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Time To Reflect on Competency-based Learning

cover image of jimmy buffett songs you know by heartAt the November Faculty Friday Forum sponsored by NMC’s Center for Instructional Excellence, four questions about competency-based learning were posted.  As I struggled to organize responses to this hot topic into a meaningful context, Mark DeLonge suggested Jimmy Buffett.  Given the flakes of snow flying outside today, I jumped at the chance to check out Songs You Know by Heart as a framework for faculty thoughts.

“These changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes”

The phrase competency-based learning has seen increasing use in popular educational writings recently. For many of us, especially anyone in a community college or vocational education program, assessing competency is standard procedure.

Q:  When you hear the term, “Competency-based learning,” what comes to mind?

  • Prove “I can do it!” instead of “I sat there!”   Don’t promote failure.

  • Performance measures; application; evidence of “mastery” or ability to perform or apply skills/knowledge, application projects/portfolios.

  • Credit for learning/skills and knowledge before they walk in our door.

  • Competency based learning = self-paced or self-directed learning.

  • I transferred from several schools.  I had to repeat chemistry several times because it didn’t transfer.  If I could prove I was competent I could have saved money.

  • Competency = mastery →(depending and relative to the content and division)

  • Click here for complete list of responses

drawing of ALCAt an earlier Friday Forum focusing on meeting students where they are in order to help them succeed, concern was raised about blending competency-based learning principles with current initiatives bringing four new Active Learning Classrooms to NMC. 

How does competency-based learning and college initiatives such as our Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs) fit together?

  • Often times they are in conflict.  Challenge is to find a way to blend initiatives.

  • This can be an exciting opportunity to engage students with different ways to learn.

  • Active learning leads to competency–can’t gain competency without active involvement!

  • Inasmuch as it may splinter and atomize students into individual status/es, groups may be challenged…

  • Active learning can benefit traditional methods as well as competency based.  It can support competency through greater engagement.

  • Immediate feedback at the student’s pace.

  • Click here for complete responses to this prompt.

“Nothing remains quite the same.”

Digging into the readings about the publicized institutional efforts to change education to a competency-based model such as Western Governors, Southern New Hampshire, Kentucky Community & Technical College System, and subscription-based Straighterline, one finds that the underlying change is not about competency but about divesting competency from seat time.

If we speed up time-to-degree for students, what do students gain or lose?

  • (+) more engagement, less boredom

  • Gain:  more time employed, more time to pay back loans.

  • Students with aptitude, previous experience, or interest can excel.  Unmotivatied, uninterested students fall behind or fail.

  • They lose the ability to take time for serious study–they’ll focus on the goal and miss the process.

  • Lose:  The human part of a classroom experience.

  • Students see degree as something they consume/purchase.

  • Click here for complete responses to this prompt.

“Through all of the islands and all of the highlands…”

NMC's view of West Bay and Mission Peninsula off the port bow of the State of Michigan

NMC’s view of West Bay and Mission Peninsula off the port bow of the State of Michigan

Our mission, “Northwestern Michigan College provides lifelong learning opportunities to our communities” means that we are also open to all, serving a diverse population of learners.  As an accredited college by the Higher Learning Commission, we must also ensure excellence in the education we provide.  Quality assessment of our learning outcomes is imperative.

How do we assess student learning with our different student populations and learning styles in competency-based learning?

  • Good question since many students may not be able to demonstrate competency especially if they don’t care about the subject.

  • Prior learning assessment done before student completes program–with faculty experts and/or standardized tools.

  • Use different methods as we do currently–by demonstration, skills-based testing, computer-based testing, etc…

  • Grading is already a pain.  In a lesson, the first few artifacts take more (much more!) energy to grade than other artifacts.  If I’m always grading a few at a time…

  • Click here for complete responses to this prompt.

“If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”

As bardon’s wonder freeze is closed for the season, we thought we might try a different tack.

What is your favorite kind of popsicle?

  • What is the definition of a popsicle??  Is a creamsicle a popsicle?

  • Homemade strawberry.

  • RED.

  • Bomb pops.

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