CBE: design with the end in mind

CBE: design with the end in mind

By Carie Ann Potenza on Monday, February 15, 2016


Think of education as a map: students need clear directions to get to their chosen destination, and the purpose of a well-designed CBE program is to help students get to where they want to go. But how do we do that? For a CBE program to function, it should be designed backwards. That is, we start with the end in mind—the destination—by incorporating the critical competencies necessary. What are students able to demonstrate after they complete their curricular pathway?

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify desired results. First, establish learning goals for the competency. And what’s the best way to go about that? “I always tie the desired result to a well-recognized and accepted industry standard when possible,” says Mitch Seal, dean of the School of Online Learning at the University of the Incarnate Word, which is participating in the Ellucian Brainstorm™ beta program. What should students know, critically evaluate, and be able to do? This is where you should draw the distinction between what students must know to demonstrate competency or mastery, versus what would be nice for them to know. In order to narrow the focus for the content—and increase effectiveness—it’s best to focus on those elements that they must know to demonstrate competency.
  2. Determine acceptable evidence. Think about how you will decide if students are starting to master the knowledge and skills you want them to gain. What will you accept as evidence that students are making progress toward the learning goals of the course?
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction. This is where you design instructional strategies and activities. During this phase of planning, you pull together your instructional exercises and craft them so that students deeply understand the material. You don’t want them to merely regurgitate memorized information. “Instruction is not pouring information into the minds of students,” notes Seal. “Rather, it involves assisting students to help each other fill their heads—and more importantly their hearts—with the competence that I have inspired them to pursue. When I can do that, students tend to exceed all expectations in terms of what was learned and the rate at which it was learned.

That last point is crucial, and here’s why: CBE programs are “outcomes based.” That means everything hinges upon the student demonstrating what he or she knows. Further, this must be measurable. Creating authentic assessments that facilitate a student’s ability to demonstrate the acquisition of new knowledge through a self-paced model is imperative in a competency based model. It’s impossible to quantify whether a student “understands” the subject matter, so it’s critical for a CBE program to measure and quantify what that student knows in order to progress to the next milestone or level and, eventually, a certificate or degree. Measuring knowledge and competency at each stage is vital.

Here is where technology can help. Powerful CBE software can probe a student’s comprehension of a topic, not just quizzing him or her once for a single correct answer, but rather by applying an algorithm over multiple assessments to gauge that student’s proficiency of the subject matter. This approach allows the institution to have a measured, thorough evidence of what that student knows. With this kind of technology, assessments can be modified, improved, and adjusted, creating valid and reliable assessments to accurately measure the student’s knowledge. And that’s the hallmark of CBE.

One of the key benefits from this kind of technologically driven approach is that students are permitted to try, to fail, and to try again once they have learned from their mistakes. They don’t simply answer a question correctly or incorrectly and move on to the next one. The technology, in conjunction with the instructor, can test the limits of their knowledge, and offer assistance in areas where the student may be weak. In this fashion, the main concern is the success of the student and ensuring that he or she can apply the material. It’s not just a process of weeding out those who don’t know the material. In the end, it’s about promoting student success, and successfully designed CBE programs underpinned by the right technology can do just that.

To learn more about how the University of the Incarnate Word designed their CBE curriculum with the end in mind, view the webinar.

Click here to register for Mastering CBE: A Webinar Series by Ellucian.

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About the Author

Carie Ann Potenza

Carie Ann Potenza

Director, Academic and Grant Services, Ellucian

Carie Ann Potenza has more than two decades of experience in higher education and teaching, specializing in academic innovation, student success, and teaching and learning with technology.