Magazine article Techniques

CBE in CTE: The Perfect Fit

Magazine article Techniques

CBE in CTE: The Perfect Fit

Article excerpt

The School of Applied Technology at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) is in the middle of a three-year transition of 20 of its workforce-, clock-hour-based programs into a competency-based education (CBE) format, SLCC is a Round IV recipient of a Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant, which provides the funding for this transition.

The Move to CBE

While CBE has been around for decades, it is a relatively new player in higher education. The U.S. military--and even some areas in K-12 and special education--have used and continue to use CBE. Higher education, however, is only now beginning to realize the many benefits that CBE can offer students.

So what is competency-based education? Simply put, CBE removes time as the constant in learning and makes it a variable. More specifically, the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) defines it as combining an "intentional and transparent approach to curricular design with an academic model in which the time it takes to demonstrate competencies varies, and the expectations about learning are held constant" (Competency-Based Education Network, 2016). For instance, if a student can prove mastery of competency in a course in the middle of a semester, he or she moves on. With CBE, there's no more waiting on the academic calendar to advance. Likewise, if a student needs extra time in a course--for any number of reasons--the student is not rushed to finish within the bounds of the semester calendar.

The term "mastery" means different things to different schools. At SLCC, mastery has a baseline of 80 percent; however, for many schools, mastery means achieving at least an 85 percent on the practical and written exams. Some medical programs, such as Clinical Lab Assistant and Certified Nurse Assistant, require 100 percent mastery before a student can move on. It is important to remember that there is no average grade in CBE. Students cannot simply perform well on the first half of the class and then coast through the rest of the course. Mastery is proved at the end of the course in the form of a summative assessment that covers all the material that was taught throughout the course.

Most of the assessments in SLCC's programs are practical, meaning that students are asked to demonstrate the skills they have learned in the course rather than simply answer questions on an exam. It should also be noted that while this is the process used at SLCC, this is not the only way for schools to run a CBE program. If we have learned anything during this transition, it is that while a general definition of CBE can be agreed upon, each school will have its own individual "flavor" of CBE. This should not be regarded as a bad thing, provided that the school is following the agreed-upon format for courses transitioning to CBE.

Early on in our process of converting to CBE, SLCC was invited to join the newly formed C-BEN, which is supported by the Lumina Foundation. The network provided schools that are on the cutting edge of developing new CBE programs a space to talk about what was working and what was not. Based on our goal of transitioning 20 clock-hour programs into CBE, SLCC was one of only two community colleges invited to join the first cohort of colleges in C-BEN.

All About Assessment

Valid and reliable assessment is the cornerstone of any CBE program. Without a valid and reliable assessment, there is no way for an institution to prove the student actually learned what was contained in the course outcomes and objectives. At SLCC, our CBE courses are created using a "backward-design" model, or in other words, starting with the assessment and then subsequently creating the knowledge, skills and abilities from that assessment.

We build courses in a team format. Faculty members serve as the subject matter experts and contribute the content for the courses. …

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