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….

The "Competency" Bandwagon: Check Out the Full Itinerary

One of this decade’s fads in higher education is “competency-” or “proficiency-based” education. The discourse around it is littered with phrases and concepts that are seductive to the left-leaning progressive educator. Personalized, flexible, affordable alterna-tive, transcending hours in seats, students gain ownership of their degree, accountability, employable skills, real world, etc.  
This Inside Higher Ed piece raises one alternative take: does competency-based approach to curricula so fully buy into the student as consumer that it will eliminate the “off-rubric” experiences that might not be directly applicable to some skill but that might be the very stuff of growing up, seeing the world in a new way, and the transformation that education is really all about.
Another thing for those ready to jump on the competency bandwagon to think about is who is steering the train where. Ed reformers are skilled at generating strange-bedfellows in the audience for their ideas. I might like competencies as a way of motivating pedagogical innovation, but am I on-board with those who would design college curricula around the needs of corporate employers?


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