapon@gmail.com>
Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, Ph.D., is one of the Philippines most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies have included not only education and pedagogy but also literature.  She has studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Britain and Japan. She is now the Vice-President for External Relations and Internationalization of the Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro) after serving as its VP for Academic Affairs for six and a half years and its Dean of Graduate studies for 10 years.  She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the Commission on Higher Education.

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