Category: K-12 and Higher Education

How Competency-Based Education Can Transform K-12 and Connect with Higher Education

November 28, 2016 by

The growing interest in competency-based education was clearly on display at this year’s INACOL Symposium, and we had the privilege of facilitating a conversation of how competency-based education is developing in K-12 and where it intersects with higher education.

The number of competency-based programs are growing quickly in both K-12 system and higher education. Both allow students to advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of key concepts and skills regardless of time, place, or pace. And both recognize that diplomas and credits based on seat-time and barely passing grades have been sending students and families mixed messages.

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We described the similarities and differences of K-12 and higher education competency-based programs but honed in on the many common policy challenges. (more…)

Creating a Seamless P-20 System in Illinois

September 6, 2016 by

IllinoisWe do our best to stay on top of which districts are converting and what is going on in the states regarding competency education. But we were totally surprised when we heard about the Illinois legislature unanimously passing HB5729 Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act, which includes a K12 pilot for competency-based education.

Luckily, I got to meet a few members of the incredible team in Illinois, all of whom worked closely together around HB5729, at an Achieve Competency-Based Pathways meeting. Thanks to Ben Boer from Advance Illinois for his presentation.

Here are some of the highlights of what I learned about Illinois’ effort. The emphasis on creating a calibrated, transparent and accountable transition in mathematics is opening a door to much needed conversations between higher education and K12.

Overarching Goal: HB 5729 was created to address the goal of the state’s P20 Council to have 60 percent of Illinoisans have a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. An earlier piece of legislation, HR477, established four advisory committees that built consensus around the ideas introduced in HB5729. Through this process, a framework for college and career readiness was developed that introduced ideas of personalization and alternative methods of credit acquisition (i.e., competency education). The framework explicitly identifies the concrete steps of career development, college awareness, and financial literacy. The goal is to create a more aligned system that includes K12, institutions of higher education (IHE), and employers. (more…)

Organizing Around Competencies, Not Courses

July 20, 2016 by

LFCCLord Fairfax Community College (LFCC) a member of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), released HigherEd.org this week. It’s a free resource to create personalized learning plans. According to LFCC’s press release, The portal lets learners document competencies they already have and monitor progress toward new ones. Once users set up their profile of preferences, a custom dashboard is provided called MyHigherEd where they can create a personalized learning plan. Learners can identify and track new educational activities to gain competencies and work towards a nationally-recognized occupational credential. Learner notes, saved searches, and preferred resources are stored and new materials of interest are highlighted.

Although I’m not familiar with all the tools being developed for personalized learning plans in higher education, I found this to be a great example of how the educational experience can be organized differently around a competency-based structure. The competencies for each certificate are pre-loaded (and others can be added), with options for different courses that will allow students to build those skills. This allows us to create exciting interdisciplinary courses and modules while still being very clear about which skills will be taught.

I also appreciate LFCC’s willingness to share the competencies that they consider as important to eight certificates, such as AAS in Health Information Management and Information Systems Technology with Cyber Security. It’s helpful for high schools to think about how the foundational skills in the academic disciplines can begin to align with specific career competencies.

Background From the Press Release

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Harvard and Wellesley and Tufts, Oh My! (And Did I Mention MIT and Babson?)

July 11, 2016 by

College LogosI didn’t think I’d ever see the elites take a stance regarding proficiency-based learning. Thanks to the leadership of New England Secondary School Consortium, sixty-seven colleges and universities in New England have “provided statements and letters articulating their support for proficiency-based learning and stating – unequivocally – that students with proficiency-based grades and transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.”

Check out the NESCC website – you can find the list of institutions of higher education within each state and link to their signed letter with their pledge that students with proficiency-based transcripts will not be disadvantaged in any way.

NESSC highlighted some of the themes that came out in the conversations with the colleges and universities:

  1. Admissions offices receive a huge variety of transcripts, including transcripts from international schools, home-schooled students, and a wide variety of alternative educational institutions and programs that do not have traditional academic programs, grading practices, or transcripts.
  2. Students with non-traditional transcripts – including “proficiency-based” or “competency-based” transcripts – will not be disadvantaged in any way during the admissions process. Colleges and universities simply do not discriminate against students based on the academic program and policies of the sending school, as long as those program and policies are accurately presented and clearly described.
  3. As long as the school profile is comprehensive and understandable, and it clearly explains the rigor of the academic program, the technicalities of the school’s assessment and grading system, and the characteristics of the graduating class, the admissions office will be able to understand the transcript and properly evaluate the strength of a student’s academic record and accomplishments. In short, schools use so many different systems for grading, ranking, and tracking students that a school’s system can only be properly understood when a transcript is accompanied by a comprehensive school profile. A class rank or GPA, for example, doesn’t mean much unless the admissions office also has the “key” (i.e., the school profile) that it needs to understand the applicant’s academic accomplishments and abilities in context.
  4. All the colleges and universities we spoke with strongly support public schools that are working to improve student preparation for postsecondary learning and success, including instructional strategies that equip students with the essential knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits they need to thrive and persist in a collegiate academic program and earn a degree.

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Northern Maine Education Collaborative: High Aspirations

January 29, 2016 by

Northern Maine CollaborativeThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. 

While visiting with President Linda Schott and Provost Ray Rice at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI), I learned about the Northern Maine Education Collaborative (NMEC), which was formed by seventeen districts to implement proficiency-based learning. Through its partnership with UMPI, NMEC is located downstairs from the President’s Office. Luckily, the stars were aligned and I had a chance to meet with David Ouellette, Director of the Central Aroostook Council on Education and the coordinator of NMEC.

Ouellette is a long-time educator in northern Maine, including having served as a principal. He described the community as “low income and high aspirations. We expect our kids to do well. They may leave to pursue education and jobs. However, we expect them to eventually come back here. This has been the foundation that has enabled us to be progressive in taking the initiative to improve education.”

Ouellette explained that the districts in Aroostook County are very interested in proficiency-based learning but have wanted to let the effort get grounded before they take substantial steps forward. He said, “We have learned that there can be a danger in getting too far out front. Previous efforts such as building new systems of assessments have died of their own weight.”

As he described the collaborative efforts of the seventeen districts in NMEC, it didn’t sound as if they were hanging back at all. In fact, because of the deep commitment to building the system together and with UMPI as a partner, what I was hearing was an intentional strategy that would ultimately create a relatively seamless, countywide proficiency-based system. The NMEC was formed because the districts knew that proficiency-based diplomas are a statewide policy and that there are cost-savings to be found if they coordinate their efforts. Lois Brewer, Assistant Superintendent, RSU 39 and Rae Bates, Curriculum Coordinator, RSU 29 are the co-chairs.

NMEC started by studying proficiency-based learning. They then began to make decisions together about instruction, habits of work, and information systems. Ouellette enthused, “It’s been quite an adventure. How lucky we are! These seventeen districts have come together in this time in history to create a system stretching from PreK-16. They have done some groundbreaking things by making countywide decisions.” For example, they are using the Art and Science of Teaching as a foundation for instruction and evaluation. The districts are all using iObservation to support evaluation and instructional improvement. They are adopting Habits of Mind as a strategy to support students in building the skills identified in Maine’s Guiding Principles. Finally, they are investing in the purchase of Empower (it’s the 2.0 version of the information management system Educate) to track student progress. They are working with the team that created Empower so they can build the local capacity to use its functionality and continue customizing it as needed. (more…)

University of Maine at Presque Isle: Eliminating Remediation

January 27, 2016 by
UMPI President Linda Schott

UMPI President Linda Schott

This post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the last in a three-part series on the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Read the first overview here and the second post on a faculty perspective.

One of the most fascinating discussions that was woven throughout my day at the University of Maine at Presque Isle was about the potential (and issues) of deeper alignment with high schools.

Linda Schott, President of UMPI, pointed out that creating the opportunity for students to build college credit while in high school is very important for their students. “Seventy percent of our students are eligible for PELL. High school students earning college credits are saving a huge amount of money, as the cost to them is $15 per credit instead of $220. For many who are going to be the first in their families to go to college, they are learning that they can do college level work. Dual enrollment helps students financially, can speed up the time to degree completion, and of course we hope that they will want to come to UMPI.”

Ray Rice, Provost, described the changes to dual enrollment in a proficiency-based system with, “We have always organized a little bit of early college and dual enrollment with a few of the districts in the county. With the introduction of proficiency-based learning at UMPI, we are retooling the process to meet the expectations of high quality pedagogy and transparent learning objectives, with the high school teachers becoming adjunct professors. UMPI faculty review the syllabus and the summative assessments as well as norming the rubrics in a process to calibrate at a college level.”

According to Rice, UMPI faculty are learning from high school teachers about practices used in proficiency-based learning and vice versa. In addition, the dual enrollment coordinator is now playing a catalytic role in helping to build up a set of proficiency-based dual enrollment courses. Of the sixteen high schools in the county, UMPI is currently working with five of them. (more…)

UMPI: Faculty Perspective

January 25, 2016 by
Scott_Dobrin

Dr. Scott Dobrin, Assistant Professor of Biology

This post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the second in a three-part series on the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Read the first overview here or continue with the third post on eliminating remediation.

During my visit to University of Maine at Presque Isle, I had the chance to meet with Scott Dobrin, an Assistant Professor of Biology, to hear about his experience in moving toward proficiency-based learning. He has been wanting to organize a course that would look at consciousness from several perspectives (such as scientific, philosophical, literary, and psychological) for a while. When the opportunity for designing a proficiency-based course arose, he and Lea Allen, an English professor, proposed designing a course for freshmen on consciousness. The first discussion centered on the question of, “What do we want the students to get out of the course? There is no way they are going to learn everything about consciousness in one semester. So we had to identify the learning objectives that we wanted them to do really well.”

They designed the course by identifying themes, out of which they would then build the text, movies (such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Matrix), and other activities to engage the students. As students engaged in questions regarding consciousness, they then began to develop presentations to capture their analysis and ideas. Thus, in addition to building a base of knowledge, exploring and analyzing complex issues, students built up the workplace skill of organizing and communicating complex ideas.

Our conversation moved to what is different in his biology classes now that they are proficiency-based. As Dobrin put it, “The pedagogy shows you that lecture doesn’t work well. Proficiency-based learning is about students being active and engaged. So now my classrooms are much more about activity than pure lecture. I use the flipped classroom and then develop ways for students to be active in the classroom. My classroom is totally different.” He noted that he hasn’t been able to find all the videos he needed, so he has been making his own videos that are organized to be more “bite-sized and streamlined.” He pointed out, “I tell my students that there is zero possibility for you to be a passive learner in this classroom and get anything out of it. You need to participate and stay on top of things.” (more…)

University of Maine at Presque Isle: Moving at the Speed of Light

January 20, 2016 by

Speed of LightThis post is part of the Maine Road Trip series. This is the first in a three-part series on the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Continue reading with the second post on UMPI faculty perspective and the third on insight into eliminating remediation.

I’m a newbie when it comes to understanding competency education in institutions of higher education (IHE). At the highest level, competency education is the same for higher education as it is for K-12. However, the policy and market context are so, so, so different that I tend to listen carefully for the variations. Furthermore, most IHE are creating competency-based programs to expand the options available for students.

Not so at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. This college is turning proficiency-based from top to bottom (or at least as far as the policy constraints will allow). And they are doing so “at light speed.” What this means is that in a few years, when you travel beyond the end of US 95, you will find what I think will be the first aligned proficiency-based K-12/higher education system. I’m getting goose bumps just writing this! [Note: Given that Maine has a catalytic policy to introduce proficiency-based diplomas across the state, UMPI uses the term proficiency-based, whereas the phrase competency-based is generally used in higher education.] (more…)

‘Student Agency’ Is Not Something You Give or Take

November 11, 2015 by

StepsThis post originally appeared at EdSurge on October 16, 2015.

I feel strange saying that I, a Davidson College Junior named Andrew, have obtained ‘Student Agency.’ Does that make me a ‘Student Agent,’ a sort of James Bond of the educational Free Will? Does that mean I can drop out? Have I made it?

Well, no. I haven’t made it. Because ‘agency’ is a capacity that you never stop developing. You can’t obtain it and you can’t take it away. Education can encourage or discourage ‘agency,’ but education cannot eliminate or provide it. I make this point because ‘student agency’ is often paired with phrases like “the flipped classroom” and “active versus passive learning.” These phrases suggest that agency is a flippable switch: Yesterday, my professor was an onerous, tweed-coated, lecture-giver; today, with an iPad, Lynda.com and an unanticipated boost in self-discipline, I barely even need her!

We can’t continue to frame agency as something that educators give to students. That feeds into the old model of knowledge transmission, where educators stand up and give information to students. Developing ‘agency’, on the other hand, is a collaborative effort where both parties stand to gain (and lose). Collaboration, then, is fundamentally about a relationship between two (or more) equals. As such, ‘agency’ demands a couple of things: individualization, relationship, and equality.

This is important because it lets us see the revolution in education as something more than a couple of quick, life-changing clicks and tips. You can’t just flip the classroom. Developing a student’s capacity to be an ‘agent’ is a horribly difficult, complicated, and personal work. It’s unquantifiable and un-MOOCable. It’s very nearly an art; It’s almost moral; and I believe it is the central role of the educator.

So let’s say this moral, artistic, deeply personal act is part of the educator’s purpose. If it is, I’d like to speak to the way that a group of brilliant, revolutionary educators are cultivating ‘Student Agency’ in me: (more…)

Alternative Credential Adoption in Higher Ed

August 31, 2015 by
Kristi DePaul

Kristi DePaul

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on August 21, 2015.

Nanodegrees. Microcredentials. Digital badging.

Whatever you might call them, various types of alternative credentials have gone mainstream in many areas outside of academia. Professional associations, industry organizations, and nonprofits have embraced them as a way for members and patrons to demonstrate participation in certain activities or in completing training modules. They are a visual, verifiable answer to “show me what you know,” as employers increasingly seek out hires whose skillsets can be proven rather than merely listed on a résumé.

Many discussions have arisen regarding modularized education and the technology required to support it, such as those resulting from the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment report, which was released by EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative this past spring. Institutions that offer alternative credentials would allow individuals to show knowledge acquisition in niche areas, codifying achievements that previously went unacknowledged as part of a greater whole (the ‘traditional credential’).

Earning an alternative credential, however, remains a bold new frontier for many traditional degree-granting institutions. (more…)

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