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Conversation on Workplace Learning and Literacy

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Stephen Downes, Valerie Irvine, John Kenney, YouTube, Oct 24, 2014

Framed around the LPSS program, and looking at specific issues such as workplace learning and literacy, this discussion outlines some of my views on the problems we are trying to solve, the applicability of the solutions we are creating, and the question of broader social needs being served by the program. I am in one window; Valerie Irvine and John Kenney are in the other.

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Categorías: General

Hack Education Weekly News: UNC Cheaters and Keene State Rioters

Hack Education - Hace 7 horas 17 mins

Education Law and Politics

LAUSD’s new superintendent Ramon Cortines says that construction bonds shouldn’t pay for iPads and Pearson curriculum. Currently, construction bonds are paying for the district’s iPads and Pearson curriculum. So the LAUSD iPad saga continues…

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the head of Chicago Public Schools, says she wants to delay the use of PARCC Common Core tests in her district. The state of Illinois plans to do so, so I’m not sure how all of this will play out as the state has already decreed that the city cannot opt out of the PARCC assessments.

NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña “swapped 15 of 42 city school superintendents, or nearly 36%, in her biggest personnel shakeup since taking office,” says the NY Daily News. “Swapped” is an interesting verb. “Must reapply for their jobs” is a better description.

Common Pleas Court Judge Nina Wright Padilla issued a preliminary injunction, stopping the Philadelphia school district from changing its teacher contract so that teachers would have to pay their own health care costs.

The US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has overturned a lower court’s ruling in Cambridge v Patton, an important copyright/fair use case involving Georgia State University and university e-reserves. More on the case, and why we shouldn’t panic too much about the decision, via Techdirt.

“State officials announced Friday that the Social Security numbers, names and birthdates of 210 students were left on at least two laptops sold at auction Oct. 11. Those laptops were surplus equipment from the Future Is Now charter group sold after the organization ended its program at John McDonogh High in New Orleans.” Ed-tech privacy and security disasters – really guys, this not just an inBloom problem.

The Obama Administration announced it was loosening the credit requirements for federal PLUS loans.

Cafeteria workers at Howard Elementary School in Los Angeles say they’ve been instructed to speak only English while at work. Most of the staff who work in the cafeteria are native Spanish speakers, and 86% of the students at the school identify as Hispanic. The school says that the workers have misconstrued the rule; it’s only English-only while “performing job duties.” Oh.

The Wall Street Journal on the school-to-prison pipeline: “A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.”

Via Politico: “Lobbying reports for the third quarter of 2014 are in. Big education spenders from July through September were: Navient and Sallie Mae ($834,000), the National Education Association ($594,394), Apollo Education Group ($500,000), the NCAA ($410,000) and the American Federation of Teachers ($337,382).”

The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools has okayed the University of Michigan’s plans for a competency-based master’s degree in health professions education.

Alex Usher examines the campaign promise of Michelle Bachelet, recently re-elected as President of Chile to make higher education in the country completely free.

An open letter and petition calling for justice in the investigation of the disappearance of 43 college students in Mexico.

MOOCs and UnMOOCs

Paul-Olivier Dehaye, the instructor who was removed from his #massiveteachingMOOC earlier this year, has started to explain his side of what went massively wrong with the course.

Davidson College has received a $2 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to extend its work on Advanced Placement MOOCs.

This is pretty much the worst piece of writing about education technology I’ve ever seen published in a major publication. Didn’t stop Edsurge from covering it and strangely attributing it to the WSJ and not Forbes. But hey.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “The University of Arkansas System in March approved the creation of a fully online institution that would spring from the system’s pool of talent and resources. Seven months later, some of the other institutions in the system are balking at the idea of footing the bill for what may become a direct competitor.”

Meanwhile on Campus

Police in Marysville, Washington say that two students are dead and four are wounded following a school shooting today. (The shooter is one of the deceased.)

Police in riot gear had to use tear gas to break up the “melee” of hundreds of students at Keene State College in New Hampshire. The students were rioting over the… pumpkin festival.

“The Boston Public Schools is considering the development of a policy to add another layer of security to help protect students and staff. This would involve training School Police Officers in the use of OC spray, also known as pepper spray, and equipping officers with this tool.” So you should probably show up at the public forum to discuss this, Boston edu people.

The same year as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement and some 34 years since it started supporting the program, the University of Berkeley is withdrawing its funding for the Emma Goldman Papers Project, an archive of the anarchist’s work.

The University of Guelph has filed a trademark for “OpenEd.” What assholes. Also, the IP system is broken. But mostly, what assholes.

Charles Munger – a.k.a. Warren Buffett’s business partner – has made a $65 million donation to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

It’s now officially okay for members of the University of Oklahoma Marching Band to criticize the marching band.

Via Tressie McMillan Cottom: the top degree-granting institutions for African Americans. Take a guess at what they are. Then read Tressie’s article and analysis.

EBOLA!!!!

The University of South Florida has canceled a visit by 14 African journalists because of fears of Ebola. Just two were from West African countries affected by the disease.

A teacher from Maine was placed on a 21-day paid leave of absence because she went to Dallas – a move that does make you want to look more closely at the science curriculum there in Strong, Maine.

Two children who’d spent time in eastern Africa – thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreak – are being kept home from school in Maple Shade, New Jersey, because Strong, Maine and the University of South Florida do not hold a monopoly on dumb.

Go, School Sports Team!

Holy crap, Tar Heels. I mean, yeah, I think many of us recognize that lots of shady things happen to maintain student athletes’ eligibility. But this week, a 1367-page report was released detaining 18 years worth of academic fraud, supported by professors, coaches, and administrators at the University of North Carolina. “The report estimates that more than 3,100 students received ”irregular instruction“ in the department’s ”paper classes,“ which did not meet and required only a single paper for credit. Student athletes were disproportionately represented in the classes, accounting for 47.6 percent of enrollments, while making up just 4 percent of the undergraduate student body.” More here and here and here in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A new lawsuit was filed this week, charging NCAA and Division 1 schools of violating the wage-and-hour provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. More via USA Today.

“The University of Texas could spend nearly $6 million a year to comply with a string of recent legal rulings requiring colleges to be more generous to their scholarship athletes.” (That’s about $10,000 per player.)

“Nearly a quarter of respondents to a new survey of NCAA colleges said their institutions do not have a formal process for educating athletes about the danger of head injuries,” reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. The NCAA does require colleges have a “concussion management plan,” but there’s no penalty if you don’t. So ya know, whatever.

The coaches at Sayreville High School in New Jersey have been suspended, following sexual assault charges filed against several of the school’s football players last week.

The rest of the football season has been cancelled at Central Bucks High School West in Philadelphia “after concluding rookie players had been subjected to ‘humiliating and inappropriate’ initiation rites.”

From the HR Department

The University of Warwick’s Thomas Docherty has been cleared of any wrongdoing after being suspended from 9 months for “giving off negative vibes.”

A Tennessee school district has fired one of its IT staff after he used a school 3D printer “to create an inoperable part of a paintball gun.”

Some folks are up-in-arms because of the cover story in the November 3 issue of Time Magazine on teacher tenure. The cover itself is not quite as provocative as the 2008 one with Michelle Rhee holding the broom ready to sweep the classrooms of DC “clean,” but this one features the phrase “rotten apples” with a gavel preparing to smash a perfectly nice looking piece of fruit. AFT’s Randi Weingarten is demanding the magazine apologize to teachers, and there’s been lots of discussion on Twitter today about the article. Time is probably relieved there’s a controversy so that people actually read the damn magazine.

Upgrades and Downgrades

Twitter is screwing up how the timeline works, hoping for better “engagement.”

“The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has partnered with startup incubator and investment fund 1776 to provide mentors and engagement opportunities for entrepreneurs involved in the K–12 space,” reports Edsurge. 1776 has also partnered with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Pearson.

It’s great to see coverage of video games made by teenage girls, don’t get me wrong. But in the midst of #gamergate, with all the hatred that’s being unleashed on women in the industry, it’s probably not the best timing for Mic’s story about two teens and their video game Tampon Run. As always: never read the comments.

Earlier this month, I tweeted a question, asking what the education equivalent is of the “Paypal Mafia.” InTheCapital just ran a story, with supporting anecdotes provided by Blackboard execs, claiming it’s Blackboard. I don’t buy it. But nice story idea.

Photomath uses the smartphone camera to solve math problems. Or to try to do so. So cue the headlines on how this will “revolutionized math education forever!” Avoid those stories. Read Dan Meyer’s or Rhett Allain’s takes instead.

Textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is launching an “ed-tech incubator” so it can “work on adopting a startup mentality internally.”

1800 words in Inside Higher Ed on the use of single quotations versus double quotations in student work.

Via Gizmodo: “A ‘Smartwatch’ For Kindergarteners Is the Only Smartwatch You Need

It’s probably wrong to laugh at cybercrime news, but “Hackers Are Exploiting Microsoft PowerPoint to Hijack Computers.” I LOL’d.

How to Stop Apple From Snooping on Your OS X Yosemite Searches

Via the School Library Journal: “Adobe’s Lax Security Raises Concerns About Student Privacy.”

Adobe supports #Gamergate. Awesome priorities, Adobe.

Working Examples, an online community for sharing practices in education and technology, will be closing its doors at the end of the year.

Funding and Acquisitions

On the heels of its investment in Udacity, publisher Bertelsmann has acquired online education company Relias Learning for an undisclosed figure.

KnowRe has raised $6.8 million in Series A funding from Softbank Ventures Korea, with KTB Network, Partners Investment, and SparkLabs Global Ventures. The “adaptive learning” startup has raised $8.6 million total.

51Talk has raised $55 million from Sequoia Capital, Shunwei Capital, and DCM. This brings to $65.1 million raised by the Chinese online English-language-learning school.

Notebowl has raised $600,000 in seed funding. Says Edsurge: “NoteBowl offers a social learning platform for college students, including private groups, messages, agendas and Hangouts on Air, which allows users to broadcast lectures, integrated with a Q&A feature, automatically saved to YouTube.” Sounds unique.

The for-profit college operator Education Management Corp has delisted itself from NASDAQ. “Last week, EDMC reported a $644 million loss in fiscal year 2014, its third consecutive annual loss, as enrollment declined 7.3 percent.” But don’t worry, education startups, I’m sure your IPO will be waaaaay different.

“Research"

The Pew Research Center released its latest report on online harassment. 65% of those between 18–29 say they’ve reported some form of online harassment, with women in that age bracket experiencing severe harassment at a far higher level. 26% of those women say they’ve been stalked online.

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.” I look forward to “spite” replacing “grit” as the new education buzzword.

Researchers from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development issued a statement this week about the promises made by “brain training” companies: “To date, there is little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.” (Hello ed-tech: please keep this in mind the next time you see someone drop the phrase “brain based” into their blog posts or webinars.) Meanwhile, “Research shows Portal 2 is better for you than ‘Brain training’ software.”

The Impact of Open Textbooks on Secondary Science Learning Outcomes.” From the abstract: “Although the effect size of the gains were relatively small, and not consistent across all textbooks, the finding that open textbooks can be as effective or even slightly more effective than their traditional counterparts has important considerations in terms of school district policy in a climate of finite educational funding.”

Research funded by the Gates Foundation finds positive things about small schools, an initiative supported by the Gates Foundation. Here’s more on the story from a news organization funded by the Gates Foundation.

Just 10% of art school undergraduates end up as working artists. This and other reasons to avoid art school can be found here.

“Forty-five percent of school districts indicated they do not have the capacity to deploy a 1:1 initiative.” This and other stats from COSN’s Annual E-rate and Infrastructure Survey.

“A decade ago, the U.S. Navy replaced instructor-led teaching with computer-based learning in entry-level training courses, in part to reduce costs, but the result has been less-well-trained sailors and an estimated $16 million in excess maintenance costs, say Robert M. McNab and Diana I. Angelis of the Defense Resources Management Institute.” Disruptive.

Help wanted at the Open Syllabus Project: “You will help us put 2 million scraped syllabi online, do natural language processing to extract citations from each syllabus, and build visualizations to do citation analysis. We want to see what people are actually teaching for each subject, and how this changes over time, and make this type of analysis widely available to researchers.”

It’s a small sample size, but research by Michelle Lem at the University of Guelph found that homeless youth put their pets’ needs over their own.

Via Education Week: “A new study in the American Sociological Review finds that middle and high school students from wealthier backgrounds are more likely than students in poverty to ‘selectively use stimulants only during the academic year,’ and they are most likely to do so in states with the most stringent academic accountability.”

This week in education-related charts and maps: “The Graduate Schools With the Richest Alums.” “The most expensive college dorms in every state.”

Image credits: Jesse

Need-to-Know-News: How Big is the MOOC Market? More Money$ for Minerva & Impact of MOOCs

online learning insights - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 19:00
This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it. The MOOC Market What is the size of … Continue reading →

Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, IMS Global Learning Consortium, and International Digital Publishing Forum Announce Digital Learning Metadata Alliance

OLDaily - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 15:16
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Press Release, IMS, Oct 24, 2014

According to this press release issued by IMS, the new organization will be called the Digital Learning Metadata Alliance and can be found at  dlma.org - "The first incarnation of DLMA work will be the metadata schema for EDUPUB a joint collaboration between IDPF and IMS Global to enable e-books that are interoperable across reader platforms, web browsers and educational systems (such as learning platforms and learning tools)." Dublin Core just the other day assumed  formal responsibility over the learning resource metadata initiative (LRMI). The significant feature of this annpouncement is the inclusion of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), which is "the global trade and standards organization for the digital publishing industry."

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Categorías: General

Poverty Is Strongest Factor in Whether High School Graduates Enroll in College

OLDaily - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 15:16
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Laurie Arnston, Higher Education Today, Oct 24, 2014

Despite all the emphasis on how important teaching and testing are for improving educational outcomes,  the fact remains that the worst results from higher-income schools are still better than the best results from low-income schools. This is why education alone is not sufficient to provide opportunities to youth. Governments also have to be focused on measures that address equity, in order to lower the pervasive impact of poverty on outcomes. Measures that do not address this cause are not (despite the rhetoric) addressing outcomes; they are addressing some other objective, an objective the proponents do not want to talk about.

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Categorías: General

Solidarity in the Ivory Tower

OLDaily - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 15:16
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Herbert Pimlott, Academic Matters, Oct 24, 2014

Herbert Pimlott writes, "The growing number of precarious academic workers teaching an ever-larger number of undergraduate students is a threat. It is a threat to our profession, with serious implications for our working conditions, our compensation, and the future of collegial governance. It is also a threat to the existence of higher education and the public university as we know it. Indeed, it is also part of the tale of Canada’ s shrinking middle class."

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Categorías: General

LISTedTECH: New wiki site and great visualizations

OLDaily - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 15:16
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Phil Hill, e-Literate, Oct 24, 2014

Phil Hill onmtroduces us to this interesting site that assembles statistics on technology usage in education, creating useful visualizations in the process. LISTedTECH wiki used to run on Drupal, but has since converted to a MediaWiki. This makes it a lot easier for people to add content (though sadly the RSS feeds are not useful). "  LISTedTECH  was created by Justin Menard, who is Business Intelligence Senior Analyst at University of Ottawa," writes Hill. "The site is broader in scope than just the LMS – there is a rich source of data & visualizations on MOOCs, university rankings, and IPEDS data.  Most of the visualizations are presented by Tableau and therefore interactive in nature, allowing the user to filter data, zoom in on geographic data, etc."

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Categorías: General

Isaac Asimov Asks, “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

OLDaily - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 15:16
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Isaac Asimov, MIT Technology review, Oct 24, 2014

Isaac Asimov was very influential on me ion my youth, and I read many of the dozens and dozens of books he authored. This essay is a previously unpublished article he wrote on creativity, and it is not surprising to see the affinity between my own thought and what he wrote. "What is needed," he writes, "is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected." And, "Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring. It must, for any cross-connection that does not require daring is performed at once by many and develops not as a 'new idea,' but as a mere 'corollary of an old idea.'"

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#MoodleisOrange Campaign Kickoff

Moodle News - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 14:21
Obviously I have a profound respect for Moodle, it’s future direction, the community which supports and uses it and Moodle HQ which helps to steer one of the largest open source project world...

CMC2014 | SUPERVISIÓN EN LÍNEA DE LA INVESTIGACIÓN EN MAESTRÍAS Y DOCTORADOS. ESTRATEGIA METODOLÓGICA DE APOYO A LA INVESTIGACIÓN Y A LA INTERACCIÓN | Martha L. Orellana & Jesús Salinas

Educación flexible y abierta - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 09:18

 

 


Jesús Salinas's insight:
CMC2014 | SUPERVISIÓN EN LÍNEA DE LA INVESTIGACIÓN EN MAESTRÍAS Y DOCTORADOS. ESTRATEGIA METODOLÓGICA DE APOYO A LA INVESTIGACIÓN Y A LA INTERACCIÓN | Martha L. Orellana H., Universidad Autónoma de Bucaramanga, Colombia & Jesús Salinas I., Universidad de las Islas Baleares, España

See it on Scoop.it, via Educación flexible y abierta

Making the Internet of Things Understand Your Voice | MIT Technology Review

Educación flexible y abierta - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 09:08

With natural-language processing aided by crowdsourced data, Wit.ai aims to make smartphones, wearables, and drones heed your call.

See it on Scoop.it, via Educación flexible y abierta

Five Reasons #Gamergate Connects to Educational Technology

OLDaily - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 03:13
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John Spencer, Education Rethink, Oct 23, 2014

We teach people this stuff. We who create technology and media, who shape thought and opinion, who set examples and and work in public - we are the ones who make it OK to shame and harass and threaten and all the rest.

Today I read that Felicia Day, creator of the (great!)  online show about gaming, The Guild,  has been doxxed for writing a post on #gamergate (to 'doxx' someone is to expose their personal information, such as their home address, online, thus opening them up to harassment and stalking). She had been mostly silent, she says, because "I have been terrified of inviting a deluge of abusive and condescending tweets into my timeline." It turns out her fears were justified. In this post, John Spencer directly draws the link between #gamergate and education. "People are way too quick to minimize the misogyny that exists online," he writes. "I wrote a post about not shaming girls who break dress code and faced a barrage of trolling." He adds, "the misogyny and sexism is rampant at tech conferences. Go visit the vendor hall and see the number of companies that hire women based upon their looks to be the 'booth girls.' You don't have to look hard to find the objectification."

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LISTedTECH: New wiki site and great visualizations

e-Literate - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 02:06

Last year I wrote about a relatively new site offering very interesting data and visualizations in the ed tech world. LISTedTECH was created by Justin Menard, who is Business Intelligence Senior Analyst at University of Ottawa. First of all, the site is broader in scope than just the LMS – there is a rich source of data & visualizations on MOOCs, university rankings, and IPEDS data. Most of the visualizations are presented by Tableau and therefore interactive in nature, allowing the user to filter data, zoom in on geographic data, etc. Since e-Literate is not set up for full-page visualizations, I have included screen shots below, but clicking on the image will take you to the appropriate LISTedTECH page.

Justin created the LISTedTECH site based on his frustration with getting valuable market information while working on an ERP project at the University of Ottawa. After taking a year-long travel sabbatical, he added a programmer to his team this past summer. Justin does not have immediate plans to monetize the site beyond hoping to pay for server time.

LISTedTECH is a wiki. Anyone can sign up and contribute data on institutions and products. Justin gets notifications of data added and verifies data.[1] One of the key benefits of a wiki model is the ability to get user-defined data and even user ideas on useful data to include. Another benefit is the ability to scale. One of the key downsides of the wiki model is the need to clean out bad data, which can grow over time. Another downside is the selective sampling in data coverage.

LISTedTECH puts a priority on North America, and currently all ~140 Canadian schools are included. Justin and team are currently working to get complete, or near complete, US coverage. The one below could be titled If Ed Tech Were a Game of Risk, Moodle Wins.

As of today the site includes:

  • Compan‏ies (511)
  • Products (1,326)
  • Institutions‏‎ (27,595)
  • Listed products used by institutions (over 18,000)
  • Product Categories‏‎ (36)
  • Countries (235)
  • World Ranking‏‎s (9)

The biggest change since I wrote last year is that LISTedTech has moved to a new site.

We have (finally) launched our new website wiki.listedtech.com. As you might remember, our old Drupal based site had been wikified to try and make contributions easier and try to build a community around HigherEd tech data. Even if it was possible to edit and share information, it was difficult to get all the steps down, and in the right order.

With the new version of the site, we knew that we needed a better tool. The obvious choice was to use the Mediawiki platform. To attain our goal of better data, we souped it up with semantic extensions. This helps by structuring the data on the pages so that they can be queried like a database.

Another example shows the history of commercial MOOCs based on the number of partner institutions:

I’m a sucker for great visualizations, and there is a lot to see at the site. One example is on blended learning and student retention, using official IPEDS data in the US. “Blended in this case means that the institution offers a mix of face-to-face and online courses.

This is interesting – for 4-year institutions student retention positively there is a negative correlation with the percentage of courses available online, while for 2-year institutions the story is very different. That data invites additional questions and exploration.

All of the data for the website is available for download as XML files.

  1. He asks for people to include a link to source data to help in the QA process.

The post LISTedTECH: New wiki site and great visualizations appeared first on e-Literate.

What Faculty Should Know About Competency-Based Education

e-Literate - 24 Octubre, 2014 - 00:26

I loved the title of Phil’s recent post, “Competency-Based Education: Not just a drinking game” because it acknowledges that, whatever else CBE is, it is also a drinking game. The hype is huge and still growing. I have been thinking a lot lately about Gartner’s hype cycle and how it plays out in academia. In a way, it was really at the heart of the Duke keynote speech I posted the other day. There are a lot of factors that amplify it and make it more pernicious in the academic ecosystem than it is elsewhere. But it’s a tough beast to tackle.

I got some good responses to the “what faculty should know…” format that I used for a post about adaptive learning, so I’m going to try it again here in somewhat modified form. Let me know what you think of the format.

What Competency-Based Education (CBE) Is

The basic idea behind CBE is that what a student learns to pass a course (or program) should be fixed while the time it takes to do so should be variable. In our current education system, a student might have 15 weeks to master the material covered in a course and will receive a grade based on how much of the material she has mastered. CBE takes the position that the student should be able to take either more or less time than 15 weeks but should only be certified for completing the course when she has mastered all the elements. When a student registers for a course, she is in it until she passes the assessments for the course. If she comes in already knowing a lot and can pass the assessments in a few weeks—or even immediately—then she gets out quickly. If she is not ready to pass the assessments at the end of 15 weeks, she keeps working until she is ready.

Unfortunately, the term “CBE” is used very loosely and may have different connotations in different contexts. First, when “competency-based education” was first coined, it was positioned explicitly against similar approaches (like “outcomes-based education” and “mastery learning”) in that CBE was intended to be vocationally oriented. In other words, one of the things that CBE was intended to accomplish by specifying competencies was to ensure that what the students are learning is relevant to job skills. CBE has lost that explicit meaning in popular usage, but a vocational focus is often (but not always) present in the subtext.

Also, competencies increasingly feature prominently even in classes that do not have variable time. This is particularly true with commercial courseware. Vendors are grouping machine-graded assessment questions into “learning objectives” or competencies that are explicitly tied to instructional readings, videos, and so on. Rather than reporting that the student got quiz questions 23 through 26 wrong, the software is reporting that the student is not able to answer questions on calculating angular momentum, which was covered in the second section of Chapter 3. Building on this helpful but relatively modest innovation, courseware products are providing increasingly sophisticated support to both students and teachers on areas of the course (or “competencies”) where students are getting stuck. This really isn’t CBE in the way the term was originally intended but is often lumped together with CBE.

What It’s Good For

Because the term “CBE” is used for very different approaches, it is important to distinguish among them in terms of their upsides and downsides. Applying machine-driven competency-based assessments within a standard, time-based class is useful and helpful largely to the extent that machine-based assessment is useful and helpful. If you already are comfortable using software to quiz your students, then you will probably find competency-based assessments to be an improvement in that they provide improved feedback. This is especially true for skills that build on each other. If a student doesn’t master the first skill in such a sequence, she is unlikely to master the later skills that depend on it. A competency-based assessment system can help identify this sort of problem early so that the student doesn’t suffer increasing frustration and failure throughout the course just because she needs a little more help on one concept.

Thinking about your (time-based) course in terms of competencies, whether they are assessed by a machine or by a teacher, is also a useful tool in terms of helping you as a teacher shift your thinking from what it is you want to teach to what it is you want your students to learn—and how you will know that they have learned it. Part of defining a competency is defining how you will know when a student has achieved it. Thinking about your courses this way can not only help you design your courses better but also help when it is time to talk to your colleagues about program-level or even college-level goals. In fact, many faculty encounter the word “competency” for the first time in their professional context when discussing core competencies on a college-wide basis as part of the general education program. If you  have participated in these sorts of conversations, then you may well have found them simultaneously enlightening and incredibly frustrating. Defining competencies well is hard, and defining them so that they make sense across disciplines is even harder. But if faculty are engaged in thinking about competencies on a regular basis, both as individual teachers and as part of a college or disciplinary community, then they will begin to help each other articulate and develop their competencies around working with competencies.

Assuming that the competencies and assessments are defined well, then moving from a traditional time- or term-based structure to full go-at-your-own-pace CBE can help students by enabling those students who are especially bright or come in with prior knowledge and experience to advance quickly, while giving students who just need a little more time the chance they need to succeed. Both of these aspects are particularly important for non-traditional students[1] who come into college with life experience but also need help making school work with their work and life schedules—and who may very well have dropped out of college previously because they got stuck on a concept here or there and never got help to get past it.

What To Watch Out For

All that said, there are considerable risks attached to CBE. As with just about anything else in educational technology, one of the biggest has more to do with the tendency of technology products to get hyped than it does with the underlying ideas or technologies themselves. Schools and vendors alike, seeing a huge potential market of non-traditional students, are increasingly talking about CBE as a silver bullet. It is touted as more “personalized” than traditional courses in the sense that students can go at their own pace, and it “scales”—if the assessments are largely machine graded. This last piece is where CBE goes off the tracks pretty quickly. Along with the drive to service a large number of students at lower cost comes a strong temptation to dumb down competencies to the point where they can be entirely machine graded. Again, this probably doesn’t do much damage to traditional courses or programs that are already machine graded, it can do considerable damage in cases where the courses are not. And because CBE programs are typically aimed a working class students who can’t afford to go full-time, CBE runs the risk of making what is already a weaker educational experience in many cases (relative to expensive liberal arts colleges with small class sizes) worse by watering down standards for success and reducing the human support, all while advertising itself as “personalized.”

A second potential problem is that, even if the competencies are not watered down, creating a go-at-your-own-pace program makes social learning more of a challenge. If students are not all working on the same material at the same time, then they may have more difficulty finding peers they can work with. This is by no means an insurmountable design problem, but it is one that some existing CBE programs have failed to surmount.

Third, there are profound labor implications for moving from a time-based structure to CBE, starting with the fact that most contracts are negotiated around the number of credit hours faculty are expected to teach in a term. Negotiating a move from a time-based program to full CBE is far from straightforward.

Recomendations

CBE offers the potential to do a lot of good where it is implemented well and a lot of harm where it is implemented poorly. There are steps faculty can take to increase the chances of a positive outcome.

First, experiment with machine-graded competency-based programs in your traditional, time-based classes if and only if your are persuaded that the machine is capable of assessing the students well at what it is supposed to assess. My advice here is very similar to the advice I gave regarding adaptive learning, which is to think about the software as a tutor and to use, supervise, and assess its effectiveness accordingly. If you think that a particular software product can provide your students with accurate guidance regarding which concepts they are getting and which ones that they are not getting within a meaningful subset of what you are teaching, then it may be worth trying. But there is nothing magical about the word “competency.” If you don’t think that software can assess the skills that you want to assess, then competency-based software will be just as bad at it.

Second, try to spend a little time as you prepare for a new semester to think about your course in terms of competencies and refine your design at least a bit with each iteration. What are you trying to get students to know? What skills do you want them to have? How will you know if they have succeeded in acquiring that knowledge and those skills? How are your assessments connected to your goals? How are your lectures and course materials connected to them? To what degree are the connections clear and explicit?

Third, familiarize yourself with CBE efforts that are relevant to your institution and discipline, particularly if they are driven by organizations that you respect. For example, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has created a list of competencies called the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP) and a set of assessment rubrics called Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE). While these programs are consistent with and supportive of designing a CBE program, they focus on defining competencies students should receive from a high-quality liberal arts education and emphasize the use of rubrics applied by expert faculty for assessment over machine grading.

And finally, if your institution moves in the direction of developing a full CBE program, ask the hard questions, particularly about quality. What are the standards for competencies and assessments? Are they intended to be the same as for the school’s traditional time-based program? If so, then how will we know that they have succeeded in upholding those standards? If not, then what will the standards be, and why are they appropriate for the students who will be served by the program?

 

  1. The term “non-traditional is really out-of-date, since at many schools students who are working full-time while going to school are the rule rather than the exception. However, since I don’t know of a better term, I’m sticking with non-traditional for now.

The post What Faculty Should Know About Competency-Based Education appeared first on e-Literate.

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