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									                         MOUNT ROYAL COLLEGE


                         INFORMATION PACKAGE

                                   January 15, 1999

Compiled by the Mount Royal College Faculty Curriculum Group

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Outcome-based learning is increasingly prevalent at institutions of higher learning world wide,
including Canada and the United States (Knight, 1997; Pillay, 1995; Shipley, 1994; Schwarz and
Cavener, 1994). Four main forces have been identified in the literature to account for the trend to
learning outcomes in colleges and universities: demands for accountability from accrediting
bodies, funding sources, taxpayers and consumers; an increasingly competitive post-secondary
market; increasingly, a belief in the pedagogical underpinnings of outcomes and assessment; and
the impact of prior learning assessment (PLA) on colleges and universities (Shipley, 1995; Calder
and Melanson, 1996; Ewell, 1997). To this end, three Canadian provinces, Ontario, Quebec and
British Columbia, have mandated system-wide learning outcomes for community colleges and
University Colleges. Other Canadian post-secondary institutions such as the University of
Calgary are implementing an explicit program syllabus, which sets out the knowledge and skills
to be acquired in a program of study (University of Calgary, 1998).

       Outcomes-based projects are part of a timely and valid college reform
       initiative."        Shipley, 1994

In the United States, post-secondary accreditation agencies increasingly demand that learning
outcomes be articulated at the institutional and program level, and that assessment data
demonstrate the extent to which students achieve stated outcomes (O’Banion, 1997). Australia,
recognizing the need for an educated, prepared workforce to function in a competitive
international environment, has initiated the development of competency-based programs at the
post-secondary level (Pillay, 1995).

Glatthorn (1993) identified the lack of soundly designed research and evaluation of outcomes-
based learning models, but felt that anecdotal reporting of adopters should be given some
credence. While controlled trials comparing effects of outcome-based and non-outcome-based
curriculum models on student learning are lacking, Banta (1996) described numerous case studies
in which systematic linkage of intended learning outcomes to assessment strategies resulted in
curriculum revision, changes in teaching-learning methods, and improved student performance.
Gardner (1994) summarized results of several major studies in higher education suggesting that
current approaches to teaching, learning, and curriculum organization in widespread use across
North America fail to consistently produce the higher level skills graduates require to succeed in
continuous learning and in the workplace. Gardner argued for coherent curriculum models that
promote cross-curricular integration, clearly stated learning goals, and systematic development of
core abilities such as writing and critical thinking.

A number of authors have identified concerns related to the implementation of outcome-based
education (Froese, 1994; O'Neil, 1994; Shipley, 1994; Glatthorn, 1993; McKernan, 1993).
Shipley (1994) argues that 'learning outcomes' may be used as code words for quality
improvement in a streamlined profit-centred organization. This focus distracts educational
reform efforts from their central purposes to improve quality, access, equity and accountability.
Other concerns raised by Shipley (1994) and Glatthorn (1993) acknowledge the heavy demands
on faculty to produce better results and the necessary resources needed in an outcomes-based
model. Professional development for teachers, manageable learner-teacher ratios and provision of
environments and resources that support effective learning and evaluation practices are essential
to the success of. an outcomes-based model. McKernan (1994) highlights a fundamental criticism

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that outcome-based education is reductionistic, that is education becomes an instrumental means
to specified ends.

While it has been practiced extensively at the K-12 level, only a handful of post-secondary
institutions in North America have greater than 15 years of experience with outcomes based
curriculum. Notable among these are Alverno College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and King’s
College, Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania (Huot, 1996; Shipley, 1995; Alverno College Faculty, 1992;
Farmer, 1988). While the curriculum models at each of these institutions are unique, they share
several common features. First, each has identified institution-wide, intended learning outcomes
expected of all graduates. These college-wide outcomes describe transferable skills of liberal
learning such as critical thinking, problem solving, information research, and written and oral
communication. Second, student development of college-wide outcomes at these institutions is
fostered systematically and deliberately across the curriculum. Skills such as writing and
speaking tend to be introduced in freshman level courses but are systematically reinforced and
extended within a student’s program of study. Third, assessment of student development of
college-wide outcomes is performance based and authentic, and relies on explicit criteria (Farmer,
1988). Students are provided with rich and meaningful feedback on their performance according
to articulated assessment criteria. As such, assessment becomes an important learning experience
in and of itself. Finally, teaching methods at these institutions emphasize experiential teaching-
learning approaches, active learner participation, and use of knowledge in meaningful, real-world
ways. Long-term follow-up of graduates of these institutions suggests that generic abilities
developed as a student, persist and are readily and consciously applied in the professional setting
and in day-to-day life (Alverno College Office of Research and Evaluation, 1993).

Many recent publications describe the skills and dispositions required of graduates for personal
and professional success in the twenty-first century (Alberta Advanced Education and Career
Development, 1996; Boyett and Snyder, 1997; Diamond, 1997; Hersh, 1997; Higher Education
Quality Council, 1998; O’Brien, 1997). Repeatedly, these publications emphasize that students
attending colleges and universities should graduate with the following skills and attributes:
effective written and oral communication skills; the ability to think critically and problem solve;
the ability to work in groups; information, numeric and computer literacy; a highly developed
sense of ethics; respect for diversity; a global perspective; and, strong personal management
skills. College-wide outcomes at Mount Royal College, developed in conjunction with faculty
and other stakeholders, are consistent with those advocated in these publications.

Faculty and administration at the University of Calgary have also acknowledged the need to
mandate in their curricula a "coherent range of knowledge, intellectual capabilities, human skills
attitudes and values for successful personal and professional lives" of their students (University of
Calgary, 1998).

Current trends suggest that traditional approaches to teaching and learning (teaching approaches
which emphasize knowledge dissemination and passive learning, and assessment approaches
featuring knowledge recall or regurgitation) are inadequate in terms of developing the
transferable skills described above (Calder and Melanson, 1996; Diamond, 1997; Ewell, 1997;
Huot, 1996; Kothare, 1993; Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998; Marchese, 1998).
Addressing the implementation of Ontario's college and universities "Learning Outcomes"
initiative, Huot (1996) underlines the importance of assessments that give evidence of "Students'
abilities to do something with their knowledge; that is use knowledge to solve real-life problems,
conduct inquiries into sensitive issues, connect or integrate learning and make difficult decision".
Recent studies suggest that powerful learning, learning that is long-lasting and fosters

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development of transferable skills, is more likely to occur when faculty, programs and

   articulate a coherent and well-integrated learning plan for students;
   encourage active student involvement in real world tasks;
   integrate development of higher order abilities with mastery of knowledge and skills;
   create a high-challenge, low-threat environment;
   emphasize learner independence and choice;
   provide opportunities for practice and reinforcement;
   provide students with rich, timely and usable feedback on performance; and,
   encourage students to cooperate, collaborate and share with others.

These findings are compatible with, and extend, the principles of good practice in undergraduate
education articulated by Chickering and Ehrmann (1997). The proposed outcomes-based learning
plan for Mount Royal College incorporates and/or is compatible with each of the bullets.

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Underlying Assumptions

The following assumptions underlie the proposed outcome-based
learning plan. Several are drawn directly from recent publications,
others have been adapted, and some are original.

1.    that learning is facilitated when curriculum consists of a coherent, integrated
      learning plan and not merely a collection of courses

      Curriculum designed as an intentional and integrated learning plan can affect learning
      powerfully. For curriculum to be coherent and integrated requires that learning goals or
      intended outcomes be articulated in advance, and that curriculum be designed to assist
      students to develop these outcomes in a systematic and intentional way (Alverno College
      Office of Research and Evaluation, 1993; Diamond, 1997; Ewell, 1997; Farmer, 1988;
      Gardner, 1994; Higginbottom, 1995).

2.    that learning is developmental and cumulative

      Curriculum should be organized such that students learn basic skills and concepts before
      undertaking more sophisticated learning. In other words, students must learn to “stand
      before they walk, and walk before they run.” A developmental learning approach requires
      that intradepartmental and interdepartmental communication and planning occur. A
      developmental learning approach also suggests that faculty hold students accountable for
      learning which has occurred previously, and encourage students to transfer and extend
      that learning in different contexts. Faculty awareness of what students have learned
      previously, and are learning concurrently in other courses, is critical. Course syllabi have
      an important role to play in facilitating such awareness (Alverno College Faculty, 1992,
      1994; Farmer, 1988; Gardner, 1994; Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998;
      Shipley, 1994).

3.     that learning goes beyond knowing to using what one knows

      Recent studies suggest that deeper and more sustained learning can be achieved by
      pedagogical approaches that emphasize application of knowledge to real-world situations
      or problems. Intended learning outcomes and corresponding assessment methods should
      emphasize use of knowledge in ways consistent with demands of the student’s chosen
      field or challenges encountered in their day-to-day lives (Alverno College Faculty, 1994;
      Cantor, 1995; Ewell, 1997; Huot, 1996; Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998;
      Marchese, 1998; O’Banion, 1997; Shipley, 1994).

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4.    that development of core skills (critical thinking, communication, information
      literacy etc.) requires “sustained intentionality”

      Recent studies support the assertion that learning of core skills requires sustained and
      intentional effort across the curriculum. The deliberate and systematic integration of
      core skills in the context of discipline-specific content appears key to the development of
      abilities such as critical thinking, writing, speaking and others (Diamond, 1997; Farmer,
      1988; Gardner, 1994; Higginbottom, 1995). The proposed outcomes-based learning plan
      should encourage integration of core skills in courses across the curriculum in a way that:

       recognizes the developmental nature of learning;
       encourages transfer of prior learning; and
       avoids unnecessary overlap and repetition.

5.    that learning is fundamentally about making and maintaining connections,
      mentally and experientially

      The ability of students to “make connections” is enhanced when common threads run
      across the curriculum, when links between and among courses are evident to students
      (and faculty) and when students are encouraged, assisted and required to transfer
      existing knowledge and skills across courses and outside of the classroom. The proposed
      outcomes-based learning plan must promote linkages between and among courses that
      facilitate the student’s ability to make connections, and should encourage assessment
      strategies that require students to apply existing knowledge and skills to novel situations
      that reflect the demands of their day-to-day life or their future professional role. Further,
      connections between the formal curriculum and informal learning experiences should be
      encouraged (see assumption 8 below) (Cantor, 1995; Ewell, 1997; Johnson, 1998; Joint
      Task Force on Student Learning, 1998; O’Banion, 1997).

6.    that learning is an active search for meaning by the learner, constructing
      knowledge rather than passively receiving it

      There is increasing evidence that learning which is deep and lasting is most likely to
      occur when students are actively engaged in the learning process. Surface learning, on
      the other hand, is fostered by teaching methods that view students as receptacles to be
      filled with knowledge, and emphasize transmission of facts. The development of
      transferable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and ethical reasoning
      demand that students take an active role in the learning process. (Chickering and
      Ehrmann, 1997; Ewell, 1997; Gardner, 1994; Johnson, 1998; Joint Task Force, 1998;
      Marchese, 1998; O’Banion, 1997). Students are more likely to become active learners

       instructional methods involve students directly in the discovery of knowledge;
       learning materials challenge students to transform prior knowledge and experience
        into new and deeper understandings;
       students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning;

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       assessment methods emphasize use of knowledge and development of core skills, as
        opposed to regurgitation of facts
       instructional methods balance emphasis on content coverage and development of
        core skills

7.    that assessment, rigorously practised, is an integral element of the learning

      The proposed outcomes-based learning plan should encourage assessment
      practices that both validate student achievement and enhance student learning
      (Alverno College Faculty, 1994; Astin et al., 1997; Banta et al., 1996; Calder &
      Melanson, 1996; Chickering and Ehrmann, 1997; Ewell, 1997; Gardner, 1994;
      Huot, 1996; Johnson, 1998; Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998; Kothare,
      1993; Marchese, 1998; Shipley, 1994) . This “assessment as learning” approach
      is characterized by:

       assessment strategies that are clearly linked to intended learning outcomes
       assessment strategies that reflect how students will use their learning in day-
        to-day life or in their future professional role (i.e. performance based and
       explicit assessment criteria which describe to students how their work will be
       meaningful feedback on student performance, based on articulated assessment
       routine student self-assessment designed to assist students to reflect on and
        develop insight into their own performance
       analysis of assessment data to refine and strengthen course, program and
        institutional curriculum

8.    that much learning takes place informally and incidentally, beyond explicit
      teaching or the classroom

      Forging “connections through the extracurriculum” augments learning which occurs
      through formal classroom experiences. Informal and incidental learning is enhanced by:

       activities beyond the classroom that enrich formal learning experiences (e.g. invited
       an institutional climate that encourages student interaction related to educational
       mentorship relationships on and off campus;
       student participation as volunteers and active citizens in the broader community.

      The proposed outcomes-based learning plan should recognize the value of learning
      experiences which occur outside formal curriculum, and should encourage linkages
      between the formal curriculum and the extracurriculum (Cantor, 1995; Ewell, 1997;
      Gardner, 1994; Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998; Marchese, 1995).

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9.    that learning is done by individuals tied to each other as social beings and able
      to enhance one another’s learning through cooperation, sharing and

      Recent evidence supports the effectiveness of teaching/learning strategies that emphasize
      interpersonal collaboration and cooperation (Chickering and Ehrmann, 1997; Ewell,
      1997; Gardner, 1994; Joint Task Force on Student Learning, 1998; Marchese, 1998).
      Such strategies have the potential to cultivate in students:

       a climate in which students see themselves as part of an inclusive learning
       an appreciation of human differences;
       an ability to work effectively in groups toward completion of a common task
       a sense of responsibility for their own learning and that of others

      Opportunities for collaborative and cooperative learning activities exist not only in the
      classroom and on-campus, but in the community as well. The proposed outcomes-based
      learning plan should encourage these activities, and faculty development activities should
      support their implementation.

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What is Curriculum?
Curriculum is defined as learning activities, including assessment, intended to foster student
achievement of articulated learning outcomes.

What are Outcomes?
Learning Outcomes describe what a student will be able to do as a result of learning experiences
within a course, a program or a college education. Learning outcomes are integrative. They
require that students demonstrate integration of knowledge, skills, and abilities in complex role
performances required in day-to-day living, or in their professional role. While learning
outcomes emphasize use and application of knowledge, they do not de-value knowledge for
knowledge’s sake. The ability to demonstrate learning through use or application of knowledge
requires that the student must first master a body of knowledge.

Course Learning Outcomes are statements articulated by faculty describing the complex
performances a student should be capable of demonstrating as a result of learning experiences at
the course level. These statements describe what a student should be able to do by the end of a
course with what they've learned in that course. Course instructors determine course Learning
Outcomes. It is primarily through courses that students will achieve the higher-level outcomes
articulated at the program and college-wide level.

Program Learning Outcomes are statements which describe what graduates of a program should
be able to do as a result of learning experiences within that program. Program Learning
Outcomes are often derived from a vision of the graduate, and are determined by faculty within
the program area in consultation with employers, experts in the field, the literature, and in many
cases, accrediting and professional bodies. Program Learning Outcomes often overlap with
college-wide outcomes (e.g. communication for graduates of programs in the helping professions)
but will also describe characteristics unique to graduates in particular professions, occupations or

College-wide Learning Outcomes are statements describing what every student graduating from
Mount Royal College should be capable of demonstrating as a result of learning experiences at
the college. College-wide Learning Outcomes emphasize core skills and abilities that enable
continuous learning and success in the workplace for our graduates.

The Faculty Curriculum Group, based on input from faculty, students, graduates, advisory
committees, college administration and the literature have proposed the following college-wide

   Thinking Skills
   Communication
   Information Retrieval and Evaluation
   Ethical Reasoning
   Computer Literacy
   Group Effectiveness

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Achieving College-wide Learning Outcomes
The ultimate goal is to embed at least one learning outcome in each of the courses taught at the
college. Individual faculty members would determine which of the College-wide Learning
Outcomes is emphasized in their courses, and indicate this on their course syllabus. Faculty
foster development of the college-wide outcome(s) emphasized in their courses through teaching
and assessment strategies appropriate to their course content. Assessment of student learning
within courses integrates assessment of course-specific knowledge and skills (e.g. understanding
theories of human behaviour) with assessment of the college-wide outcome(s) emphasized in that
course (e.g.written communication).

In Program areas, curriculum is organized in a way that allows students in the program to reliably
demonstrate the college-wide outcomes prior to graduation. Program areas will articulate
“growth plans” for each College-wide Outcome which describe how curriculum within a
program will foster development of each outcome (Farmer, 1988). More specifically, the growth
plan describes which courses in a program emphasize a particular College-wide Learning
Outcome, how the college-wide outcome is being assessed for in those courses, and the level at
which particular courses address that outcome.

Students may develop College-wide Learning Outcomes through experiences outside of courses
or program curricular requirements. For example, students may participate on college
committees; complete extracurricular workshops; attend lectures by guest speakers at the college;
participate in Campus Recreation activities or Varsity Athletics; perform volunteer work.
Mechanisms such as student portfolios may be useful to document the contribution of such
activities toward achievement of College-wide Learning Outcomes.

Achieving Program Learning Outcomes
Within program areas, Program Learning Outcomes describe what graduates should be able to do
as a result of learning experiences within their program. Generally, Program Learning Outcomes
are achieved through a series of courses aimed at developing the knowledge, skills and
dispositions desired of program graduates. In the process of completing an individual course, and
achieving the learning outcomes specific to that course, students demonstrate development of one
or more Program Learning Outcomes.

Curriculum within program areas is organized in a way that allows graduates of the program to
reliably demonstrate all Program and College-wide Learning Outcomes prior to graduation.

As with College-wide Learning Outcomes, Program Learning Outcomes may be developed
through learning experiences outside of the formal program curriculum (e.g. volunteering).
Program areas wishing to acknowledge the contribution of such experiences to the development
of Program Learning Outcomes might want to consider implementing documentation
mechanisms such as the student portfolio.

Achieving Course Learning Outcomes
Course Learning Outcomes describe what graduates of a course will be able to do as a result of
learning experiences within that course. The appropriate Course Learning Outcomes are stated
explicitly on course syllabi. Assessment of student learning within a course integrates assessment
of course-specific knowledge and skills with assessment of the College-wide Learning

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Outcome(s) emphasized in that course. Individual instructors determine the relative weighting
attached to assessment of the College-wide Learning Outcome, and are encouraged to attach
enough weight so as to make it significant. Criteria upon which students are assessed are explicit
and public. Feedback is provided to individual students based on stated assessment criteria. As
such, assessment becomes a valuable learning tool for students.

Student Assessment: Improving Student Learning
As noted above, student assessment and resultant feedback (based on articulated criteria) can play
an important role in student learning. In providing students with feedback about their
performance, faculty foster development of desired learning outcomes by reinforcing areas of
strength in student performance, and noting areas in need of improvement.

Assessment of student learning need not solely be the responsibility of the course instructor.
Assessment by peers, assessment by external experts, and student self-assessment may be
employed as deemed appropriate by individual faculty members.

The Outcomes-Assessment Feedback Loop
In addition to its role in improving student learning through feedback, assessment can provide
individual faculty, program areas and the college itself with useful information about the
effectiveness of curriculum in helping students achieve desired learning outcomes. Analysis of
student performance in various assessment activities can help identify strengths and weaknesses
of existing curriculum. Assessment data interpreted by individual instructors, program areas, and
the institution as a whole can lead to curriculum change aimed at enhancing student learning.
The outcomes-assessment feedback loop is illustrated below:

                              State intended learning outcomes

                               Develop and implement relevant
                                     Learning activities
  Reflect/act                                                                     Reflect/act

                               Assess development of intended
                                     Learning outcomes

                                   Interpret assessment data

The outcomes-assessment feedback loop can be applied to an individual lecture, a course, a
program, or a college education in whole. As shown in the diagram, the process begins with the
articulation of intended learning outcomes. In the case of an academic program, for example,
outcome statements would describe the knowledge, skills and dispositions students should
possess upon graduation from the program. Articulation of intended outcomes is followed by
development of program curriculum (learning activities) aimed at fostering those outcomes, and

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design of assessment strategies related to intended outcomes. Interpretation of student
assessment data follows, and is intended to help faculty teaching in a program better understand
the extent to which their students (in aggregate) are achieving intended learning outcomes at the
program level. Capstone courses and student portfolios are used increasingly by academic
programs to assess the extent to which students are achieving intended learning outcomes at the
program level. The outcomes-assessment feedback loop is “closed” when interpretation of
assessment data results in reflection on, and decision-making about program curriculum or
teaching/learning methods within the program. Where gaps are detected between what is
expected of students and what they are actually achieving, curricular revision may be undertaken
to enhance student learning.

The primary goal of student assessment is to improve student learning and development.
Whether at the course, program or institutional level, the systematic gathering and analysis of
assessment data facilitates determination of how closely student performance matches intended
learning outcomes, and guides curricular change aimed at improving student learning.

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