Competency Based Education: Alverno College

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Carol Geary Schneider had it right. In her Fall 2012 Liberal Education essay “Is It Finally Time to Kill the Credit Hour?” Schneider makes a persuasive case that we are very far from a coherent national plan for education. In light of that reality, taking the opportunity to review examples of existing competency-based learning programs is time well spent. “We need to take the time and learn from the assessment experiments that are going on all over higher education. We also need to build broad and compelling agreement on what twenty-first-century markers of student accomplishment actually look like. And, soberingly, that work is still in draft form.”

Models for Review and Consideration. Competency-based education is not new. Examining the development and attributes of programs currently in place will be critical to understanding their relationship to emerging online education, curricular development, and the roles of faculty and learner. Most important, such a review will provide context for making informed strategic decisions about digital scholarship and online education at your campus.

Some interesting models include the Western Governors University, founded in 1997 by nineteen state governors, which has been steadily developing and extending a program of online degree offerings for over a decade; Southern New Hampshire University, which more recently made significant strides in implementing new models accommodating the needs and academic ambitions of contemporary learners; and—fully a quarter century before the founding of WGU—Alverno College and Empire State College, which began developing bold approaches to ability-based learning assessment. In order to properly study the question of whether or not, or to what extent, to implement competency-based programs, we need to review established ones, including their intellectual, pedagogical, technical, and policy frameworks. The following review of examples highlight what can be accomplished after hard and honest evaluation of institutional strategy and educational opportunity.

Alverno College. The roots of competency-based education stem from traditional face-to-face learning in brick-and-mortar campuses. In 1973, after nine years of focused development, Alverno College launched its Competence Based Learning program. The new program had at its core the idea of “teaching students to learn, internalize, and then externalize and apply knowledge gained in the classroom to their life and their workplace.” The genesis and development of the program is recounted in the July 1985 Alverno Magazine: “Beginning in 1964 and continuing through 1969, the Alverno administration recognized the impact that rapid changes in technology, the economy, politics and sociological shifts were having on the process of educating college students. The complexities of modern society were eroding away the effectiveness of traditional teaching techniques that had been used for centuries.”

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The Collaboration Continuum

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Collaboration is a powerful strategy for achieving shared goals and approaching shared opportunities and solving problems. Collaborations are opportunities to accomplish together what can’t be done alone. They represent opportunity to solve a shared problem, or meet a common challenge that is clearly and easily relatable to the needs of the participants and the goals of the institution (as illustrated in the Statement of Shared Purpose).

But when we talk about collaboration we tend to use the term rather loosely. When we reference collaboration, we actually mean something more like cooperation, coordination, or simple networking. All of these strategies have distinct attributes, benefits, risks, and organizational principles as outlined in the Collaboration Continuum:

  • Networking: exchanging information for mutual benefit. This is easy to do; it requires low initial level of trust, limited time availability and no sharing of turf.
  • Coordinating: exchanging information and altering some activities for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Coordination requires more organizational involvement than networking with a slightly higher level of trust and some sharing of one’s “turf.”
  • Cooperating: exchanging information, altering activities and sharing resources for mutual benefit and to achieve a common purpose. Cooperation is more formal than coordination and thus requires increased organizational commitment and support and may involve written agreements (Memoranda of Understanding, Project Charters, etc.). Shared resources can include human, financial and technical contributions across organizational boundaries. Cooperation may require a substantial amount of time, high level of trust and significant sharing of turf. Positions may need to be modified to provide time for participation.
  • Collaborating: real collaboration involves exchanging information, altering activities, sharing resources and enhancing each other’s capacity for mutual benefit and to achieve a common goal. The qualitative difference between collaboration and cooperating is that partners are willing to learn from each other to become better at what they do, together. Collaborators are clear that the importance of partners’ success is as great as their own – their own success depends on their partners’ success. Collaborating means that that partners share the risks, responsibilities and rewards. It requires a substantial time commitment, very high level of trust, and sharing of turf.

Collaborative efforts are successful when they are supported from the top down and the bottom up. Administrative support and sponsorship is needed to allow all partners to make decisions about process and resources in a collaborative manner. In this environment both faculty and staff are open and willing to go beyond “business as usual.”

In the development of successful digital curriculum, faculty and staff partner in a truly collaborative manner. Staff partners may include academic technologists, instructional designers, media specialists, students, and librarians. In this model staff are more than “helpful staffers,” they are fundamental to the process. College faculty and staff working to support the digital learning initiative will need to develop these skills together.

Developing a Statement of Shared Purpose

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On many college campuses there is pressure to develop “innovative” initiatives such as digital scholarship, blended learning, and flipped classrooms. Among other things this will stem from a general awareness (or uneasiness) that colleges must take advantage of the opportunities afforded by digital approaches to research and pedagogy. However, without a programmatic approach with a clear statement of shared purpose to inform the implementation of best practices in digital scholarship and pedagogy, “innovative” experimentation will remain as insulated and isolating projects rather than successful programs.

The statement of purpose is not a mission or vision statement. It is a touchstone program document that outlines the specifics of the opportunity, a problem to be solved, why a solution will benefit faculty, staff, and students, and the organizational roles that will be affected. It is foundational to articulating a shared vision that can be readily communicated to participants and supporters such as funding agencies. It is an initial step in explaining the “why” and in minimizing confusion. It does not attempt to describe specific solutions.

Components of the statement

Drafting the statement of purpose is an important first step in developing a sustainable program. It will help identify the shared (or intersecting) goals that justify the effort and expense of such a significant project. It describes the purpose – outlining why the institution is making the effort and what problem the effort will solve.

A statement of purpose should be concise and include the following:

  • A brief description of the opportunity or issue at hand.
  • Where the issue or opportunity is observed e.g., departments, institution-wide, and/or processes.
  • The time frame over which the opportunity has been observed and anticipated duration.
  • The anticipated scope or magnitude of the opportunity – the impact to be realized.

Uses of the statement

The statement of purpose:

  • Clarifies the situation by specifically identifying the issues or opportunities at hand.
  • Clarifies the urgency and time­ sensitivity associated with the effort.
  • Provides a vehicle to ensure increasing buy-in.
  • Helps secure support, develop funding potential, and identify and cultivate champions.
  • Helps leadership, partners, and funders grasp and appreciate what you are working to accomplish (and why) and helps to communicate the opportunity to other interested parties.

Many campuses have already accomplished much of the work of developing a statement of purpose through the work of various committees and task forces. That effort often results in several general observations and questions including the need to:

  • Develop a program that will enhance and improve the experience of the current population of students.
  • Identify how to enhance the liberal education offered by the college using digital technologies.
  • Determine how the college will improve its effectiveness through the use of digital learning tools and strategies.
  • Identify best practices with digital learning strategies as they relate to liberal education.
  • Develop a system to identify programs and courses that constitute exemplars for digital pedagogy.
  • Review organizational development necessary for sustaining these curricular models.
  • Review required improvements to the college infrastructure.
  • Identify what it will it take to institute these changes.

The next step is to convert the existing work into a clear statement of shared purpose that lays out the attributes described above. The completed statement will specify the affected institutional roles and articulate why the program is being developed. The effort put into this document will serve to secure support for the skills, incentives and resources necessary to develop a sustained Digital Scholarship and Pedagogy program for faculty, students and staff.

Re-blogged from “The Rise of the Machines: Big data, learning analytics, and adaptive learning.”

There is a long history of teaching machines—mechanical, multimedia, and computers—extending back to an 1809 patent for an educational appliance for the teaching of reading. By 1936, there were nearly seven hundred patents for teaching devices. The history of these devices can be traced from the original patented machines of the nineteenth century through the teaching/testing devices of Sidney Pressey in the 1920s to the more sophisticated teaching machines of Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner in the 1950s.

Where initial devices were more about testing, late-twentieth-century efforts focused on teaching that enables students to adapt to machine-provided feedback. B.F. Skinner created a mechanical “teaching machine” in the mid-1950s that broke learning into sequenced steps and allowed students to pace themselves as they worked through a series of questions. The steps resembled processes that tutors use to engage students and guide them, via feedback, toward increasingly accurate responses and new knowledge. The machine posed questions and offered new questions only when the student answered correctly; an incorrect answer caused the machine to repeat the question. Skinner’s efforts eventually fell out of favor in part because few companies were willing to invest in designing and developing materials for a product with an indeterminate future, but interest in adaptive learning persisted through the latter half of the century with the emergence of affordable personal computers.

Contemporary instructional designers adhere to Skinner’s basic tenets, offering adaptive learning tools that present course materials to students who do not move on to subsequent questions until their performance, based on data generated in the adaptive learning process, indicates competency and knowledge. Adaptive learning combines individualized instruction (or rather, something that feels like it to the student), peer interaction, effective and engaging simulations, and applications that dynamically adapt to the learner’s abilities.

Re-blogged from “The Rise of the Machines: Big data, learning analytics, and adaptive learning.”

Collaboration: A Primer

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Prepared for the ACS Strategic Planning Committee

by Amanda Hagood, Director of Blended Learning, Associated Colleges of the South, and Grace Pang, Program Officer, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

Introduction

This primer was developed from a study of sixteen case studies in digitally-mediated collaboration and the liberal arts published by the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) and the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) in the summer of 2014. Though the case studies covered topics as diverse as designing and implementing a hybrid course in Asian Studies or launching a program in digital humanities, each provided a fascinating example of how small institutions can marshal their oftentimes limited resources and personnel to achieve extraordinary things. The key to each project’s success lies in the strategy of collaboration—though, as we will demonstrate, collaboration exists along a continuum consisting of many different modalities for working together. This primer, drawn from a thoroughgoing analysis of these projects, will present four exemplary projects and will ask you to consider how their goals, strategies, and tactics reflect upon the goals, strategies, and tactics that should appear in the ACS’s 2020 Vision.

The aims of this primer are threefold:

  • To report why and how faculty and staff within and across ACS institutions are collaborating
  •  To explore how the goals, strategies, and tactics used by these practitioners align with the ACS’s mission to support the liberal arts by creating collaborative opportunities that improve the quality, while reducing the cost, of liberal arts education.
  • To stimulate the Strategic Planning Committee’s thinking about why and how our member institutions could collaborate.

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EXERCISE: PRINCIPLES OF COLLABORATION

Exercise: Principles of Collaboration

What opportunity (or problem) will your collaboration address?

 


Who is – or will be – your strongest sponsor?

Why? What will be the draw?

Organizational role:

Who are – or will be – your champions and what are their roles?
 

Why? What will be the draw?

Organizational role:

How will your institution adapt to program success? What organizational changes will be required?

What ideas are in discussion now.
 

How will you evaluate your progress? Who will you engage?

Metric to be used:

External or internal evaluator?

Principles of Collaboration

Principles of Collaboration

Review the principles shared here and then complete the following exercise.


Problem Statement/Statement of purpose

The most critical element of collaboration is a clear understanding of the shared (or intersecting) goals that justify inter-institutional collaboration. The success or failure of collaboration more often depends on the strength of this element more than anything else. If the rationale is strong enough, money, staff time, etc. will be found; if the goals are not intrinsic (e.g., if the collaboration is motivated by externalities that may vanish at any time) then ultimately the collaboration will be jeopardized.

Collaborations are opportunities to accomplish together what can’t be done alone. They represent opportunity to solve a shared problem, or meet a common challenge that is clearly and easily relatable to the needs of the participating institutions. 

In sustained collaborations everyone around the table — all of the roles represented at all levels — see the value in pursuing the program opportunity. It is clearly defined and articulated and easily communicated to others, whether they are potential supporters like foundations or future partners. 

Successful, sustained collaborations avoid the trap of leaping to solutions before adequately identifying the shared problem or opportunity.  Time is taken to clearly identify and define the common problem to solve. 

Getting to that clarity may take work but it is worth the effort. 

A successful collaboration is also scoped appropriately: it is big enough and ambitious enough to require partners working together yet small enough to actually accomplish the stated objective. Defining the problem and scoping it well helps us understand the limits of what can be accomplish.

Identifying/Cultivating Sponsorship and Champions

Sustained collaborations have the benefit of executive sponsorship whether from the president or the provost or the Trustees. The defined opportunity is clear and senior leadership and other sponsors can easily get behind it in a productive and persistent manner. While not a guarantee, sponsorship is helpful in weathering organizational and funding storms down the road.

In addition to program sponsors, successful collaborations have one or more public and active champions who are willing, able, and eager to go to bat for the collaboration. Champions need not be a part of the collaboration proper. Champions can be found in campus presidents, provosts, deans, CIOs, Librarians, technologists, faculty, as well as corporate and industry leaders. The extent to which they can easily share the statement of purpose and the opportunity, the easier it will be for them to remain enthusiastic champions in the service of the collaboration.

Champions help galvanize the collaboration. To that end, a program of “ongoing persuasion and motivation is needed to sustain collaborative work.” Presidents, trustees, senior administrative staff – indeed leadership at all levels of the institution – must be provided a strong narrative at every phase of the collaboration to ensure success. Champions require stories to share about the rationale supporting the collaboration and the measurable outcomes that will benefit participants. Developing that narrative and getting into the hands of sponsors and champions is a key component of a successful collaboration.

Organizational Capacity, Adaptability, and Leadership

Inter-institutional collaborations are frequently initiated in a flurry of enthusiasm and individual energy. As part of the planning process – and before finalizing plans for a collaborative effort – a review of organizational capacity and adaptability will help ensure sustainability beyond initial enthusiasm. Specifically, participants should review the statement of purpose, problem definition and scope to identify and develop the organizational resources and relationships necessary for a sustained program.

In sustained collaborations the work must become more than a project temporarily layered over pre-existing responsibilities of an individual or a department. It speaks to an institutional opportunity. It becomes programmatic. It evolves away from a project, a temporary exploration of possibilities, and becomes a program that is somehow a part of the organizational DNA. On the other hand, projects in which the work remains isolated to an individual personality, or is persistently separate or special – somehow in addition to the pre-existing duties – will have a much more difficult time being sustained. This is where sponsorship, champions, and a clearly defined statement of purpose will be helpful. If the project is attached to a personality, or on top of, or in addition to pre-existing workflow, decisions about continued participation in such efforts inevitably get made based on other priorities. The work is in danger of being deemed a distraction rather than fundamental and programmatic.

Scheduling Structured External Evaluation

 In an extended, sustained, collaboration it may make sense to retain an external individual or agency to document progress. Having the benefit of an unbiased eye to review the collaboration program plan, objectives, and scheduled outcomes can provide utility during and after the program. When the program is grant funded, scheduled reports from an external reviewer can inform grant reports. Developing a library of documentation can be helpful in subsequent project planning as well as in future fundraising.

Planning for Inclusion and Expansion

 Sustained collaborations are extensible; they are inclusive and expansive to a larger community, beyond that of the founders. Successful collaborations go beyond the individual and the immediate. When thinking through the problem definition and scope, planners do well to include the means to create a conduit to present to the work to the world through case studies, articles, essays, workshops, summer institutes, etc. The NITLE program will help planners build this potential into the program plan and schedule the resources to execute a communication plan. 

Cultivating Trust and Vulnerability

 Explore vulnerability as a positive. Through transparency and openness new potential can be realized. All of this requires trust. It can be a challenge to be vulnerable enough to work together in a public manner, show work before it is “finished,” and allow others to work collaboratively on it, or even see it, before it is “polished” to satisfaction. It can be hard for some to let down their guard and allow others to re-work their contributions, and insert their own in its place. To really work together requires a level of trust and vulnerability and a safe environment to foster these. We need to be able to trust in order to achieve that level of honest collaboration.

Negotiation

 Collaborations require negotiation and agreement. The NITLE program tools will guide participants through the process of developing and implementing negotiated collaboration. Specific steps will be followed that enable a cohort to:

●      Work towards agreement on the opportunity, the mission, and the values and principles of the proposed collaboration.

●      Design and implement a collaboration model with a clear organizational structure.

●      Set milestones and timeframes for the project.

●      Determine and publish meeting guidelines.

●      Define roles and responsibilities.

●      Create an effective project management and communication plan.

●      Coordinate budget and fund development.

●      Identify and connect with other initiatives as appropriate.

●      Promote and market the collaboration.

●      Build the leadership capacity of all stakeholders.

●      Enlist technical assistance and support.

Games with a Purpose: Interview with Anastasia Salter

 

 
 

Anastasia Salter is an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore in the Department of Science, Information Arts, and Technologies. Her primary research is on digital narratives with a continuing focus on virtual worlds, gender and cyberspace, games as literature, educational games and fan production. She holds a doctorate in communications design from U. Baltimore and an M.F.A. in children’s literature at Hollins University. She is on the web at http://selfloud.net.

This interview was conducted by Mike Roy, editorial board member of the Academic Commons. A founding editor of the Academic Commons with long-standing interest in the impact of new technology on the meaning and practice of liberal education, he is currently the dean of library and information services and chief information officer at Middlebury College.

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Q: There are at least two ways of thinking about games in education. On the one hand, games are a form of culture that is increasingly important and worthy of study in the same way that TV and film have found their way into the curriculum. But they also have an instrumental value, as vehicles for helping to teach and learn about traditional subjects. What are the most interesting and useful examples you can think of where games are being used in the curriculum to facilitate learning?

Anastasia Salter: Games with a purpose can be powerful both as classroom experiences and as design challenges: some of my favorite examples of games in the curriculum are student-designed games related to course topics. Games offer agency to students whether they are players or designers. Experiential games, including alternate reality games such as the Arcane Gallery of Gadgetry, Adeline Koh’s Trading Races, and The Pericles Group’s Operation LAPIS demonstrate the possibilities of play with or without technology. Commercial games like World of Warcraft and Civilization are also being integrated into the curriculum: all games can promote learning of some kind.

 

Q: As a professor who teaches using games, to what extent do you think that games are “just” effective vehicles for learning that could be achieved through other means, and to what extent do you think that integrating games into the classroom promotes new types of learning that can be achieved no other way?

Salter: To some extent, everything is “just” a vehicle for learning—but why trivialize that? Games provide environments where we learn from our failures safely. They bring experiential learning into the classroom, and provide models for thinking about problems where there’s not only one right solution. The dynamics of games help distinguish them from learning environments where knowledge is dictated, lectured, presented or otherwise placed in front of a student. Games have the power to change how we think about the classroom, and while they may not be the only means to that end, they are invaluable for re-imagining learning as play.

Q: So using games in education fits into a broader movement to re-think education as something other than “placing knowledge in front of a student.” I’m going to play devil’s advocate here, and ask: how do you strike the right balance between transmitting the “facts in the head” needed to work within any given domain of knowledge, and the imperative to support students’ development where “content” is really a means to a greater developmental end?

Salter: Well, I’d say that transmitting those “facts in the head” is only ever really successful when learners can place facts in a meaningful context. When people are given a reason to learn, they tend to learn: just look at the instant recall of Pokemonstrengths and weaknesses by young gamers, the endless application of tactics and rotations by World of Warcraft players, or the hazard memorization of competitive Call of Duty and Halo players. Acquiring knowledge is always a first step towards application, but traditional learning tends to isolate the facts and leave the learner without clear motivation.

Q: As you point out, it is clear that a person playing a game is extremely motivated to learn what she needs to know in order to succeed at the game. The promise of games in education is that this same motivation and excitement can be leveraged to learn more traditional subject areas. However, most educators run their classrooms without using games. What do you see as the barriers to broader adoption of using games in the classroom?

Salter: Classroom education has always struggled with the isolation of the learning environment from the real world. Games can bridge that gap, but first they have to be seen as acceptable and not just a waste of time. In K-12, most educators are stuck with way too many administrative restrictions on their teaching to get away with something as apparently radical as teaching with games. In higher ed, we have a different problem: most faculty aren’t actually trained to teach so much as they are trained in research, so if games aren’t on their personal radar they are unlikely even to encounter the possibility. In that sense, our current education system is very self-perpetuating: teachers are products of the current systems, and it’s easy to reproduce what they experienced.

Q: Short of completely dismantling our entire educational system, what can we do to address the challenges you identify as standing in the way of broader adoption?

Salter: Well, I can’t say I have any problem with the idea of dismantling and rethinking the entire educational system! There are a lot of ways to address these challenges. Bringing teachers into gaming is a great first step, particularly when there are opportunities to demonstrate that gaming isn’t all Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. Empowering teachers and students as collaborative designers of their learning experience is the next step, and the one I work on a lot: any teacher can bring a playful approach into the classroom through creative activity, and making a game can be a great way to express ideas and probe at a system of knowledge. It doesn’t even matter if the final game is any good—the act of making something, and playing with it, and even failing is essential.

Q: Final thoughts?

Salter: Even if every educator doesn’t bring actual games into the classroom, there are lots of ideas we can take from the way learning happens in games. Games offer a sliding difficulty, and a space where failure is part of the learning experience, not an end outcome. Furthermore, games are inherently collaborative and often offer multiple ways to master something. Just like in life, if not the traditional classroom, there’s rarely only one “right” solution.


This interview is part of a special issue of Transformations on games in education, published on September 30, 2013. The issue was developed by Mike Roy (Middlebury College), guest editor and editorial board member of the Academic Commons, and Todd Bryant (Dickinson College), who was instrumental in organizing and developing the special issue.

Citizen Developers Are Changing the Face of Business Software

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“So-called citizen developers are making an impact on enterprise software development by building their own apps without the help of IT.

An emerging class of “citizen developers” equipped with tools and capabilities unique to this era is changing the landscape of business software by building and using their own homegrown apps as opposed to apps developed by IT departments or off-the-shelf solutions. – See more at: http://www.eweek.com/developer/citizen-developers-are-changing-the-face-of-business-software.html?”

http://www.eweek.com/developer/citizen-developers-are-changing-the-face-of-business-software.html?kc=EWKNLNAV04182014STR2&dni=118804530&rni=83257664