As kids, our parents taught us life lessons using stories. Sometimes the stories came from personal experiences, teachable moments, or fables. As we grow up, we tend to think fables as being good…for kids, but fables provide lifelong lessons no matter what your age. Take for instance, the fable of “Belling the Cat.”
As the fable goes, a family of mice lived in constant fear of the house cat which hunted them all day long. Tired of fearing for their lives, they decided to develop a plan to change their situation. All members of the mice family sat together and started to brainstorm ideas and to “eliminate” the threat. Finally, the youngest mouse came up with a brilliant proposal. He suggested they tie a bell around the cat’s neck so they would hear him coming. This would give the mice time to run and hide. All of the other mice agreed, except the oldest, wisest mouse. The old mouse, not wanting to squash the creativity of the youngest mouse agreed that the plan was a good idea, but asked, “who will be the one to bell the cat?”
While there are many life lessons contained in this fable, there is one in particular that applies to higher education. Ideas are important when developing solutions to a problem, but arguably, it’s the execution that is more important.
Currently, higher education is scrambling to develop solutions in response to questions about academic quality, accessibility, and cost. Non-profit organizations are funding hundreds of projects based on various ideas. It’s kind of like checking to see if the spaghetti is done by throwing it on the wall and seeing what sticks. While ideas provide a good start, it’s the execution which turns an idea into a reality.
Competency-Based Education is just one of many ideas that are being “thrown on the wall” and with a good foundation and leadership might provide a solution to some of the questions asked. There are several characteristics which are important to evaluate when developing a solid competency-based education program.
- Strong Leadership. Developing a competency-based program is not an easy task. It takes a clear vision, steady direction, and consistent support. It involves the participation of all stakeholders, for example, industry professionals, school administrators, subject matter experts, regulators, feeder programs, and students.
- Robust Competencies. Competencies need to align with both industry and academic expectations. They should reflect the skills and knowledge students must demonstrate to move on to the next phase, whether it be further education or employment.
- Valid Assessments. In order to measure mastery, reliable assessments and evaluation rubrics need to be developed and tested.
- Faculty Mentors. Competency-based education provides an opportunities for faculty to more meaningfully engage with students to facilitate learning. Think less lecturing and more mentoring. Students need academic support and the ability to move through the program at an individualized pace.
- Continued Pathways. A competency-based program is only as useful as the opportunities it provides students once they graduate. It is up to the school to develop plans to address credit transferability, financial aid, and degree recognition.
The good news is the federal government and higher education are both open to continuing a dialogue and fostering opportunities for competency-based education. For the first time it seems like everyone is coming together and on the same page. The important part is execution. Let’s see if it “sticks.”
Do you have a plan to “bell the cat”?
Postscript: a special thanks to LifeHacker for inspiring this blog post.