STEM Job Skills Development in a Competency Based Education (CBE) Model 

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will examine competency-based education (CBE) as an instructional model to provide workforce development to STEM students, promote inclusion of students with cognitive disabilities in STEM fields, and foster discussion and potential collaborations on CBE projects between participants. 


Dr. Nathan Whitley-Grassi is the Associate Director for Educational Technologies at SUNY Empire State College, where he leads a team of Educational Technologists who work with faculty to develop pedagogically sound methods for integrating technology into their teaching and learning. He holds a PhD in education from Walden University and holds graduate degrees in biological anthropology and ecology, evolution and behavior from SUNY University at Buffalo as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology from Armstrong State University. Whitley-Grassi is a faculty member for the Master of Arts in Learning and Emerging Technologies (MALET) program where he teaches courses on educational assessment, STEM education, instructional design, and advises graduate students at the Empire State College School of Graduate Studies. Whitley-Grassi also teaches courses in education, biological anthropology and ecology and evolution topics at the undergraduate level. Whitley-Grassi’s research interests include increasing access to STEM experiences through innovative technology integration, educational assessment and faculty development.

Additional Authors

Allison Moreland is an Instructional Designer at SUNY Empire State College based in Rochester. She consults with faculty on the development and revision of online and blended courses. She assesses online courses for alignment with college standards and accessibility. She is also focused on revising graduate courses as part of an initiative to create a program that is fully open. She is an adjunct instructor teaching courses in using technology in education and digital literacy. Ms. Moreland has a Master of Science degree in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication from SUNY College at Brockport. Her 18 years of work experience include development of competency models as well as curriculum and instructional design in higher education and corporate training. She has consulted with a variety of clients including, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Verizon, Frito Lay, PepsiCo, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., FedEx, and many others. She has supported several IITG projects, including STEM Open Educational Resources (OERs): Development and Integration of STEM OERs across SUNY; Ecology and Earth Science Virtual Field Experiences OERs: Expanding Access to Field-Based Research Techniques for Students at a Distance; and STEM Job Skills Development in a Competency Based Education (CBE) Model. She has developed processes that support Open Educational Resource development for Educational Technologies. Ms. Moreland is interested in elevating digital literacy for students, faculty, and staff. Her course Digital Literacy focuses on developing students' awareness of the importance of the Internet in work and daily life, in staying safe online, and in identifying that there are multiple options to accomplish any given task online. Her goal is to make students aware of the need to understand and manage their online presence. She has presented at SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology in the area of digital literacy for faculty website development.

Extended Abstract

This session will present an ongoing project developing and implementing a series of competency-based resources that will facilitate workforce development and learning for STEM students, with a particular focus on those students who have cognitive disabilities. This session will describe a project that will serve as proof of concept for a larger-scale implementation addressing needs for STEM workforce development for students throughout a State University of New York (SUNY) system and examine competency-based education (CBE) as an instructional model for students with some forms of cognitive disability. 

CBE programs provide a learning experience that focuses on the success of each learner and encourages student growth through mastery of higher levels of competency in a given task. Because the focus of CBE is on developing skill in a given task, process, or procedure, student and instructor time is used efficiently to assess student skills, nurture student strengths, target skill gaps and challenges, and track and monitor student progress as evidenced by formative, summative, and performance-based assessment of learning (Torres, Scheopner, Brett & Cox, 2015; Garfolo & L’Huiller, 2016; Pichee, 2011). Development of a competency map encourages development of a curriculum that targets specific skill sets that have been identified by experts in the workplace and STEM instruction. Additionally, CBE encourages the use of individualized development plans, which is an area that SUNY Empire has excelled in throughout its 47-year history.   

There is growing excitement about CBE as preparation for the workplace and job skills training, it has been identified as a desirable means of delivering learning to students. Employer attitudes toward CBE are generally positive by employers seeking to hire employees with experience (Franklin & Lytle, 2016). This session will describe how the project team explored this in the area of STEM education, particularly in the areas of:   

  1. Aligning competencies to educational goals. 
  2. Increasing knowledge to support practical application.   
  3. Training used in conjunction with affecting behaviors tied to competencies. 
  4. Pre-assessing current skill set. 
  5. Allowance for a self-paced curriculum. 

Educational Technologists with expertise in accessibility and accommodations have worked with faculty subject matter experts to research and develop a pilot program. We will present the research design that will include best practices for curriculum design for learners with cognitive disabilities, necessary STEM-essential skills, and potential target audiences for the curriculum.

Potential topic areas for the CBE could include:   

  • Laboratory safety   
  • Laboratory skills   
  • Infection control   
  • Scientific Methods  
  • Critical thinking   

Subject matter experts (SMEs) and Competency Developers (CDs) collaborated both in person and at a distance to develop and implement a pilot CBE curriculum.  We will describe this process as well as our design model including a one-day competency development retreat held to bring SMEs and CDs together to kick off the development and planning of curriculum. This one-day event was vital to build connections between SMEs and CDs and create collaborative working relationships that spaned the full project. SMEs include STEM teaching faculty, administrators, and/or industry professionals. 

We will also facilitate a discussion with session participants on CBE that will inform a one-day symposium focused on CBE hosted at SUNY Empire State College later this year. These discussions will allow a forum to discuss this and other CBE projects as well as provide opportunities for researchers and faculty to network and form supportive communities of practice. Specific focuses for discussion could include; CBE in STEM, CBE for workforce development, CBE for students with disabilities, and applications of CBE for adult and non-traditional students.