Sometimes Twitter is just too small for big ideas– below is a twitter conversation that sprung up around my recent post Competency vs. Mastery. This post will describe how Knowledge Skills and Attitudes fit into the big picture of assessing student mastery of learning competencies.
— Ted Curran (@tedcurran) May 12, 2015
@JeremyRudy Are you asking where skills fit into all this? They’re necessary for students to demonstrate mastery.
— Ted Curran (@tedcurran) May 15, 2015
@tedcurran yeah, how are they defined in relation to the others?
— Jeremy Rudy (@JeremyRudy) May 15, 2015
Knowledge Skills and Attitudes
Knowledge, Skills, & Attitudes (or “KSAs”) are 3 types of “learning outcomes” — they are the results of instruction, the answers to the question:
“How will a student be changed after they’ve successfully completed this course or program?”
Good answers to such a question should include Bloom’s thinking verbs and they touch on the things that students will know (knowledge), be able to do (skills), and believe (attitudes) as a result of their learning.
Good assessments (I’d argue) are ones that can verify that these changes have actually taken place in the student, and that students will be able to perform valuable work tasks while exhibiting the desired knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
The Hierarchy of Competencies
Let’s use the example of Kaplan University we referred to earlier, where the institution has a small number of very broad, high level learning goals that students should master over the course of their whole program — this is one of theirs:
Ethics: Identify, apply, and evaluate ethical reasoning
For students to be able to do this successfully, they need to master all of the required “sub-categories” of learning that build up into these high-level abilities.
This is where people’s terminology gets fuzzy — I call these sub-categories “competencies”, but others call them outcomes, objectives, or goals. Depending on how detailed each level gets, you can have sub-sub-categories and so on until you get to daily activities for each class session. I think competencies should represent the discrete knowledge, skills, and attitudes you’ve mastered, and I think your transcript should look like a detailed list of these KSAs.
In order to meet the Ethics goal above, a student might need to show that they know the characteristics of sound ethical reasoning, be able to apply ethical reasoning to real-world situations, and believe that ethical reasoning adds value to business decisions.
Designing Backwards from Competencies
Now that we know what students should know, believe, and be able to do when they’ve been successful in our class, we have to ask how will we know it? What could a student do that would show evidence that they have mastered the KSAs?
I’ll give a reckless paraphrasing of Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design to show how we get from Competencies to day-to-day learning activities.
We have to create assessments that could only be successfully completed by someone who has mastered the desired learning outcome. Again, Bloom’s verbs are our friends and can help us ask students to complete tasks that show evidence of the learning we want to see.
Using our ethics examples above, a true/false comprehension quiz may be enough to show that our student can identify sound ethical reasoning from other fallacious arguments.
To show evidence of applying ethical reasoning to real-world situations, we may ask them to write a paper or make a video demonstrating how a given ethics problem from the text manifests in their own workplace experiences.
To show evidence of believing that ethical reasoning adds value to business decisions, we may ask students to analyze, compare, and contrast news stories of real world ethical violations in business and construct their own “statement of beliefs” about ethics.
(Note: the form these work products take is less important than the evidence of learning that they show. It doesn’t really matter if students write a paper, make a video, sing a song, or write a comic book — as long as the work artifact clearly shows evidence of the desired learning outcome. This leaves a lot of room for student choice — they can all explore their personal, individual interests while meeting the requirements of the assignment. This is great for working professionals, who all have different but relevant interests that they want to explore, but I also found in my 11th/12th grade digital arts class that students could all work in the medium of their choice while showing mastery of the same learning outcomes.)
OK, So What Do I Teach?
You may have noticed by now that we’ve ended up in very different territory than we do in the “tell and test” style of teaching.
We are no longer just telling students everything we think they need to know about a subject and then checking to see if they can repeat it.
We are no longer hiding the “right answers” from them unless they’ve read the pages we’ve told them to.
We are showing them what they will need to be able to produce by the end of a unit.
We are showing them explicitly (via a rubric) the specific knowledge skills and attitudes we will be looking for in their finished work product.
We are designing activities that break down the complex abilities we want to asssess into manageable, single-sitting tasks that students can complete in a day or two, and sequencing those activities so they build up to the high-level competencies we’re assessing.
We are showing them where to find good information that will help them develop the KSAs we’ll be assessing, but we’re not force-feeding it to them, and we don’t even need to be concerned if they use different textbooks or websites to find the information.
We are putting them in a position of action right away — asking them to start building the project while they’re learning, the same way we have to in our real-life work situations.
We are giving them a safe place to try, fail, and revise (for full credit, at their own pace) with personalized support from a caring adult who respects their dignity and wants them to succeed.
We are collecting data frequently on their progress, and intervening quickly when students show signs of failure.
The steps above make your course much less like a lecture hall and more like a workshop, where you are the “guide on the side”, intervening with students when they need you, and letting them work when they don’t.
Competency-based education adds value to this model by taking the time pressure off of the class, freeing the teaching from having to “keep everyone together”, freeing students to learn at their own pace, and letting the technology handle the tasks it does better than people — delivering content.
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