Form, Function, and Full-Fledged Possibilities of CBE

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Brief Abstract

Competency-based educational programs have made a beneficial addition to higher education. CBE programs stemmed from a desire for lower-cost options for compressed timeframes for completion as well as attention to real-world competencies. The presentation will highlight similarities and differences in forms, functions, and possibilities of CBE. 


I am the Associate Dean of Digital Learning and Innovation at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, in Belton, TX. I also serve as the University Assessment Coordinator for SACSCOC assessment. Prior to this, I was a Professor and Chair of the Teacher Education Division and SACSCOC Liaison at the Baptist College of FL (2013-2018) and an Associate Professor at the University of Central Florida (2005-2012). While at UCF, I served as the Director of Program and Research for the Morgridge International Reading Center. My research agenda is the study of online interactions - various modalities and ways to measure them. I am investigating the Connected Stance or one in which students are engaged and show a high level of participation and a variety of moves during online classes.

Extended Abstract

Forms: Competency-Based Education (CBE) programs share some common characteristics: competencies form the basis for course delivery and not necessarily credit hours or seat-time, online delivery, lower-cost options, self-paced methods, time-condensed possibilities for completion, subscription-based payment of terms, and older-than-average degree-completer students. However, an informal search of CBE programs across the US reveals that the way CBE programs are formed can vary quite a bit. Some offer 4-week terms, some offer year-long terms, and some offer no terms at all. Some CBE programs are fully online, some are hybrid online and face-to-face, and some completely face-to-face. Additionally, some higher ed institutions offer classes and not entire programs in the CBE format, while some offer complete degrees in the CBE format. Even though programs and courses can vary, the Competency-Based Education Network (CBEN) has identified “Eight Elements of Quality” that drive quality assessment of CBE programs. This presentation will focus on these elements to describe best practices for CBE programs while highlighting the format of numerous CBE programs across the US. The session leader will also lead a discussion to consider how the elements of quality cross over into quality online programs.

Functions: The role of the faculty in CBE programs and their involvement in course and program development also varies between programs. Faculty are typically involved in teaching, evaluating, and administrating CBE programs (AIR, 2019), a more expanded role than in “regular” college-level courses/programs. Also, the controversy around “regular and substantive interaction” (RSI) (necessary for the Department of Education’s Title IV Financial Aid funding) has revealed the need to enact the functions of a faculty member in CBE programs carefully, especially those that are self-paced and afford much student autonomy. The functions of faculty members in CBE programs include initiating contact with students (not relying on them to initiate), providing academic feedback on assignments/quizzes submitted, etc. Some CBE programs also employ a Student Success Coach who serves as a liaison between students and faculty. They guide a student through the program or course, encouraging, prodding, and cheerleading where necessary. Their role is also important to provide structure and guidance for students. Thus, the functions of faculty and student success coaches in CBE programs are carefully designed for student success and program quality. This presentation will explore varied roles of faculty and student success coaches in CBE programs, with an extended gaze toward how the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor provides faculty enhancement opportunities to support them.

Possibilities: In a recent survey of 602 post-secondary institutions 76% said they expect the number of CBE programs to grow in the next 5 years (AIR, 2019). Most of this growth will occur through career-based partnerships in response to increased pressure from stakeholders to drive the costs of higher education down. The possibilities for alignment to industry standards has made CBE programs a desirable addition to higher education for the workforce. However, these possibilities are minor when compared to students’ demands for flexible, relevant, affordable alternatives to four-year degrees. In the wake of Spring 2020’s quick transition to emergency remote teaching, fully online CBE programs could possibly fill the gap with thoughtful, systematic instruction. This presentation will describe a variety of possibilities for CBE’s future and offer some questions for attendees who may be considering CBE development.