OCC – as simple as one, two, three

OCCAs I struggle through the assessment and moderation period, I am constantly reminded about how easy it is to improve student performance. This post explores the use of the IB’s Online Curriculum Centre (OCC) to boost your students’ grades.

There are, of course, a huge number of variables that affect student performance, including the student’s motivation, the teacher’s abilities, peer group support and the school environment. However, there are also a number of constants in the process, such as the nature of the assessment instruments. It is always surprising to me, therefore, that so many students (and therefore by implication, possibly their teachers) have such a poor understanding of the nature of the assessments on which final grades are based.

There is help at hand. The IB’s Online Curriculum Centre offers a wealth of support materials, even though accessing these is not as intuitive as it might be. Nonetheless, it is worth a couple of hours to really dig into its contents and to explore the many paths that run out from the OCC’s main hub. When given the time to delve into the depths of the OCC, even experienced teachers can find nuggets of additional information to help eke out a few extra marks for their students.

Curriculum and Assessment details

The 5 + 2 model of IB assessment guarantees that a programme will be in place for 7 years. This allows departments and individual teachers a long period to hone knowledge and skills. There are a number of key sources of assessment and curriculum advice:

The programme guide: It could be assumed that all teachers and students would have a good grasp of the information in the main teaching and learning document for Business Management. Well, unfortunately this is not always true. For example, the guide lays out clearly the nature of the SL and HL internal assessment:

  • The HL assessment requires students to ‘base their research project on primary research they gather from the organization investigated’. Yet some centres, including some very experienced ones, allow students to submit reports that are either based entirely upon secondary data or projects that only include questionnaires addressed to customers.
  • The SL assessment requires students to produce a commentary based on 3 to 5 supporting documents that are identified, attached and with the relevant sections highlighted. These documents should be ‘of a contemporary nature and written within a maximum of three years prior to the submission of the written commentary to the IB’. Although, the instructions seem clear, a very significant number of commentaries do not identify the supporting documents clearly (or at all) or do not attach them. It is not uncommon for the documents to be older than three years old – it appears that some students think it is the date the document was accessed that is the important date, not when it was written; which is clearly erroneous.

The programme guide also details among other things:

  • Syllabus content and depth of teaching related to the assessment objectives
  • Assessment outlines – including the coverage of assessment objectives in examination papers
  • Generic internal and external assessment criteria
  • Word counts and required formats for internal assessment
  • The command terms used to achieve assessment objectives

The Teacher Support Materials (TSM)

Although the IB, and its examining team, spend many days writing, editing and revising curriculum and assessment materials, these often need further clarification and, as the programme ‘ages’, address unforeseen circumstances or omissions. To support teachers in interpreting the guide, the TSM has a number of sections. One of these, the FAQ section, will develop over the life of a programme and is a very important support section. The TSM includes sample papers and internal assessments with examiner comments and guidance.

Subject reports

These are written every session to feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of student performance in examinations and internal assessment. The reports offer guidance on problematic areas and provide recommendations for improving student performance for future sessions. It seems odd, therefore, that students make the same mistakes session on session.  If teachers were to download and print several session reports, common mistakes will be noted and can be highlighted and addressed.

N.B. Your IB coordinator should receive feedback on internal assessment performance for your subject – this adds further information on which to plan future teaching strategies and approaches.

The Extended Essay guide (found in the Diploma Programme core section)

As an IB coordinator I strongly advised students to write an essay, wherever possible, in one of their higher level subjects. Although, the IB does not prevent it, I believe it is not a sensible strategy to write an extended essay in a subject that a student does not take at either HL or SL level, as such essays rarely achieve a good outcome.

Many students write their extended essays in Business Management and it is important that the Business department is organised to support this demand. This requires a department policy on the maximum number of students per supervisor. Supervisors need to have a firm grasp of the subject and the demands of the essay and therefore require training! Most schools have an extended essay coordinator to help with professional development.

It is crucial that students understand:

  • The nature of the extended essay; that it is an academic essay rooted in secondary (not primary data). Under no circumstances should it be another HL internal assessment. Unfortunately, large numbers of extended essays in Business Management are based on primary data and are almost purely practical, rather than academic in nature. What is more telling is that teacher comments on the cover sheet reveal that teachers do not understand this either; even commenting on the lack of primary data in the essay.
  • The assessment criteria and their interpretation. Students and teachers MUST refer to the additional subject specific guidance in the extended essay guide on the nature of the business extended essay and the interpretation of the assessment criteria. This makes clear that for Business and Management, the focus of the research is secondary, whereas the Economics guidance insists that the Economics essay should contain primary research data.

Colleague support: IB Forums

The OCC includes a discussion forum on your subject. As well as discussion threads teachers can upload useful materials to support teaching in the classrooms and to prepare for assessment. Every forum on the OCC is moderated by a faculty member, whose role is to offer advice and additional information as required. Please note, however, that all materials uploaded may not be totally accurate. For example, teachers may upload mock papers for the Case Study, which contain incorrect command terms or do not fully mirror the layout of the actual paper. However, if you are careful, forum resources can be of great help to your students as well as saving you time.

If you have questions about aspects of the programme or assessment that you do not fully understand, there are plenty of colleagues around the globe prepared to help.

There are of course, many other sources of information, resources and advice available to support the Business Management programme.

  • The IB store: has a range of resources for sale. You can buy papers and markschemes individually, or you can persuade your IB Coordinator to buy the CD that contains these for all subjects. There are also question banks and revision guides.
  • Blogs: there are a number of blog sites, such as this one, aimed at teachers and students of Business Management. Most are free. It is worth trawling the web to find these. If you discover an excellent site, you can set up as RSS feed to ensure you are kept up-to-date with the latest posts.

Possible activity for a department meeting

If you are a department head (or even if you are not), how about devoting a whole department meeting to exploring the OCC? You could devise a ‘scavenger hunt’ or quizzes about the OCC content. Naturally offer a prize for the victor – we all like prizes don’t we! With the new programme in place, such an activity will be a useful training exercise. With the new focus on concepts, it is worth exploring materials available not just within the business section of the OCC, but supporting materials on teaching and learning across the IB programmes.

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