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Pedagogo S3E4: Accelerating and Personalizing Learning Through Competency-Based Education

In competency-based education, the focus is on the mastery of knowledge and skills and the rigorous assessment of those competencies. Advancement is not based on the number of weeks in a classroom or the number of credit hours earned, but on performance-based assessments. In this episode, Dr. Bheda interviews Dr. Charla Long, the Executive Director for the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), to explore the challenges and benefits of this big idea.

Guest Bio:

Dr. Charla Long is the Executive Director for the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), an international consortium of higher education institutions and statewide systems seeking to design, develop, and scale new models of student learning. Additionally, she leads C-BEN’s Consulting Services, which is dedicated to helping institutions with competency-based learning. In 2016, Dr. Long was recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in Higher Education for her work in competency-based education. Dr. Long is co-author of The Leader’s Guide to Competency-Based Education (2018). 

Transcript:

Announcer:

Pedagogo. The show that brings education to your ears and meta-mastery to your assessments.

Today’s episode discusses competency-based education and its potential to improve learning outcomes, reduce educational costs, and increase faculty job satisfaction.

Pedagogo. Brought to you by ExamSoft, the digital assessment solution that gives you actionable data for improved learning outcomes. When integrity matters, ExamSoft has you covered.

Divya Bheda:

Hello, dear listeners. I hope you are ready for this exciting episode of Pedagogo with Dr. Charla Long, Executive Director for the Competency-Based Education Network. Now this network is an international consortium of higher ed institutions and statewide systems seeking to design, develop and scale new models of student learning together. Dr. Charla Long and I will be discussing the ins and outs of competency-based education. And you and I are really in for a treat. We are lucky to be hearing and learning about this topic directly from her because she leads C-BEN, which is Competency-Based Education Network consulting services. Which is dedicated to helping institutions with competency-based learning. So she has a lot of experience. Over 15 years guiding programs and institutions in transforming their offerings from regular credit based ones to competency-based formats.

Divya Bheda:

She is also the co-author of the Leader’s Guide to Competency-Based Education published in 2018. And a couple of years before that, when CBE was just gaining a lot of traction in higher ed, she was recognized by The Chronicle of Higher Education as one of the top 10 most influential people in higher education for her work in competency-based education. So as you can infer from this introduction, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn from this amazing scholar, practitioner about all things competency-based education. So let’s get started. Hello, Charla.

Charla Long:

Hello. How are you? It’s great to be with you today.

Divya Bheda:

So Charla, you were an amusement park lawyer in a previous life, and then transitioned over to higher ed and CBE. Which is competency-based education, again, listeners. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? It sounds like an exciting adventure.

Charla Long:

Well, theme park law is certainly an adventure, right? And, uh, I don’t know about your listeners, but I love the theme park industry. I start when I was age 16, working at a local theme park. I was responsible for cleaning the bathrooms those first two years of employment at the theme park.

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

And I was known as the queen of latrines. Yes, my toilets-

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

… this is not a joke, my toilets were the clean, voted the cleanest public toilets in all of Oklahoma. See-

Divya Bheda:

Wow.

Charla Long:

… there’s this little-

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

… this little thing. But I got a taste for the theme park industry and certainly the hospitality industry. And it was something I greatly, greatly enjoyed. And so having worked for Disney and Six Flags and Silver Dollar City and, um, Premier Parks and other theme park businesses, I just I loved the industry. But unfortunately fell in love with a guy who lived in Michigan. And there aren’t a lot of options for theme parks in Michigan.

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

And (laughs) so for me, uh, the commute down to Chicago to work at, you know, a Six Flags there wasn’t gonna happen. And so I made the transition into teaching hospitality law at an institution in Michigan and have been in higher education ever since. I would say, however, uh, that working in competency-based education is almost as thrilling as a zero gravity drop, you know, at 70, 80 miles per hour in a little coaster with your hands in the air going, “Whee.” Right?

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

So-

Divya Bheda:

That’s a, that’s a good visual for all our (laughing) listeners to know what it’s, what they can expect. (laughing) So …

Charla Long:

There you go. I don’t know. So anyway, looking forward to the conversation today.

Divya Bheda:

Wonderful. So let’s start with the basics. Could you define for us what is competency-based education?

Charla Long:

Sure. So I’d love to say that there’s an official definition for competency-based education, there’s not. There’s not one in statute at a federal level at least, that defines CBE. And so as a field, there’s a lot of different definitions out there. I will give you the Competency-Based Education Network’s definition. How’s that? But CBE-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… is really focused on the actual student learning and the application of that learning rather than on the amount of time one spends in class or on course materials. So a learner’s progress is truly measured when they can demonstrate their competence through a system of rigorous assessment. They have to show or prove that they really have mastered the knowledge, the skills, the abilities, those behaviors that are required for a particular area of study in order to receive that credential. So, it’s really that actual student learning, the application of that learning, student progresses as they’re demonstrating mastery at whatever that desired level is. Leaving time, as we often think about it, as the variable and not the learning. So, I mean-

Divya Bheda:

Wonderful.

Charla Long:

… if you think about CBE in contrast to a traditional model, you know, in a traditional higher education setting, we hold everything to the amount of time. How much learning can you learn in 15 weeks? When the semester ends, we’re gonna grade it. Sometimes it’s a final summative assessment. Sometimes it’s just a unit assessment. But whatever it is, what you know on that 15th week is what you know. You get a grade. If it’s passing, you move on. You never have to go back and learn or remediate any of the content you may have missed or not been able to master. Contrast that to CBE that says, “You know what? We’re gonna hold learning fixed. You must learn these particular things in order to move forward.

Charla Long:

And I don’t care how long it takes you. If it’s really, really fast, more power to you. Let’s get you to the next competency. But if it’s a competency you struggle with, by golly, let’s slow down and make sure you have it. Uh, let’s not force you to go on without content that you absolutely need in order to be effective in your role. So that’s, that’s a, maybe an easy kind of way to think about CBE in contrast to traditional models.

Divya Bheda:

Thank you. That’s, that’s such a great introduction. You know, changing time and speaking only to, directly to student learning. Removing time as a factor in that. So what do you say then to people who, you know, who are probably in professional disciplines, where they have professional accreditations, where they have competencies very clearly specified and listed? So they are, you know, formulated as behaviors that have to be demonstrated or skills and competencies that have to be demonstrated to those folks who say, “Hey, our education that we offer is competency-based because we are aligning all our assessments and all our teaching and learning to those competencies is that a professional field dictates.” So is that competency?

Charla Long:

Well, it depends. To be honest with you, it depends in how they have their program structured. What I would look at is, do we require mastery of each and every one of those competencies. Can you isolate every one of those competencies and say with assurance the individual, that learner, has in fact demonstrated that competence. If in your program, the answer to that is yes, then I would say you’re competency-based, right?

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

If however, you put it inside of a course shell in which you could master 80% of the content of that course shell, some of which might mean you get a zero on one of the competencies embedded, but hundreds on the other four, right-

Divya Bheda:

Got it. Right.

Charla Long:

… then I would say you’re not competency-based because you don’t isolate each and every one of those competencies and require mastery. So that’s one big distinction. Do you in fact require-

Divya Bheda:

Got it.

Charla Long:

… mastery of each and every one? Do you teach to each and every one? Are you really deliberate in the development of that..

Divya Bheda:

Right. Are you clarifying and making sure that you assess each of those competencies very specifically where an assignment or a capstone or a final exam is not conflating, you know, multiple competencies or multiple outcomes together.

Charla Long:

Right.

Divya Bheda:

Where you’re not able to differentiate what does this behavior and outcome look like versus-

Charla Long:

That’s correct.

Divya Bheda:

… what does this behavior and outcome look like.

Charla Long:

If we isolate, if you can isolate them all for using a singular assessment to check for multiple competencies, that’s the way we live, right?

Divya Bheda:

Got it.

Charla Long:

Right now, listeners to this podcast are evaluating my expertise in the field, my oral communication skills, my grammar. All of those things are integrated into one.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

But I need to, if I’m gonna assess that, be able to isolate each of those competencies and make sure that they’re there. So I’m fine with, um, a summative assessment, for example, that has multiple competencies-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… but can I truly isolate and identify the behaviors that show me the individual does in fact know and can do whatever is required for that competency?

Divya Bheda:

That’s wonderful. So what you’re saying is, it’s the same assignment. We can use the same assignment for multiple competencies, but we should be able to look at each of those competencies that we wanna see, and we should be able to assess them individually rather than as a comprehensive whole to be able to say, “Yes, you know, this grammar is right.” Or, “APA is right. But here is, you know, content that is not okay.” Or, “Here is content that needs to be improved.” So maybe have different rubrics or different criteria for demonstration. Right?

Charla Long:

You absolutely would have a rubric that identifies by each of those competencies, the behaviors or the performance you were expecting. Yes, that’s correct.

Divya Bheda:

Awesome. Okay. Thank you.

Charla Long:

Yeah.

Divya Bheda:

Thank you for such a detailed-

Charla Long:

Yeah.

Divya Bheda:

… and comprehensive overview of that. Um, could you share a little bit about the history of competency-based education and its evolution and where it stands today in terms of its applicability and traction in higher ed?

Charla Long:

Sure. So I’d say if we go back, um, really to the ’70s and you started-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… seeing schools like Thomas Edison, Alverno College, Charter Oak, some of those early kind of pioneers that said, “How can we recognize learning that an individual knows things they already can do and give credit for that and put them on a more personalized pathway?” That really became the origins of prior learning assessment, right?

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

In which that initial concept became what today we would think of as credit for prior learning or prior learning assessment, right? Only a few of those schools, and I would say Alverno College out of Milwaukee, um, only Alverno really has stayed true to a competency-based model. Which is, tell me what the competency is? What does the learners know and be able to do, and how am I developing those individually and assessing them individually? The rest have really evolved to be, uh, really strong in the space of prior learning assessment or credit for prior learning. So that was kind of the first generation that got a lot of folks, Metropolitan State, as an example, a lot of folks engaged in thinking about, could learning actually happen outside of a college classroom? Huh-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… scary thought, isn’t (laughing) it?

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

Um-

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

… and so that was really where that first started. And then we got all the way to the ’90s in which Western Governors University came into existence. And there was this, “What if we did this different? What if we really focused on the knowledge and the skills and abilities that people have? What if we taught that way? What if they moved as quick as they wanted?” We saw Western Governors in the ’90s come into existence, but then no one else joined suit. So it was this long period of time of just WGU. And then comes along into the 2010s, 2011, 2012 timeframe, and our dear friend, Amy Laitinen, up at New America Foundation wrote a piece called Cracking the Credit Hour. In which she said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we just took a look at the way we do the Carnegie Unit and said, that’s just wrong. Why are we using credit hours to determine learning? Why don’t we use learning to determine whether students learned?” Right? And so-

Divya Bheda:

Right. (laughs).

Charla Long:

… as a result, she can came up, uh, with this proposal that we ought to be able to directly assess the competencies of learners and let them progress based on those competencies. So she put this wonderful piece out called Cracking the Credit Hour. Myself and about seven other institutions picked that piece up and said, “You got it right. Girl, I’m gonna figure out how to do that.”

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

Uh, so the first to, the first to do that would be Paul LeBlanc up at Southern New Hampshire. Who got his associates program in a direct assessment competency-based model first to the Department of Education, uh, and said, “Hey, I’d like for you to approve this direct assessment of competencies.” Um, and so Paul was the first to have at, at SNHU, through the College For America, the first direct assessment CBE program. Capella, Deb Bushway, who was there, uh, leading the work at Capella was able to get the first bachelor’s and the first master’s degree program approved in the direct assessment model.

Charla Long:

And then our friends, Laurie Dodge at Brandman and others followed suit. So this kind of iteration, this generation of CBE, which we often think of as the third generation of CBE, really started just in 2012, 2013. We’ve been trying to pioneer ever since.

Divya Bheda:

That’s so wonderful to hear. Thank you for helping us track this journey that, that (laughing) this, this way of educating has taken. And as I listen to you talk about it, I’m seeing, I’m hearing in my mind assessment playing such an important role. Curriculum design playing such an important role, because then now it is faculty who are thinking about their programs, having to articulate behaviors, observable behaviors, that they need to be able to see, to say, “Yes, this go competency has been achieved.” Measurable demonstration of competence, right? Um, and I just think of, like the immediate thing that comes to my mind is, I think of, okay, all, many of our faculty in higher ed are not trained in assessment-

Charla Long:

That’s right.

Divya Bheda:

… are not trained in curriculum design or scaffolding, um, learning. So could you talk a little bit, I know I’m, I’m switching the, I’m switching the (laughing), uh, order of questions, but-

Charla Long:

Go wherever you want.

Divya Bheda:

…could you talk a little bit about, um, about the challenges to competency-based education and what it requires from faculty who wanna pursue this?

Charla Long:

Yep. Probably, uh, the first thing I’d say is an openness towards it, (laughing) right?

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

I mean, I taught for 20 years in a classroom. I’m a tenured faculty, myself. What I would say is, we have to first acknowledge we are trained in our academic disciplines. Most of us are not trained educators as well. And so it’s difficult as a faculty member to say, “I really don’t know how to do assessment.” (laughing) Right? Because we are the expert. I am, I am in control of my class. But unfortunately, if I don’t have training in how to properly write an assessment and how to properly create a rubric and how to properly define and describe what performance should look like, if I don’t know how to align that to other courses and other sections of the same thing, we just have disconnects all over.

Charla Long:

And so part is, as a faculty member, I need to have confidence to say, “I could use and would be open to some professional development on how to properly do this.” I can tell you, I have written many a final exam while driving down an interstate on the way to school. I lost actually a rear view mirror in a similar kind of episode because I’m trying to quickly get my, my exams ready before I arrive on campus. So a lot of us write our exams based on what we teach. And if we miss something in what we teach, we missed it on our exam and our learners go forever without that content.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

And so in competency-based education, I think one of biggest, um, challenges and one of the biggest needs is to say, “I need to be trained on what is backward design? What does it mean to truly pre-plan my curriculum using that backward design approach? What is that a learner needs to know and be able to do? How am I gonna assess it? Now, how am I gonna teach it?” Right? And then to have the training on, how do I create performance-based criterion-referenced assessments that are authentic, that mirror what the application of that competency is gonna look like in, in the real world. If I can get that kinda training to faculty, faculty light bulbs go on and they get it.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

It’s just oftentimes just getting them to the (laughing) receptivity of taking in or, or getting that kind of development activity.

(transitional music)

Divya Bheda:

I wanna just highlight for our listeners, again, those light bulb moments, just here. I think backward design, the idea that it’s not about which Bloom’s taxonomy you, you use, which verb you use at which level, it is about how does it apply in everyday professional life. So are you able to articulate that accurately, and then are you able to design an assessment that demonstrates that? Rather than saying, “Did I just write this outcome correctly?” Because a lot of time we get so stuck on the what, and we forget the why of making sure that the, that the outcomes are accurate.

Divya Bheda:

That those reflect behaviors that we wanna be able to see and, see demonstrated, and that we design assessments that capture that. So thank you so much for that. So the first step is being open and then the next is understanding the importance of backward design. What else would you say are, are important steps?

Charla Long:

Yeah. And I think, um, from a faculty standpoint, um, being open to consistency across the curriculum.

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

Right? So when we preplan and backward design a curricular journey-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… uh, all of us that plan that are all agreeing to teach it consistently.

Divya Bheda:

Right. So academic freedom?

Charla Long:

And we’re not gonna … Academic freedom is there, but I often-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… say, academic freedom comes on the front end when you are designing that pathway, right? So we got-

Divya Bheda:

Wonderful.

Charla Long:

… all the freedom in the world to design the pathway. But once it’s designed, we’re all gonna consistently implement-

Charla Long:

… and then we’ve got all the freedom again to look at the data, to look at our outcomes and to say, “Where do we need to make changes to this? What worked? What didn’t work?” We’re right now in the state of Illinois, uh, with some early childhood credentials. We’re testing out a whole bunch of assessment tools. And the faculty at, at various institutions are trying some consistent assessment across those institutions. Not just the assessment tool, but the rubric for scoring. We’re looking for inter-rater reliability, all that kind of stuff. So we’re in the middle of, of rolling this out right now. Does it take away some flexibility in the moment for the faculty? Yes, it does. But those same faculty help design it to begin with.

Charla Long:

They are now giving input. So they fill out a survey after every time they administer and say, “Man, that test really (laughing) bombed. I could see students didn’t get it. We should really try to do it like this.” All that feedback gets captured. And then all the faculty that worked on that tool will get back together and say, “You know what? Look at the feedback. We’ve gotta make modifications.” So their academic freedom comes back into play. It just looks a little different than the way we normally, um, use or see our academic freedom.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

And it-

Divya Bheda:

It’s a lot more collaborative.

Charla Long:

… it helps us get that consistency.

Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Charla Long:

Much more collaborative, right?

Divya Bheda:

Wonderful. Yeah.

Divya Bheda:

Yeah. Which is where we need to be. We can learn from each other so much when we bring all of our, all of our wisdom and knowledge and expertise together. So, yes.

Charla Long:

And I think it can increase, uh, people’s confidence that degrees matter. That degrees actually will lead somebody to performance, right? When we’ve got such a variability from class to class, course to course, section to section, who teaches what where in our curriculum maps, we have a lot of variability there, our outcomes also have the potential to be variable. And so it’s why some employers say, “You know what? College degree is not worth it. I’m not hiring for degrees anymore.” Or learners are saying, “I’m not sure if it’s gonna be worth my investment, ’cause I’m not sure if mine’s gonna get anywhere I need to be.” So when-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… we start to have that kinda consistency, we can stand by our outcomes, learners, employers, payers, our government, our parents start to have more confidence in what we do in higher education.

(transitional music)

Divya Bheda:

So on the same track, um, you, it’s a perfect segue. What would you say are some additional benefits to competency-based education through that approach?

Charla Long:

Yeah. I love for a learner, the transparency in what they need to know and be able to do, right?

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

Sometimes for learners, we shift the goal post (laughs). We tell them, you know, “This is what communication is.” And they get another class and the goal post moves, and, “This is what communication is.” And so we make learning transparent to a student. I love it from a learner standpoint, they can articulate what they know and can do. They go-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… into a job interview and they don’t say, “I took sociology 201.” They (laughing) instead can say, “I understand how the life cycles of humans work. And, and as a result, it helps me adjust my marketing approaches based on the life cycle of the consumer I’m trying to target.”

Divya Bheda:

Wow.

Charla Long:

Right? They can-

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

… begin to articulate-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… what it is they know and they can do. It’s so much more empowering for a learner.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

I love to think about CBE and the benefits of learners, asset-based approach, right? In CBE, we say, there’s no such thing as somebody who has no competencies. Everybody has competencies, right? Maybe not a baby, but pretty soon thereafter, we start learning how to do things.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

And we may have the skills and not have the knowledge, we may have the knowledge and not the skill, but we are learning how to do things. And as a result, in CBE, we look at it as an asset-based approach. What is it this individual knows and can do? How can I figure out what their gaps are between what they currently know and can do and what is required for this credential? How do I begin to teach them just that which they need to know and be able to do so that they can more quickly, more cost effectively get to that credential? So I love the asset-based approach. Everybody brings something to the table. I love the personalization that comes from CBE. That learners’ educational journey can be individualized based on their needs. I mean, when we think about the benefits of this for a learner, I don’t know how anybody could argue against it. The-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… upside for a learner is so significant.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

And then I would say, similar upsides for an employer, similar upsides for, um, government. You know, when we get a more skilled workforce, when a workforce can get skilled and back to work, we see a decrease in public assistance programs. We see, um, higher levels of earnings in our state. Which helps us with the poverty numbers. I mean, all of this can help benefit really all of our stakeholder groups, from our states, our local governments, our employers, the learners, our own faculty and staff. Faculties and staff in CBE programs report higher levels of satisfaction with their teaching because-

Divya Bheda:

Wow.

Charla Long:

… they like their relationship with their learners. They really see, “I’m not just the deliverer of content.”

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

“I’m the developer of people. I’m walking alongside and helping coach and develop somebody.” It’s why we went into teaching to begin with. So, I would just say, stakeholders across the board in well-designed quality programs, uh, can really see strong benefits.

Divya Bheda:

I love that you said developer of people and, and not just deliverer of content. That was, (laughing) that was-

Charla Long:

That’s right.

Divya Bheda:

… a great line for anyone who wants to remember the, the essence of what, what was just said.

Divya Bheda:

So how do we assure? So given that the, the nature of higher ed is where people are possibly not trained, uh, people don’t know how to engage in good quality curriculum design or in good quality assessment, um, that truly captures student learning, how do we ensure quality of CBE? Or can you default to, you know, existing ways and modus operandi that then results in similar issues as current credit-based systems?

Charla Long:

Yeah. I mean, I think that’s a risk, right? Um-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… it’s a risk of the field. And when I say the field, I mean, early adopters of CBE recognized. Back, I would say, in about 2015, 2016, it was the buzzword. We were seeing the first big drastic, um, the word won’t come to me.

Divya Bheda:

The spike.

Charla Long:

Spike. I’ll take the word spike. In-

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

… in, um, adoption of CBE, right? And so we saw all these institutions moving into the space. And I will tell you, those of us early adopters said, “I hope they’re gonna do it well. ‘Cause if they do it poorly, what’s gonna happen is gonna hurt all of us.”

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

And so a group of us came together under the auspices of C-BEN, uh, with the help of Alison Kadlec at Public Agenda and with funding support from Lumina Foundation and the Gates Foundation. We came together and said, “Could we create a quality framework? Could we identify what are the elements of quality in a CBE program?” Stephanie Krause, who comes out of the K through 12 world, came over and helped us think this through. First, in 2015, we released 10 design principles that we thought were emerging elements of quality. In 2016, the field really started honing in on those 10, and we came down to eight. Uh-

Divya Bheda:

Okay.

Charla Long:

… when looking across those early adopters, eight elements of quality. And in, September of 2017, we actually released a quality framework for CBE programs. And, and we did that hold people to a quality standard. Remember, we don’t have anything in statute that says, this is what CBE is and this is what it should look like. And so we wanted to almost self-regulate and say-

Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Charla Long:

… “If you’re gonna put a CBE label on it, I wanna make sure you’ve got these eight elements of quality worked into your program. Assessment, element number four, right, I need a very solid assessment strategy that uses both formative and summative, that has the criteria and reference that’s performance.” All those things that we’ve been talking about today.

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So could you list those eight? So you said assessment was four-

Charla Long:

Sure.

Divya Bheda:

… could you share those eight?

Charla Long:

Sure. So the first one is about demonstrated institutional capacity for and commitment to CBE innovation. And it’s really in there because I can tell you myself, sometimes you can get out on a limb at your institution, building a program like that, and somebody starts sawing your (laughing) limb off. And so you don’t wanna be out there and not have institutional support. Um-

Divya Bheda:

Okay.

Charla Long:

… and so the number one element is, I’ve gotta make sure those at the top believe in what we’re doing. They see it tied to the vision and the mission of this institution. They buy into it. They’re resourcing it properly. Quality element one.

Divya Bheda:

Right. Nice.

Charla Long:

Quality element two talks about your competency set. Are the competencies selected? Are they clear? Are they measurable? Are they meaningful? Are they integrated? Four words, you can tell it was a group that decided how to (laughing) describe it. But they-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… each mean something slightly different, right? We wanna-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… make sure that the competencies that we say you need for the credential are in fact the right set of competencies.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

Third element has to do with the coherent program and curriculum design. We shouldn’t let each teacher just go one off and decide what they wanna teach when and how. It needs to be coherent. It has to be integrated. We need to sequence and scaffold our competencies, our content, so we’re leading learners to higher levels of performance. So-

Divya Bheda:

Wonderful.

Charla Long:

… element three, we look at the coherence of that curriculum design. Four, is the one on the credential level assessment strategy.

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative),

Charla Long:

Here, we look at the whole program. Not, “Let me look at my course and what I’m offering as my assessment.” No-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… I’m really looking at, across this credential, where am I going to be assessing for this? How am I doing initial levels, developing, emerging, whatever it is, I wanna make sure we have a credential level assessment strategy, uh, as we discussed. Element number five talks about intentionally designed and engaged learner experience. This is not about learners being left to learn on their own. This is a well-designed, well-crafted academic program that has faculty actively involved. If you see-

Divya Bheda:

Got it.

Charla Long:

… a program that does not have faculty engagement, don’t let them put a CBE label on it. Point to quality (laughing) element number five, and they’re not CBE because they need to have faculty engagement. We also need wraparound student support services. And that goes in that same bucket.

Divya Bheda:

So I was gonna ask you, so when you say faculty engagement, it’s basically saying, so if students are not able to demonstrate mastery or demonstrate, you know, competencies in a particular area, then the curriculum does support and the faculty do support various ways in which to teach that content better so that students can achieve that mastery? So that’s what you’re talking about when you’re ta- talking about engagement, right?

Charla Long:

Yep. So what I would say, and I think using the analogy that you use, it sounds like there’s some sort of a prior learning that’s done-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… at the beginning of a competency that says, “Hey, does this learner have it or not?” If they do, they go on. If they don’t, yes, we would unlock an entire learning journey that would get them the content they need. And during that learning journey, faculty are proactively working with them on the development of that competency. That’s the developing people part, right?

Divya Bheda:

Perfect. Yeah.

Charla Long:

And they are really working with them to develop those learners.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

Quality element number six talks about the collaborative engagement with external partners. So, are you working with employers? Are you working with industry groups? Are you working with your specialized accreditor to really engage them in your competency selection, your assessment design, perhaps even the delivery of your assessments themselves? What does that engagement look like with external partners? Quality element seven talks about the transparency of student learning. I said up front, I love it because a learner knows what they’ve got to know in order to earn-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… their credential? That’s half of the transparency question. The other or half of this element is really around how do you transcribe it? So instead of having a transcript that just shows, I took sociology 201 and I got a C. I instead will have a transcript that says I took sociology 201 and got a C, but let me tell you what I can do. I know the different stages of a life cycle and I can adjust my marketing strategy, right? Everything I just said earlier.

Divya Bheda:

Wow.

Charla Long:

And so-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… that transparency in the transcript as well. And then quality element number eight is all about continuous improvement. Are you collecting data? Do you know your program works? Can I study out those assessments? Do I know that those assessments really are reliable and valid indicators of the competency? If they’re not, am I adjusting it? If my content is failing to get a learner to a proficient performance on their assessment-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… demonstration, I need to go back and adjust that, right? So what is your continuous improvement process? What is it that looking to? What are the data points that you’re, you’re tracking so that we can ensure that learners are in fact learning what we say they’re going to learn in our program? So those are the eight elements of quality. I think any academic program ought to have those. But certainly if you’re gonna slap a CBE (laughing) logo on them, um, we would expect for you to have those eight elements in your program.

Divya Bheda:

Thank you for sharing that, Charla. And for folks listening, this information, the quality framework can be accessed from C-BENs website, which is cbenetwork.org. So please feel free to visit the website to learn more. Or to even visit examsoft.com/pedagogo, uh, where you can again get linked in, you know, get the information. So I just wanted to put that out there. So while we’re talking about-

Charla Long:

I do think the name Pedagogo would be a really cool amusement park ride just in case-

Divya Bheda:

(laughs).

Charla Long:

… you wanted to know. So you can see it being like a little shaker table where you get on and you’re trying to walk and it shakes you. Like you’re a pedestrian trying to go, go, you know. Just trying to [crosstalk 00:36:15]-

Divya Bheda:

Or you’re trying to-

Charla Long:

Yeah. In case, you-

Divya Bheda:

… or you’re trying to figure out-

Charla Long:

… in case you wanna be in the-

Divya Bheda:

… your teaching and learning.

Charla Long:

… amusement park ride. There you go.

Divya Bheda:

Or (laughing) you’re trying to-

Charla Long:

There you go.

Divya Bheda:

… figure out your teaching and learning strategies and you want it all shook up. So (laughs)-

Charla Long:

There you go. There you go.

Divya Bheda:

That’s a great idea. Thank you, (laughing) Charla.

(transition music)

Divya Bheda:

Could you share some common pain points and successes, um, that institutions should know about or be prepared for when they adopt CBE?

Charla Long:

Yeah. I mean, it’s a great, it’s a great question. When we think about pain points, often think of it in the context of barriers. What are those challenges that people face? We look at the National Survey of Postsecondary CBE programs. Almost always, something that comes to the top is, we had a lot of competing of initiatives, right? Your CBE looks good right now to your president or to your provost, but then tomorrow it’s pathways. And the day after that, it’s something different.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

And so sometimes we shift from one thought to the next thought and we just have our, our ourselves with competing priorities. So really thinking about how do competencies tie all of these various initiatives together? Um, if we really view learning from the context of competencies, what is it a person knows and can do, we can connect pathways, we can connect transfer issues. We can connect micro credentials. All these very various efforts that are happening-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… really can use competencies as the basis. So sometimes it’s about helping institutions that are struggling with a lot of shiny objects-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… and (laughing) which one do we give attention to? How can competencies unite them all into a coherent strategy? I would say another, um, uh, pain point sometimes can be with the faculty. And I hate to say that. I was a faculty for, um, 20 years. I’m a tenured faculty member. Um, but I have a very set way in which I teach, and the way I approach my, my course or my material or my relationship with my students. And having to do something different can sometimes be a struggle. So we see faculty resistance often being a pain point for institutions. You really encourage institutions that are struggling with that to be open about it. To really talk through what is CBE. There’s a lot of misconceptions out there. So if we can help bring our faculty along, if we can help explain what CBE is-

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

… and in essence, what it is not-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… most faculty at institutions, get it once it’s been fully explained to them. And then finally, I think for a lot of institutions, they think, “Oh my goodness, this is gonna require a whole new financial aid system. This is gonna require a whole new business model. This is gonna require me to do …” Maybe-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… and maybe not. It kinda depends on what model of a CBE program you choose. What are the characteristics or the elements you want in your program? And so, you may not have to have such a radically different business model. It may be perfectly fine with the financial aid disbursement method you use today.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

Um, so I think it’s important for people to kinda push through some of those initial pain points to really say, “Are they really a pain point for us or is that just something I heard through the grapevine and I thought, oh, no, those can be really bad? That’s not so bad after all.” Right?

Divya Bheda:

And C-, and C-BEN, it seems like has a network of, of colleagues that folks can reach out to and collaborate with and help answer questions, right?

Charla Long:

Ab-, absolutely. Amongst a number of ways in which we can go at that, but there’s a listserv, and people will post a question that says, “Hey, tell me, how are you doing faculty compensation or who’s, who’s, you know, heavily adjunct in their model? How do you structure that or who owns the IP when somebody’s creating that course content?” And so people will post a question and folks are so good and, and open about responding to that and sharing. I can honestly say, in the early days, myself in building a CBE program at my institution, if it hadn’t been for Fred Hurst at Northern Arizona at the time, I mean, he shared so much and we shared collectively with one another. That was so beneficial to me. I didn’t feel like I was having to build everything from scratch, but I could learn from my peers.

Divya Bheda:

And so building off of that, how, what would you tell folks who say, “What is, what, how do you know that CBE is successful from traditional student success metrics?” So when we think about like graduation time or loan amounts or whatever, how, how do we know that CBE is a successful model?

Charla Long:

Yeah. So I would encourage folks to take a look at some of the research that’s been done by A.I.R., so the American Institutes for Research. Kelle Parsons and, uh, Jessica Mason have done an excellent job through the years tracking CBE programs, the growth of the movement, what’s happening, what are those results? Many of their published findings are from a small subset of institutions. But I would say, in those studies, we’re seeing that CBE is delivering at least at where we are in, in traditional, if not above-

Divya Bheda:

Okay.

Charla Long:

… in, in every category. So I don’t think you’re gonna do harm by trying it. And I think you’re gonna do actually better by using that in, in the context of your learners. And then I would encourage you to take a look at things like Capella’s five year report. Capella put out a five year report. They, at that time had 7,000 graduates, 7,000 people in the program. And they said, “Let me tell you how we did in our first five years run in a direct assessment program.” Upwards of 50%, less financial aid borrowing had to happen. Why? Because the price point was at a, at a different location. So, more learners were able to borrow less, right? Uh-

Divya Bheda:

Wow. Nice.

Charla Long:

… people completed more quickly. I think it was 58% completed the program more quickly than the traditional model.

Divya Bheda:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charla Long:

When you think for an adult learner in particular, time is of the essence. I’m not working. I am struggling to feed my family. I’m in a dead end job and I wanna get ahead. Time, every day matters. And so, um, to hear that people could finish 58% faster, we’re talking big time savings and this opportunity to get to economic mobility a lot quicker. So I encourage you to take a look at the five year report out of Capella. Very impressive results. When we look at our quality framework for CBE programs, quality element number eight is all about collecting data and then openly sharing it. So we often say to our network and when our, um, members get together, we’ll say, “Bring with you two or three pieces of data. Come and tell me some successes you’re seeing in your program or share with me where you’re not doing so well.” So the rest of us learn from that, right? So if you tell me-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… “We’re really struggling with turning grades around as quickly as we want or feedback on assignments.” Or, “We’re struggling with differentiated instruction.” Tell us. Give us the data so that all of us can learn and grow from that. And I think that’s what makes the CBE field so special. Is that we’re pretty transparent with one another and sharing that so we can all get better. I would just say there’s a lot of proof out there, but the proof is kind of institution by institution pretty much.

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… um-

Divya Bheda:

Got it.

Charla Long:

… and not necessarily these big studies. Because honestly, we don’t have enough programs and enough graduates yet in this generation of CBE programs, uh, to really do that kind of study that we would expect.

Divya Bheda:

Right. You were also sharing earlier, Charla, anecdotes and case study stories on your website. Could you tell me a little bit-

Charla Long:

Yeah.

Divya Bheda:

… more about those?

Charla Long:

Absolutely. So one of the things I’d encourage all to take a look at is, if you can go to our website, cbenetwork.org, you can click on the resources tab and it will come up for a story bank. And in the story bank is all these little video vignettes that institutions have filmed of students saying, “Let me tell you about my life. I was a banker and no one knew I didn’t have a college degree. And so I kinda hid as president of the bank without anybody knowing. And then I decided I wanted to go up in the corporate ladder and leave my bank branch and go into the corporate world, and I knew I needed to have a degree. So I reached out to X, Y, Z institution who had a CBE program, and I was able to earn my degree. And I’m so proud of myself.” So we have a lot of those types of stories from learners that they’ve captured and said, “Let me tell you how CBE’s made a difference.”

Charla Long:

I encourage you, especially if you’ve got faculty that seem resistant, go pull some of those stories up. Ask, ask them to listen to them. Put it at the beginning of a training session that you’re gonna do. Share with them some of those vignettes. It’s very hard to argue with actual learners sitting there telling you how it’s changed their life.

Divya Bheda:

And especially because you have transparent transcripts, you have documented learning outcomes, actual skills that, you know, people are talking about. So then it’s like, “Okay, I can do this. And I can, I can articulate that in a very meaningful way.” So then you, you, you can’t argue with that really. Right? (laughing) So-

Charla Long:

That’s, that’s exactly right.

Divya Bheda:

Yeah.

Charla Long:

That is exactly right.

Divya Bheda:

So I have one final question for you. What is your advice to anyone exploring this way of education? So like a step-by-step, what should they do? How would they start this process if they’re interested in exploring CBE?

Charla Long:

The first thing I would say is, don’t go it alone. I would find others that are doing this work that are in same or similar fields. Or if that seems competitive and you don’t wanna do that, find folks that are at institutions near you or that are, um, comparable institutions to you that may be doing this work. Start by learning. I’d encourage you to attend conferences. I don’t mean to put in a, uh, a selfish plug here, but see CBExchange-

Divya Bheda:

No, do it. (laughs).

Charla Long:

… you know, the CBExchange event is an outstanding event for people who are trying to wrap their heads around CBE. And there were hundreds of s-, uh, 100 sessions really designed to just help you really understand what does it take? What’s first, second and third thing to do? So I’d say, first things, work on educating yourself. Second, find you a group of champions, right?

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

Figure out who at your institution can help you make this happen. Do not just focus on the academic side. You need to have all the other branches and areas of your institution involved. So, uh, you need your registrar, you need your financial aid officer, you need your business group, you need your admissions team. You need all of them at the table talking about what is the academic program we ought to do first? And-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… what should our student services model look like. It’s, it’s really gotta be a, a, a larger group. So don’t try to go it alone. Not just yourself, but also on your own campus. Who can you bring in as champions?

Divya Bheda:

Like it’s almost like a worldview, like change of worldview. You may not have to change all the cogs, but, you know, the 30,000 foot worldview is different. You know, sometimes you may forget what, what to look for in the details. So you need all of these elements to go together to make it a comprehensive change. Right?

Charla Long:

That is, that’s, that’s right. And I can say, having been a dean before and a department chair and in a faculty route, when I wanted to do an academic program, I just flat decided what I was gonna do. Put the curriculum together, and then I sent the paperwork over to the registrar. She added the course numbering system, and then I took it to the, the approval process, right?

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

I didn’t ask her for her permission and what she thought she liked about it. I never asked financial aid, “Do you like this or not?” I didn’t-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… ask student services what are the kinds of learners I ought to be recruiting. But in CBE, that’s exactly what you have to do. You wanna bring all those people in. That’s a very big paradigm shift for those of us on the academic side of the house. We need all of those, those entities, um, breathing into the work. And then finally, uh, another thought is, who are your employer partners? Who are the folks that are gonna hire the graduates from the programs? Get them to the table. We really want to engage with employers. We wanna know what they’re thinking, what they need. We want them to help breathe into what are the competencies that are gonna go into this program? What are assessments that are really authentic and look like what we do in the real world?

Charla Long:

Um, how can they help us build in actual formative assessments that are realistic that scaffold that learning all the way-

Divya Bheda:

Right.

Charla Long:

… back to that summative assessment performance. So I want an employer involved early on in that process. So I think that would be another key element that you think about early on. Get your team together. Get them skilled up. Get them the kinda training and the information they need and make sure you’re thinking inclusively about all the people who should be involved.

Divya Bheda:

Thank you. Thank you so much, Charla, for these key insights and, and advice on strategies on how to adopt CBE. Thank you for explaining CBE and explaining how this helps support student success so that students understand their own learning trajectory. And it also seems to serve students in terms of non-traditional, so-called non-traditional students in, in their career paths. I really appreciate this conversation with you. And, and, uh, folks, for those of you who don’t know CBExchange is happening, I think, in November in Austin, Texas.

Divya Bheda:

So for any of you who wanna check it out, please go and check that out as well. Thank you so much, Charla. Thank you for, for having this conversation with us.

Charla Long:

Absolutely.

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This podcast was produced by Divya Bheda and the ExamSoft team. Audio engineering and editing by Adam Karsten and the A2K productions crew. This podcast is intended as a public service for entertainment and educational purposes only, and is not a legal interpretation nor statement of ExamSoft policy, products or services. The views and opinions expressed by the hosts or guests of this show are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of ExamSoft or any of its officials, nor does any appearance on this program imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent.

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