Inside Higher Ed has a write-up today on an effort by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) to develop a competency-based framework for general education called General Education Maps and Markers (GEMs), funded by a multi-million-dollar Gates Foundation grant. I am honored to report that I have been invited to participate on one of the GEMs committees.
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about competency-based education (CBE). On the one hand, I do think that an earnest attempt to have a norming conversation and set some standards for what we hope students will learn at college is very important and badly overdue. On the other hand, it’s all too easy to apply CBE in a mechanistic and reductive way that ignores the important but hard-to-measure skills precisely because they’re hard to measure. It’s essentially the same worry that a number of readers expressed in the comments on my post about Pearson’s efficacy initiative. That said, AAC&U has a good shot at assembling the right stakeholders to grapple with this complexity appropriately. I do think there are models out there. For example, ASU’s Habitable Worlds class, which is both competency-based and mastery-based, is not at all dumbed down and could even be further expanded to include writing and similar open-ended analytic and communications skills. (I interviewed Habitable Worlds co-creator Ariel Anbar last year.) But there are many challenges.
Anyway, the first meeting of the GEMs group is coming up in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know what I think after spending a couple of days talking about the issues with the working group.