Faculty and staff from across the UNC system put their heads together to learn about competency-based education models from around the country. Nearly 30 national experts covering a broad range of topics highlighted the 2016 Competency-Based Education Summit held at the University of North Carolina’s Center for School Leadership Development.

Teams from UNC’s 17 campuses, as well as representatives from community colleges in-state and out-of-state, gathered to discuss the latest trends in competency-based instruction and delivery models, in which students earn college credit based on content mastery rather than the amount of time spent enrolled in a course. CBE pedagogy focuses on the knowledge and skills that students need not only for the workplace but also as successful college students – such as critical thinking or written communication – in addition to in-depth knowledge of a particular subject.  CBE delivery models focus on academic support systems designed around the student to ensure students stay on track and complete their degree, such as weekly academic coaching contacts or extended six-month “semesters.”

Michelle Solér, Director for Competency-Based Education and Assessment for the UNC system, said the day-long symposium allowed participants to engage the subject through a variety of topics. 

“In a series of keynotes, panel discussions, informal discussions and afternoon break-outs designed to address career-mindedness, CBE instruction, student financial aid, innovative transcript options, digital learning environments and other higher education business processes, CBE Summit attendees carried on vibrant discussions with national experts and brainstormed about how CBE might take shape in the UNC system,” she said. To increase participation during large-group presentations, a real-time question, response and polling tool was used to document participants’ inquisitiveness, to build community, and to foster an inclusive environment. 

“Because of these sessions, I learned that competency-based education is not just for high-performing students, but really designed for the students at the other end – those students that really need our help,” said Charles Cheery, professor and founding dean, School of Education and Psychology at Elizabeth City State University.

Keynote speaker Charla Long, executive director for the Competency-based Education Network (C-BEN), also provided a sounding board for serious questions coming from the audience about program design, accreditation, and the role of education to a state’s workforce. She noted that competency-based education addresses several aspects of UNC President Margaret Spellings’ strategic plan for the university, including affordability and efficiency, access, and student success. 

President Spellings provided remarks after a morning discussion panel featuring curricular experts from the Council of Adult Education, Western Governors University, Southern New Hampshire University —College for America, Northern Arizona University, Appalachian State University, and the American Council on Education.  

In addition to an afternoon session for faculty describing successful CBE programming through deliberate, planned curricular redesign, discussion topics focused on the academic support systems that are most impacted by a competency-based delivery model: registrars, learning management systems, military student offices, student financial aid, career services, enrollment services, advising, and student transcripts.

For more information, CBE Summit attendees, speaker bios, and program agenda are featured at http://cbesummit.org.

Written by Phillip Ramati

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