Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What Is Competency?

Over the weekend, I was revising/creating/synthesizing a syllabus for a course about using brain-based strategies in online learning environments. One section of the syllabus called for “measurable competencies.”

Well, what exactly is a “measurable competency?”

To start, I looked at other syllabi from other instructors. Many instructors had simply listed assignments or tools as the “measurable competencies.” However, this didn’t satisfy me. A competency should be something more.

After much reflection, some discussion with my husband (during which he mostly watched hockey playoffs and nodded), and consultation of several online dictionaries, I came to the conclusion that a measurable competency should be a bundle of knowledge and skills that can be deployed flexibly.

(Side note/Full disclaimer: This understanding aligns clearly with my work in the iZone.)

So, a series of competencies on a syllabus should NOT be tools or assignments. Instead, they should be concise generalizations about what experts can do in the field of study.

Given that my course is about building brain-friendly online learning environments, I arrived at the following 3 competencies:
  1. Cultivate collaboration beyond the discussion board
  2. Give student feedback using multimedia
  3. Aid metacognition

These are the three goals that I want students to transfer to their unique contexts through completion of the tasks provided within the course. I’ve provided guidance to students as to what types of projects could show evidence of these competencies, but I’ve also allowed for lots of student creativity and invention. Students can show mastery any way they choose (whether I’ve suggested it or not).  A single rubric is used to evaluate all tasks within the course, facilitating familiarity and allowing students to track their progress over time.

While I’m a little bit worried that this type of freedom will intimidate my future students, this is exactly the type of pedagogy that I recommend to teachers and students.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions for me?


  1. Where's the measurable part of the measurable competency?

    Is a half cup of aiding metacognition enough?

    Must students cultivate collaboration three furlongs beyond the discussion board or is going beyond by a nose enough?

  2. Great question, Linda. A measurable competency is usually evaluated through a comprehensive rubric. I also provide students with exemplars of each competency so that they can compare expectations to their own work. The more examples you can give to students relative to each phase of the rubric, the better!



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