Know the Bandwagon You are Jumping on

Its boosters are certain that competency-based education is the next “disruptive innovation” in higher education. This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education is a bit slanted in that direction, but it does drop a few hints at the other side of the debate, noting that when systems go whole hog down this path “it takes faculty out of their role as teachers, turning them into coaches, curators, and graders.” 

More importantly, I think, is how the article reflects the failure of the non-boosters to provide a persuasive account of why conventional instruction in the liberal arts might be superior to “study on your own, take the exam when you’re ready” approach. Or, rather, their failure to get the idea across to journalists well enough for it to come out as something other than a vague  praise of “the intellectual journey.” One spokesman for conventional higher education was quoted as saying: 

the role that colleges play should serve the goal of a truly liberal education, which is often idiosyncratic, depends on the people involved, and resistant to standardization

in a manner that makes it sounds like this is the big problem.  As is the case with soooo much of the discourse about higher education, this conversation is seriously muddled by the fact that participants have a financial and cultural stake in the outcome that seems, pretty consistently, to bias analyses and opinions.

College, On Your Own
Competency-Based education can help motivated students.
But critics say it’s no panacea.
By Dan Berrret
Nichelle Pollock felt like she was moving through college in slow motion. In seven years she had gotten about half way through her bachelor’s degree. But recently, she’s been racing forward, racking up 50 credits in just 8 months….

More Sources on Competency Based Education

Debbie Morrison at Online Learning Insights has a nice blog post “The Next Big Disruptor – Competency-based Learning” with good suggestions for further reading.
Paul Fain at Inside Higher Ed has been reporting a lot about competence-based education:

See Also

The Conversation about Competency-Based Education I

One starting point for thinking about the thinking about “competency-based education” is the executive summary of a 2002 report from the “National Post-Secondary Educational Cooperative” (associated with National Center for Educational Statistics which is connected with the Institute of Education Sciences  which is a part of the Department of Education).  It lays out some of the issues in the ongoing conversation about “competency-based” education.  The motivations sound plausible, but are not as strong arguments as they could be:
  1. Assessment  is based on competencies. So think in terms of competencies so assessment can happen.
  2. Competencies help faculty, students, employers, policymakers have common understanding about skills and knowledge students should have as result of education.
  3. Articulating competencies facilitates design of curriculum and teaching and evaluation methods.
But it is part of a bigger picture.  One piece of this is the argument that “other stakeholders” should have more of a say in what faculty are teaching students.  These would be employers and governments.
Another piece is concern that certification for competence should be “transportable.” For some this means from school to school. In Europe it means between national higher education systems.  The “political” rub comes when it means between schools and other entities that can offer certification – in other words, it is a tool meant to break the monopoly that colleges and universities have on being the place where society can spend its education dollars.
Yet another issue raised is reliability and validity (of the means of certifying competence).  Reliability means different evaluators evaluate the same person the same way.  Validity means that the outcome of an evaluation is an evaluation of what we think it is.