Help is on the way for institutions that are looking for answers to technology challenges as they consider competency-based education (CBE) programs. A frustration for many early adopters has been the inability of their current technologies to adapt to a CBE environment. Issues have been reported related to learning management systems, student information systems, financial aid, and others. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Public Agenda is sponsoring a new effort called the Technical Interoperability Project (TIP) that aims to provide relief by identifying the needs of the institutions moving toward CBE and the vendors who can fill those needs.
Using a twenty-seven question survey, TIP will analyze data to find common issues across program types and software vendors. The survey has been administered to the thirty-three institutions/systems that are part of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) through Public Agenda and the fourteen institutions/systems that are part of CAEL’s CBE jumpstart program. In addition to responding to the survey, each participant will be interviewed to capture additional data.
Mark Leuba, Managing Director of Pathways Technology Partners, is heading up the effort and said the project will be fairly wide-ranging, looking at eight to ten categories of technology systems related to CBE. The survey asks about each of the systems, what vendor and product the institution is using, the level of customization, and the level of satisfaction with the product. The first question asks whether there are “significant technical issues or inefficiencies managing competency-related processes or information” in internal systems, and Leuba said the initial responses have been overwhelmingly “Yes.”
The rest of the survey looks at issues related to program structure and management, the evaluation process, pace and progress for students, financial aid, transcripts, transfer credit, and instructional design. The data analysis is underway and the next steps will be to prepare user stories from actual stakeholders describing their needs and use cases that detail the issues and describe how a solution should work. Vendors will be chosen to pair up with the institutions, in many cases the vendor already being used. The idea is to try to work through the issues without having to abandon a system that may have already had significant investment.
The vendors will have ninety days to demonstrate how they would provide a solution. They don’t have to provide production quality software, but they must be able to demonstrate their ideas. The institutions will then review and assess whether it will meet their needs before the go-ahead is given.
The outcome is expected to include the publication of case studies, including the vendors’ product plans. This could provide a pathway for other institutions to identify the products and vendors that can best help them meet their own technology challenges related to CBE. An important dimension of the TIP project is the CBE interoperability work that Leuba is doing in collaboration with the IMS Global Learning Consortium to ensure the resulting vendor solutions will work together.
The ambitious timeline for TIP would see that public report available around the end of 2015.
Dorothy Wax is the Associate Vice President for Operations for CAEL. She manages CAEL’s CBE Jumpstart program, which is funded by the Lumina Foundation and is providing training to 21 institutions and systems of higher education on CBE.