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Guide to OBE
 
Defining Intended Learning Outcomes [ILOs]
 
Our Ultimate Outcome: All-round Development of Students with Professional Competence

It is the designated role of PolyU to develop all-round students with professional competence. Both all-roundedness and professional competence are important outcomes, and essentially both outcomes should be achieved upon our students' graduation.

We believe that attributes for all-roundedness (i.e., generic skills) and professional competencies outcomes are complementary. Both must be addressed and are not in conflict with each other. Many generic skills are important for professional development, e.g., critical and creative thinking, lifelong learning abilities, etc. Furthermore, there are few, if any, professions nowadays that do not require at least some generic skills from their recruits that would allow them to work flexibly and learn new skills effectively.

In the curriculum revision submission document, you are required to organise your outcome statements into two categories:

  1. The development of all-round students.
  2. The achievement of professional competence.

The purpose for this categorisation is to demonstrate that both aspects of our mission are being addressed adequately in your programme. You may find that some of your outcome statements actually integrate the all-round development aspect and the professional competence aspect, so you can choose to put them together with a note. Categorisation is not the main concern here; it is the inclusion of both aspects of development in the outcome statements that counts.

 
Attributes for All-Roundedness as Learning Outcomes

Attributes for all-roundedness are the more generic and transferable aspects of learning. The list of attributes for all-roundedness varies from place to place. For PolyU, we look for the following attributes in our graduates: gobal outlook, interest in local and international affairs, problem solving, critical and creative thinking, communication and interpersonal skills, sense of social and national responsibility, cultural appreciation, lifelong learning, biliteracy and trilingualism, entrepreneurship, teamwork and leadership.

These attributes do not exhaust the scope of all-round development. Nevertheless, they are comparable to similar lists upheld by other universities around the world and are representative of the local expectations of the attributes that a university graduate should posses.

 
Professional Competences as Learning Outcomes

PolyU programmes historically carry a strong professional emphasis and we have accumulated a lot of experiences in developing students as professionals. Nevertheless, it will be interesting and useful to explore in more depth what professional competence means and how it should be represented in outcome statements.

Take a minute to judge for yourself whether the following outcome statement is one for professional competence for practitioners in the field of environmental protection.

Learning Outcome: 'To know the laws relevant to environmental protection'

This is definitely knowledge required for the profession in environmental protection, so the answer is a resounding YES!

BUTíK before jumping to a happy conclusion, think about it more critically:

Does it say how the practitioner actually uses that knowledge?

Does simply knowing and recalling the laws already enable the environmental protection agent to solve some problem that he/she may face in his/her job?

NOW consider this alternative:

'To critically evaluate the laws relevant to environmental protection and to apply them in urban planning policies'

Obviously, this one has specified the desirable qualities and what the environmental protection agent is expected to perform. So stating 'knowing' or 'understanding' in the outcome statement does not necessarily guarantee a performance. Therefore, it is important to state the desirable qualities explicitly, like the second outcome statement.

University Knowledge vs Professional Knowledge

The knowledge emphasised in university programme is usually academic in nature. However sophisticated, it may differ from the professional knowledge required and expected in the graduates' chosen professions. To put this in perspective, would-be professionals might have learned how to label a certain process; however, they may not be able to execute that process while in the field. As such, according to Leinhardt et al. (1995), there is a mismatch between university knowledge and professional knowledge.

The distinction between these two kinds of knowledge is illustrated in Table A below:

University Knowledge
Typical things that students are required to do at
university
Professional Knowledge
Typical things that professionals are required to
do at work
Analyse
Apply
Articulate
Compare
Contrast
Criticise
Describe
Differentiate
Discuss
Distinguish
Elaborate
Evaluate
Identify
Integrate
Interpret
Justify
Label
List
Match
Name
Outline
Recognise
Summarise
Synthesise
Theorise
Appraise
Assess
Assist
Collaborate
Communicate
Compile
Create
Decide
Design
Develop
Diagnose
Execute
Extract
Forecast
Formulate
Handle
Implement
Initiate
Investigate
Liaise
Negotiate
Organise
Plan
Predict
Prepare
Present
Prioritise
Produce
Recommend
Review
Select
Solve
Supervise
Support
Undertake
Use
Write
Work
Table A: University Knowledge vs. Professional Knowledge

Typically such procedural knowledge is related to the professional context. However, it should be noted that although procedural knowledge and professional knowledge are sometimes synonymous, this does no, by itself, represent the 'professional competence' we have aimed for.

Functioning Knowledge as Professional Competence

Biggs (2003) provided a framework of different kinds of knowledge which is also very useful in helping us understand what professional competence actually entails. Figure A is a simplified version adapted from Biggs' framework.

Figure A: Different Kinds of Knowledge and their Relationship (adapted from Biggs, 2003)

As illustrated in the diagram, even the possession of both academic knowledge (theories, information, etc.) and procedural knowledge (procedures and skills) is still not adequate for our graduates to perform competently and effectively in their chosen professions. A professional, in order to perform effectively in real life situations, needs to know what knowledge to draw upon to make decision and to be able to apply the knowledge flexibly and appropriately in response to various tasks.
Put simply, academic knowledge and procedural knowledge are both necessary knowledge; yet neither is sufficient to ensure professional competence. As per the illustration, academic knowledge and procedural knowledge are the foundations. On top of this foundation, students need another kind of knowledge of when and how to use knowledge in real-life problems in their professions, which Biggs labelled functioning knowledge to highlight its importance in allowing the professionals to perform effectively.