Butts in seats

An article by two academics, Moving Past Time as the Criteria: The Application of Capabilities-Based Educational Equivalency Units in Education, suggests that the "Carnegie unit," which equates college credits with hours spent in class with a qualified instructor is hopelessly out of date.

I couldn't agree more.

The Carnegie Foundation for Advancement in Teaching defined a college unit as 750 classroom hours back in 1909, long before the advent of the Internet, the computer, television, tape recorders, or the ballpoint pen. It's no surprise that simulations, distance learning, and online collaboration count for naught in the Carnegie scheme.

The researchers propose the Capabilities-Based Educational Equivalency (CBEE) unit as a replacement. The say the CBEE "offers an approach that is not time-dependent but is responsive to emerging technologies, supportive of systematic instructional design, and focused on the achievement of learners."

    CBEE units are supposedly based on educational outcome instead of duration. Looking for a way to make CBEE units consistent across courses and institutions, the researchers bring in Gagne's taxonomy of human capabilities.

    For each course, CBEE units are determined from Course Objectives (Given appropriate resources, learners will be able to…). Type of Objective (Gagne type) and Instructional method (text, online reading, async chat, etc.)

Colleges face a huge problem. They have no way to recognize what students learn outside of class.

I don't think these authors have the answer. Outcomes are outcomes. How one reaches them or how Gagne would pigeonhole them is irrelevant.

On a practical level, implementing competency-based education would probably involve more voodoo than what colleges are saddled with now. If a student learns three times as much in a Princeton course as in a Podunk U. course, does she receive three times as many credits? If not, why not?

I've assessed experiential learning for college credit in university assessment centers; it's the intellectual equivalent of touring the sausage factory.

I won't say where, but I've also developed lists of competencies for accredited off-campus degree programs. Most of the time, we developed the course before writing the competencies. This is like Charlie Brown painting the target around the arrow he has shot into the wall.

And what would happen if to courses that rate no CBEE units? A story in the August 14, 2002, New York Times reported "One day in 1931, Hamilton Holt, president of Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., startled his colleagues at an academic conference when he declared that Yale and Columbia, which he had attended in his youth, 'taught me virtually nothing.' The reason, Mr. Holt explained, was that the lectures delivered by his teachers, as with those delivered by professors almost everywhere, were examples of 'probably the worst scheme ever devised for imparting knowledge.'"

Your comments on my perspective are welcome.

Posted by Jay Cross at October 23, 2002 11:23 AM | TrackBack

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