Outcome Based Education and Knowledge LO30324

From: AM de Lange (amdelange@postino.up.ac.za)
Date: 07/01/03

Dear Organlearners,

This contribution has been triggered by hundreds of teachers in our
province who had to attend last week a workshop on Outcome Based Education
(OBE). They became very annoyed because the consultants who gave the
workshop, were not prepared and seemed not to know enough of the subject.
How often does this occur elsewhere in the world?

Many a hot debate has ensued locally over OBE. Some claim it to be a
miraculous cure while others claim it to be a mind destroying plague. Some
claim it to be scientifically proved while others claim it as yet another
Americanism to be followed blindly. Some claim that it produces masters
while other claim that it produces a faceless mass or nazism. OBE has
become like a wild fire.

OBE is sometimes also called Competency Based Education or Mastery
Learning. The main idea in OBE is to cut the learning material (learning
course) in small chunks manageable for learning. Each chunk is then
formulated in a so-called Learning Objective (LOb). A LOb summarises its
content in terms of a skill as well as the criteria which its mastering
has to satisfy. The shift with LObs is from the inputs to the outputs of
learning. Often these LObs are called simply outcomes and sometimes even
attainment targets.

With the advent of the New South Africa also came vast changes in most
walks of life. Education has been one of them. For example, schools and
universities were opened up to pupils and students of all races and
creeds. Teaching strategies also changed with the mandatory incorporation
of OBE. Gradually the universities became flooded with matriculants who
got A's for their school subjects, but failed the same subjects in their
university courses. Why? The main reason identified is that tens of
thousands of teachers had to switch over to OBE without having had
adequate training in using it. It is said that pupils suffered because of
the incompetency of their teachers.

But I think that the problem goes much deeper than merely the inadequate
training of teachers. In the old South Africa, as far as schools for white
pupils went, teachers had to teach by lesson schemes. A lesson scheme is
an advance planning in writing of what has to happen during a lesson, how
it has to happen and why -- the three loops of triple loop learning.
Regional subject inspectors were responsible to see that teachers compose
their lesson schemes in that subject and update them yearly.

In the second year of my four years of teaching (1972-75) i told a
regional inspector that he is actually responsible for supplying a
tentative set of lesson schemes for his subject so that every new teacher
would not have to re-invent the wheel. I think i got a negative X mark
against me in the book kept on us teachers ;-) I took these lesson schemes
seriously, not only in their content, but especially also how they fit
into each other so that the pupil would finish the course with some
knowledge in mind. How little did i realise then how important the latter
would become.

Today i think that the X mark against me was a good thing. To have someone
higher up in the hirarchy prescribing what every teacher and learner have
to do, can lead to serious political and social engineering. It is
possible to misuse the old lesson schemes as well as the new learning
outcomes for this engineering purpose. I wanted to avoid the re-inventing
of the wheel by all the new incoming teachers, but i stepped into a much
worser situation -- engineering an entire region, state or even country
into a prescribed mode of thinking.

After having been promoted to the College of Education for Further
Training (CEFT), I was the first person at CEFT to experiment with LObs
(Learning Objectives). I felt that something was deficient in the
traditional lesson schemes and that these LObs would rectify the problem.
But i had to educate myself from the scanty literature available then how
to identify these LObs, formulate them, find absent ones by means of a
taxonomy (Bloom et al or Gagne), justifying them with encompassing
Learning Goals (LGs), applying them in a lesson and how to test for their
mastery afterwards. It took me two gruesome years.

Two things hindered me. Firstly, finding all relevant objectives with the
existing taxonomies produced a collection of LObs which did not promote
the creativity of teachers (the students at CEFT were full time teachers)
in chemistry, but rather impeded it. As a result I formulated LObs which
would promote their creativity in chemistry and then only afterwards seek
what taxonomy they contained. It was indeed a curious taxonomy.

Secondly, teachers saw these objectives as the ultimate, ticking them off
one by one as they mastered them. But they were oblivious to how these
LObs have to become united so that they would have a wholesome knowledge
of chemistry. My efforts to unite these LObs by LGs (Learning Goals) were
futile. I did not understand how deep the problem of integrating them
goes. I used LObs to teach chemistry, but these LObs had a "chemistry" of
their own which I still had to learn!

Then, after having been promoted to the University of Pretoria as senior
lecturer in chemistry, I went through the entire exercise once again. It
took me one year rather than the two years as before. The curious taxonomy
also became clearer to me. But the most vivid of it all I can describe by
a picture. Mastering these LObs one by one is like a creating a pile of
bricks. But uniting these LObs so that a knowledge of chemistry will
result as the capacity to act creatively is like assembling these bricks
into a fully functional house.

I plunged intuitively forward to transform the heap of bricks into a
house. It helped me to make a major discovery during 1982-83, namely that
LEP (Law of Entropy Production) also acts in the world of mind. Since
nobody would believe me, I tried to find the second bridge between the
material world of the body and the abstract world of the mind. It led to
the discovery of the 7Es (seven essentialities of creativity) during the
middle eighties. Only then began I to understand how the heap of bricks
(information chunks) can be transformed into a house (one body of
knowledge). I then could also articulate the curious taxonomy of LObs --
it exhibited the 7Es.

I also began to experiment with CAE (Computer Assisted Education) lessons,
better known as CBE (Computer Based Education) or CBT (Computer Based
Training). I abhorred any question with preformatted answers (multiple
choice, fill in, pair lists, etc.) They are easy to program. But they
leave no opportunity for students to approach the answer with their
creativity, homing in on it from more deviating to less deviating tries.
The student has to have complete freedom in formulating any solution to a
particular problem. Why?

The student has tacit knowledge based on personal experience. This very
tacit knowing makes it impossible to trace what the student knows by means
of preformatted answers. The student has to articulate the solution self,
guided by an appropriate feedback for each tentative solution. It means
that the student has to follow a course of mental autopoiesis (Maturana),
i.e., mental irreversible self-organisation (Prigogine).

So I began experimenting with a complex programming procedure which i
called the CPS (Creative Processing Structure). I designed at least one
problem for every LOb (Learning Objective). It soon became clear that each
problem had its own CPS so that a cookie cutter approach was impossible.
In order to guide the student to the correct solution with feedbacks, i
created and made use of a string of procedures which i called "leads". To
my greatest surprise, three things became evident about these "leads".

Firstly, to ensure that I provide for all possible creative solutions of
the student, I had to use the 7Es to create and order myself these "leads"
with their feedbacks. Secondly, I had to arrange them in decreasing order
of complexity so that the feedbacks were consistent. A more complex
solution cannot be guided by a less complex feedback. Thirdly, when the
student had a mental model preventing a correct solution, the "leads"
caused an indefinite loop so that I had to intervene personally to get the
student out of that loop. A machine, even programmed by an intelligent
human, cannot match the intelligence of a human.

My work on the CPS helped me to understand better what immense task it is
to integrate the learning objectives such that one body of knowledge will
result. Failing to integrate them makes OBE the plague rather than a cure.

At present with all the turmoil of OBE in our educational (primary and
secondary) system, I can think of no better metaphor for OBE than that it
is like creating a pile of bricks (chunks of external information). What
we now receive at university is a student with this pile of bricks which
has not been integrated into a functional house (one body of internal
knowledge). I had the idea of justifying them by LGs (Learning Goals), but
this merely resulted in dividing the pile in smaller heaps, each with its
own LG.

Sadly the universities are now also under the pressure of creating piles
of bricks. Uniting them into functional houses seems to have disappeared
from view. External information and its internalising, even in chunks by
OBE, seems to have hypnotised everybody. What has become of internal
knowledge -- the capacity to act creatively under any circumstance?

I have great compassion for teachers and lecturers on the one hand and
pupils and students on the other hand who want to make a success of OBE.
They busy themselves with the bricks of house building -- chunks of
information. But to connect these bricks together into a functional house
-- integrated knowledge or consilience as EO Wilson calls it-- is
something quite different. It is here where OBE in South Africa and
probably elsewhere in the world is failing utterly.

Our institutions for learning (not learning organisations) have become
exposed to the greatest ablation ever -- a flood of unconnected chunks of
information represented by Learning Objectives (LObs). It is making the
entropy (fitness landscape) of students flat like nothing before. The
solution is not to throw OBE out of the picture, but to integrate these
LObs so that knowledge can prevail over information.

What about Learning Organisations (LOs)? I am not aware of anyone in which
it is persistently sought to advance Personal Mastery (PM) and Team
Learning (TL) with learning objectives. But this does not exclude the
possibility that it will happen frequently in future. When it does, make
sure that you fellow learners know the difference between information (the
pile of bricks) and knowledge (the functional house). The ruggedness of
your entropy (fitness) landscape is at stake!

With care and best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@postino.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

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