Why ‘Outcomes-Based Teaching & Learning’?

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Why ‘Outcomes-Based Teaching & Learning’?

UGC & OBTL – what’s the connection?

  • The UGC's goal in promoting outcome-based approaches is simple and straightforward - improvement and enhancement in student learning and teaching quality.
  • A central aspect of this is the alignment of learning outcomes, teaching and learning processes, and assessment. Examining this alignment has been an evolving but important feature of previous UGC initiatives (TLQPR) and will continue to be a focus of quality assurance for UGC. [from a UGC memo to universities] 

The ‘spirit’ of OBTL

  • In teaching, what ultimately matters is not what is taught, but what is learned;
  • Therefore, teachers would do well to set their course objectives in terms of learning outcomes;
  • What we teach and how we teach, and how we assess, ought to be aligned with the intended learning outcomes, such that they are fully integrated and consistent with each other;
  • The quality of teaching is judged by the quality of learning that takes place.

Proposed HKBU Graduate Attributes

  • A HKBU graduate should ideally:
  • 1. Have up-to-date and in-depth knowledge of an academic specialty, as well as a broad range of general knowledge;
  • 2. Have bilingual communicative competence in English and Chinese (including Putonghua);
  • 3. Be able to think logically, critically and creatively;
  • 4. Have the necessary numerical skills to function effectively in work and everyday life;
  • 5. Be an independent and self-directed learner, motivated by an inquiring spirit;
  • 6. Be well-developed as a ‘whole person’ – intellectually, morally, spiritually, culturally, socially and physically;
  • 7. Be a responsible citizen with an international outlook, and willing to serve and lead.

The ‘logic’ of OBTL

  • ‘The logic is stunningly obvious: Say what you want students to be able to do, teach them to do it and then see if they can, in fact, do it.’
  • [J. Biggs & C. Tang, Teaching for Quality learning at University, 3rd Ed, p.177. Open University, 2007.]

An example of traditional course objectives

  • Aim:
  • To explore the varied relationships between language and education.
  • Objectives:
  • To examine the role that language plays in education, in particular
  • 1. learning as language
  • 2. learning through language
  • 3. learning about language.

Student feedback on the course

  • ‘After 14 weeks I doubt that I could get anything valuable on the issues of language and education. I wonder why [the lecturer] spent most of the lecture time to discuss “error corrections”?’
  • ‘It is not a grammar course, so the lecturer should not focus so much on grammatical features, but the subject matter.’

Aligning teaching & assessment with learning outcomes: an example

  • LANG2220: ‘English through Current Events’
  • AIMS: The course aims at helping students improve their English proficiency -- in all the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking – by keeping abreast of current events as reported in the mass media (including newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and the Internet), and in the process broadening their knowledge and interest in current events in the world.


  • At the end of the course, students should be able to:
  • Use English effectively in speaking and writing about current events;
  • Understand spoken and written news reports in English accurately;
  • Analyse and discuss news reports and commentaries critically and in an informed manner;
  • 4. Develop a broad acquaintance with current events and issues (both local and international) in various spheres (political, economic, social, cultural, moral, educational, etc.)
  • 5. Develop a personal and rational point of view on current events and issues

Teaching & Learning Activities

  • Students will get extensive opportunities to read and listen to, as well as discuss and write about, current events both local and worldwide (as reported in the mass media), including not only political and economic events but developments in education, the arts, science and technology, society, lifestyle, sports, etc.
  • Class activities will typically take the form of:
  • (i) reading and listening to reports on the latest current events;
  • (ii) discussion of the reported event(s) in small groups, followed by a general discussion;
  • (iii) Students bringing in news items of their own choice and reporting on them to the class, followed by a discussion (depending on the class’ interest).
  • Other activities will include
  • (i) individual students making a 5-minute oral presentation on a particular current event, and giving a personal commentary or analysis of it;
  • (ii) class debates on controversial current issues;
  • (iii) written essays on topics of current interest.


  • Coursework: 50%
  • Final Test: 50%
  • Coursework will consist of: (i) 2 written essays on topics of current relevance (30%); (ii) a class debate (10%); (iii) an individual oral presentation in class on a current event (10%).
  • The final test will include a written essay, and a reading test (on two or more news reports/ analyses) to test the students’ ability to comprehend and interpret current events.

Example: Assignment #1

  • Choose a current event (of any kind – political, economic, cultural, artistic, scientific, recreational, etc.) as reported in the mass media in recent weeks; attach a copy of the report to your assignment.
  • Discuss this event, bringing out clearly why you think it is significant and worthy of attention, and proceed to give your own analysis and commentary on it. (You can, for instance, be critical and expose what you see as human failings or errors in the event itself or the way it was reported in the media, or question its truthfulness or accuracy or impartiality. Or you can support it by expanding on certain points, strengthening the position or arguments, providing further details, etc. Or you can suggest solutions to the problem, a course of action, etc.)
  • The important thing in this assignment is to express your own thoughts and ideas. Please do not spend too much time reporting or repeating what is in the original news report (it is attached anyway). We do not want to turn this into a trivial exercise in paraphrasing or summarising. Refer to the material when necessary, but concentrate on analyzing and commenting on it from your point of view.

Student feedback on the course

  • Student 1 :This subject lets me know more about the current events in different parts of the world and it also trains me to have critical thinking in looking at the current issues.
  • Student 2 : [The lecturer] can motivate us to study by ourselves.
  • Student 3 : I feel able to get my horizon broader, with focus not merely on local news items. [The lecturer] has made every effort to bring us an air of English learning
  • Student 4 : [The lecturer] encourages us to speak up and speak freely.
  • Student 6 : it helped enhance my ability of critical and independent thinking. the learning atmosphere was warm.
  • Student 7 : It inspired us to think critically and to be more aware about things happening around us. It also encouraged us to use English more in our daily lives.
  • Student 8 : It provides student a chance to pay more attention on current affairs no matter in Hong Kong or in other parts of the world.
  • Student 4 : Too much free discussion is not suitable for students here, because they don't know what exactly can be spoken, and embarrassment arise.
  • Student 4 : [The lecturer] is a teacher with vision. I understand and totally appreciate his effort in class to encourage students to speak more and read more. But he might have to think twice if the students taking the class are ready to appreciate his style of teaching.

Aligning teaching & assessment with learning outcomes: a hypothetical example

  • Aims:
  • The course aims to help students become effective public speakers in English, and includes all the elements of public speaking -- from the planning and preparation to the writing of the speech to the actual delivery in front of an audience.

Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • By the end of the course, students should be able to:
  • Plan a speech on a given topic;
  • Search for and organise ideas and materials for the speech;
  • Write a speech appropriate for a given audience and purpose;
  • Deliver a speech in a clear and effective manner;
  • Critically assess their own speaking, and that of others.

Teaching & Learning Activities:

  • Students will acquaint themselves with the ingredients of a good speech, by watching and listening to good speakers on tape and video, reading the texts of good speeches, and analyzing the elements that contribute to their quality and success;
  • They will engage in brain-storming and researching ideas and materials for use in a speech on a given topic;
  • They will be trained to speak clearly and expressively and project their voices to an audience;
  • They will be given opportunities to speak to a small audience (the class) on a given topic, and to critique their own performance on a video recording.


  • Students will be assessed principally on their performance in (i) planning and drafting speeches, (ii) delivering speeches before an audience, and (iii) critiquing themselves and other speakers. There will be two speech writing exercises, two public speaking exercises, and one final test where they will be assessed holistically on all aspects of public speaking.

Useful links

  • HKBU’s QAC Website: http://lc.hkbu.edu.hk/qac
  • LC Teaching & Learning Website: http://lc.hkbu.edu.hk/te/
  • Introduction to OBTL:
  • http://lc.hkbu.edu.hk/te/doc/preworkshop_reference.doc
  • Workshops on OBTL:
    • http://lc.hkbu.edu.hk/te/doc/preworkshop01.ppt
    • http://lc.hkbu.edu.hk/te/doc/preworkshop02.ppt
    • http://lc.hkbu.edu.hk/te/doc/preworkshop03.ppt
  • OBTL websites in other universities:
    • http://tfq.cityu.edu.hk/obtl/
    • http://celt.ust.hk/obe/index.htm

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