This is part of my work in a team working on our TC1014 Fundamentals of Programming course at the Tecnológico de Monterrey and submitted as the stage 2 document.

Principle Characteristics

Implementing CBP moves the focus from learning of concepts to developing skills through practice. Ideally each competency is small enough to give opportunity to display mastery of each separately before moving on to the next competency. Individualized learning through order of completion as well as method of demonstrating mastery are key components for our implementation.

Syntax of a Competency

The standard format for writing a competency is: action verb (described in third person), an object of the action verb and context to aid in measuring mastery of the competency. Care should be taken to avoid the use of relative adjectives and adverbs. The description should be concise and not wordy.

Competency is not Objective

I think of objectives as what we want the students to know and the competency involves the process of showing (and evaluating) the the mastery of the given competency has been reached.

Competency Types

We choose to identify disciplinary and transversal competencias. Domain or discipline specific competencies are what distinguish our different programs, specialties and possibly minors. The transversal competencies are the ones that we wish to apply to all students in our programs.

When we are viewing competencies through the lens of a particular course or state of the student’s development we can speak of levels of competency such as beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Advantages of Competency-Based Education

I’ve been applying mastery based learning in my courses over the past three years and have seen advantages in that my students arrive to my classroom with different skill sets and already met competencies or at least at different levels. Structuring my courses around mastery (competencies at a course level) allows for opportunity for individual pacing of my students. This process has also led to more control of the learning.

Another big plus that I have found is that a less structured “how” to meeting mastery has led to much more creativity in my students in how they show mastery and quite often leading to deeper diving into specific topics.

Strategies for the Professor

We should be working back from the defined exit competencies for our graduating students to find the learning outcomes (sometimes referred to as sub-competencies but I prefer to avoid that term) and levels of competencies. We should also define links between competencies if there are apparent dependencies between them. We would strive to avoid tight coupling and dependencies but it is clear that each student will need a plan of how to navigate the collection of competencies during their journey whether that be a course during our transitional period or a project or semester length project.

Goals and Obstacles

Speaking from experience I would never go back to a traditional “teach the content” type of class. Making mastery the goal has led to some amazing results with my students which you can see in other blog entries here and more importantly on the blogs of my students. The big challenge from the instructors viewpoint is letting go of a focus on content or worrying about “covering all the content”. The key challenge that I have found from the students viewpoint is convincing them that they can indeed take the “driver’s wheel” while having their professor in the passenger seat as a navigator.

The real big hurdle is the shift of power and control of the education. That power relationship is and has been present during the past for most teachers and students. Making a shift is not simple. It takes time, trust and sometimes a leap of faith.

Feature Image Credit

Leap of Faith flickr photo by eatbitter shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license
Leap of Faith flickr photo by eatbitter shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license



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