Articulating Course Outcomes, Program Outcomes & Mapping by Prof. Dr. N. J. Rao

20 Mar 2021

MasterSoft group held a higher education conclave focusing on Course Outcomes (COs), Program Outcomes (POs), and Mapping. This was spearheaded by acclaimed academician Dr. Prof N.J Rao, being a core committee member of few significant accreditation boards like the NBA and the NAAC. He shared much valuable information about the Outcome-based Education approach & Course Outcomes, Program Outcomes, and Mapping.

The primary aim of the conclave was to shed some light on how Output-Based Education helps in providing a productive learning experience for both the students and the teachers.

Output-Based Education

Outcome-Based Education is an approach towards education wherein the decisions in teaching and learning are indicated by what the teacher wants their students to be able to do after the completion of the learning experience.

The learning experience can essentially be either a complete program, a course, or even an instructional unit. The decisions will be catered to the making of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Prof N.J Rao pointed out that

“the main crux of the outcome-based education is to shift from the centricity of the teacher to the students’ centricity. That is to look from the learner’s perspective rather than the teacher’s perspective; it is not that the role of the teacher becomes less important, the teacher does play a central and key role in everything related to teaching and learning”

He also gave a brief about how OBE started when policymakers and stakeholders in several countries had been emphasizing since the 1970s. There is an increasing need to come up with instruments to obtain comparable information on what the students learn across the schools and higher educational institutions.

ABET in 1997, adopted Engineering Criteria 2000, which shifted the focus away from the inputs which are the materials that are taught to the outcomes which is what the students got to learn.

Student Learning Outcomes

As the word suggests, the “outcomes” are what the “students” will be able to attain after gaining a valuable learning experience. Their journey will be mapped by educators at every step to ensure quality education.

In the context of formal education, Prof N.J. Rao reminded the viewers that

“in a formal education the stakeholders are students, teachers, the management of institutions, the University, National Board of Accreditation”.

The outcomes provide the basis for an effective interaction among all the stakeholders. He quoted that “the product defines the process”, meaning that after the end of a program the student must be able to do something depending on whatever he had learned.

To simplify the concept Prof. Rao went on to give an instance of the olden days when “Gurukul” played a major role in imparting education, during those days time was not a major factor.

In the “Gurukul” system of education, the students continued their learning process until the teacher felt that he was ready, hence many students graduated at different points in time.

This kind of system is no longer in place as the education is structured as per the required time, that is the reason why making the courses or decisions in such a way that benefits the learners is very much important.

Key Advantages of the OBE System

The following are the key advantages of the OBE educational system.

  • Clarity: Students would get clarity on how to study in order to attain the pre-determined goals after the completion of the course (COs) & Program (POs).
  • Comparison: Students can compete with their own academic record and try to reach a new goal with every step.
  • Flexibility: The faculty can design a syllabus that would help students nurture skills along with their academics and prepare them for a bright future.
  • Involvement: Student-teacher communication is enhanced as teachers map the student outcomes at regular intervals and encourage them to perform better.

Dr. Prof Rao said that

“communicating in advance by the teachers, about what is it that they are expecting from the students provides a framework for the integration of the curriculum. This also acts as a guide for assessment.”

He also said that it becomes necessary to measure the quality of learning, and that is what the OBE and accreditation method tries to establish.

Outcome Statements

  • The statements should be clear.
  • It should unambiguously state what the student should be able to do or perform.
  • The students should be able to understand what it means by being comprehensive.
  • It should be clearly aligned with the course goals.

Reservations about OBE

Some of the educational institutions have reservations about OBE, some believe that it is against the very spirit of education. The OBE is also compared with a straitjacket which Professor Rao firmly disagreed with.

Levels of Outcomes

Program Educational Objectives (PEOs)

Prof. Rao gave an example to better understand program educational objectives. Suppose a student studied Civil Engineering, but after the completion of the course, he went to do a job in the IT sector. Then learning the course itself will be rendered useless.

Program educational objectives are broad statements that describe the career and the professional accomplishments in four to five years after graduation.

1: Program Outcomes (POs)

Program outcomes are statements that clearly state what the students would be able to do at the time when they are graduating from the engineering program.

2: Program-Specific Outcomes (PSOs)

PSOs are statements that describe what the graduates of a particular engineering program should be able to do towards the time of graduation.

3: Course Outcomes (COs)

The statements that describe what the students should be able to do at the end of the courses are Course outcomes.

4: Program Outcomes (POs)

POs are referred to as statements that represent a broad aspect of the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are to be showcased by the learners at the time of graduation from the engineering program.

POs which are twelve in number as identified by NBA are applicable to all the UG engineering programs.

They also address both the disciplinary and professional competencies. He emphasized that this is where most of the engineering programs differ, earlier before 2015 the engineering teachers were not too concerned. Whenever they looked at any curriculum they just wanted to get on with it, the fact that the graduates have to become professionals is somehow not a part of their curriculum.

Prof. Rao continued that -

“even if they considered it, it is only externally as a concession rather than taking it into account seriously. Even today all curriculum design all curricular design suffer from this particular thing, they want to teach more and more engineering subject, but that is not what engineering is all about, the fact they have to become professionals, they have to have professional competencies has yet not sunk into our board of studies who design our curriculum”

POs Defined by NBA

  • Engineering Knowledge

    The knowledge of mathematics, science, engineering fundamentals, and an engineering specialization to the solution of complex engineering problems.

  • Problem Analysis

    Substantiated conclusions need to be reached by identifying, formulating, research literature, and analyzing complex engineering problems. With the help of the first principles of mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering sciences.

  • Program Specific Outcomes

    These are outcomes that are specific to a program, they characterize the specificity of the core of a program. PSOs can be used to differentiate the program.

What are Course Outcomes (COs)?

Course outcomes are what the learners or the students are expected to do after the end of the course, if a well-accepted taxonomy of learning is known then COs can be written.

Course outcomes are required to have a well-defined structure, and not to forget it should be observable and measurable as well.

Prof Rao mentioned that

“there are no prescribed structures to write course outcomes statements after surveying several universities around the world, it has been found that they have written statements very intuitively. There is no need to write intuitively as there can be a structure.
Some kind of taxonomy of learning can be used, particularly in India Bloom’s taxonomy is accepted but officially it is not stated. Using the taxonomy one can write the course outcome statements in a structure”

Structure of a CO Statement

  • Action

    It represents a cognitive/affective/psychomotor activity that the learner should perform. An action is indicated by an action verb, representing the concerned cognitive process.

  • Knowledge

    This represents the specific knowledge from any one or more of the four knowledge categories.

  • Condition

    This represents the process that the learner is expected to follow or the condition under which to perform the action.

  • Criterion

    This represents the parameters that characterize the levels of acceptability of performing the actions.

Key Takeaways

Dr. Prof N.J. Rao helped to understand the importance of Outcome-Based Education, by clearing the queries of stakeholders & audiences. Towards the end of the conclave, he did answer some questions regarding taxonomy, specifically the revised taxonomy. Administering it to map the functioning of the brain to classify learning.

He also said that the New Educational Policy (NEP 2020) will not alter the OBE aspect, however, according to it, the educational institutions will be are-organized. The number of institutions becoming autonomous will increase. If individual institutions cannot become autonomous then they can form a local cluster and become autonomous.

All-in-all, the insightful event helped the stakeholders to learn in-depth about the OBE program and its advantages. It was a huge success and received positive feedback from the audience.

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