Competency-based transcripts

by on August 9, 2013 at 8:48 am in Education | Permalink

Why not I say?:

Students who enroll in a new competency-based program at Northern Arizona University will earn a second transcript, which will describe their proficiency in the online bachelor degree’s required concepts. The university will also teach students how to share their “competency report” transcripts with potential employers.

The university shared a sample version of a competency report. The document looks nothing like its traditional counterpart, and lacks courses or grades.

Here is more.

Andrew' August 9, 2013 at 9:18 am


Rahul August 9, 2013 at 9:35 am

I wish their sample transcript was for a more useful major. Rather than “Can Communicate with diverse populations” and “Write about culture effectively” I’d love headings like “Can handle fractions and long division”, “Skill at Calculus”, etc.

There seems to be a pattern here: All the newfangled competency testers and alternative credentials seem to target either the bottom of the barrel or vague, hard to quantify attributes.

Yancey Ward August 9, 2013 at 10:35 am

There seems to be a pattern here: All the newfangled competency testers and alternative credentials seem to target either the bottom of the barrel or vague, hard to quantify attributes.

With reason, too. Though, I guess one can wait and see what develops here before passing final judgment.

albatross August 9, 2013 at 12:23 pm

I can’t be the only one thinking of the grades described in John Barnes’ _Mother of Storms_.

Grade report:

Sociology: Demonstrated competence
English Literature: Significant achievement
Calculus: Open Mind

Tim August 9, 2013 at 1:15 pm

“Can handle fractions and long division”, “Skill at Calculus” are fairly useless. I’m in software development and I still want people who can “Can Communicate with diverse populations” and “Write about culture effectively”. I can teach any bozo fractions, long division and the calculus they’ll need to do the job. I don’t have time to teach them how to think, communicate, and make decisions on their own.

Tim August 9, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Or how not to be an HR nightmare because they have no concept of other cultures. That one happens a LOT.

Rahul August 9, 2013 at 1:38 pm

If you can really teach any bozo fractions, long division and calculus American schools really need you! My estimate says less than 50% of current graduating high schoolers are competent in all three.

Tim August 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I can teach them what they would need to know for a job. Or more importantly the button they push to make the computer calculate them.
I’m always baffled by those who view college as a vocational school that should teach job skills, but then want students to have super-deep knowledge of math. Math is automatable. Math offers no job security. Math is better done by computers that don’t make human errors. Why in the world should long division (a task that can be done with a $1.00 calculator) be more important than knowledge of the History of Islam a religion that most people are going interact with? Why would African-American studies be less useful than Geometry?

Kyle August 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm

“Math is automatable. Math offers no job security. Math is better done by computers that don’t make human errors” No, you’re talking about the simple act of calculation. Calculation is done very rapidly and correctly by computers I agree. They do no however create the models, or decide the assumptions of the modelling that math is very helpful for. Your mistake is that you don’t recognize the art that a lot of applied math in particular is. Translating a business problem to a mathematical model and understanding the results is not something that a computer can do, and I doubt it’s something you can teach someone to do in 30 minutes.

Rahul August 10, 2013 at 1:04 am

I’m baffled by your characterizing fractions and division as “super-deep knowledge of math.” I wasn’t advocating indoctrination of Algebraic Topology or something here.

In any case, my bias isn’t toward math skills only. That was only an example. I’m biased towards useful, hard skills. Testing “Can write a Program in some language” or “Can traces wires on a wiring diagram” should be equally useful.

Ballard August 9, 2013 at 10:03 am

It’s a really, really dumb idea.

This “direct-assessment of proficiency” by the faculty… is just a slight variation of the standard grading/transcript system.

If standard transcript system is unsatisfactory to potential employers — this “new” gimmick can’t possibly be any better.

The core problem is a subjective evaluation system by the faculty… that’s been corrupted over time. Having that faculty spit out another layer of paperwork solves nothing.

Awarding a diploma/degree, in itself, ‘should’ be satisfactory testimony by the faculty/institution that a graduate is “proficient” in the discipline specified in the diploma.

Transcripts ‘should’ merely be a bonus metric to identify the few highly-qualified graduates from among the many qualified/proficient graduates awarded with diplomas.

More faculty gimmicks won’t fix the basic institutional problem — that a “diploma” doesn’t necessarily mean much objectively.

qwapy August 9, 2013 at 10:30 am

The reason why not is because this is complete bullshit, a random and meaningless mash of politically correct buzzwords. Seriously did you read this? The student has mastered the critical ability to “apply ethical theories to education,” which apparently means that she can “explain the ethical and moral arguments for desegregation and for technology in education.” What is an ethical argument for technology is education? It’s more ethical to use powerpoint rather than the blackboard? And also “Use a social theorist to describe “ethics” and “morality” in multiple applications and analyze moral conflicts.” Northern Arizona University is evidently a joke.

Tummler August 9, 2013 at 11:30 am

If an applicant handed me something similar to this “competency-based transcript” they would have to otherwise be an absolute rock star to avoid being rejected.

Tim August 9, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I love when people flaunt their ignorance as proving a point. “I don’t know this, thus it is not worth knowing!”

Vernunft August 9, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I love that too, poster boy for what you and I both love.

prior probability August 9, 2013 at 11:20 am

What does a competency report signal? “Competency” … Oh, sorry I asked

rob August 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

competency-based transcripts are not about competency

David August 9, 2013 at 12:32 pm

There are a million ways this can go wrong, but I think it’s interesting to think about what happens if it goes right.

Certainly the idea of a four-year degree is no longer assured. Probably the market will set the core curriculum of competencies to be mastered, instead of core requirements set by the university.

How long until the university stops requiring students to event take classes – it’s not obvious why education and assessment should be bundled, and there are obvious reasons why they shouldn’t be.

Of course it’s easy to imagine an outside entity ultimately awarding the competency certifications, but instead, why not imagine the university dropping class offerings and focusing exclusively on certification?

It is not obvious to me that the main product of the university is education, rather than certification.

Eric August 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

In some technical fields, the unbundling has happened. For computer technicians, an A+ certification is an important credential. Microsoft has a large set of certifications that are hiring requirements in many IT departments (for example, Microsoft Certified Software Engineer). Cisco also has a set of certifications that I have seen in listed in want ads. Several local schools offer prep courses for these certifications and no one complains about teaching to the test because the test is an accurate reflection of the skills needed to do those jobs.

albatross August 9, 2013 at 12:32 pm

This example doesn’t seem all that great, but maybe you could do one that was useful. I think the idea here is to describe successful completion of big assignments or projects, in addition to your classes. Maybe the guy reading your transcript doesn’t know that CS315 required you to write a linker and loader in assembly language and get them working, or doesn’t know that Social Psychology 220 required you to summarize two published papers from the literature before the class, lead a discussion on them, and take questions. Those skills might be of interest to the person looking at the transcript.

I imagine the value of this kind of transcript has a lot to do with figuring out what should be on the transcript. Few employers (but maybe some grad programs) care if you can explain the moral arguments for desegregation in education, but a lot probably care if you can read a financial statement well enough to at least have a high-level understanding of what’s going on in it, or if you can pick up a new programming language in a reasonable time and do something relatively large and complicated with it, or if you can write a 50 page senior thesis that has a good logical structure, is well-researched, and well-written.

Bender Bending Rodriguez August 10, 2013 at 11:22 pm

Isn’t that known as “resume and cover letter”? I would expect a student to be able to sell the directly applicable competencies in a decently written resume and cover letter. If they require help writing these documents, that task falls to the university’s career office.

david August 9, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Employers care about how much you get done, not how competent you are.

Competency is just one component to production.

The old fashioned “grades and standardized test scores” is better than a competency report.

Nathan Whitehead August 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm

The actual competencies are too fluffy, but I kind of like the look with the checks and stars. If I saw a computer science competency transcript with things like “algorithm implementation”, “team leadership”, and “version control tools” I think it could be useful. It would really depend on the school picking the right competencies. Right now I really don’t trust academic institutions to do this properly, as demonstrated by the sample report.

albatross mentioned narrative evaluations. We’ve had mandatory narrative evaluations at UCSC until 2010 when they were made optional. Everyone likes the theory of them, but in practice it turns out you have to also have regular grades because employers and students demand them. Once you have both grades and narrative evaluations, professors don’t want to bother with real narrative evaluations in big classes because it is redundant work. So it’s kind of a failed experiment.

mavery August 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm

My experience with narrative evaluations was much better than what you describe. (See below.) I think it helps if you keep class sizes small and don’t have very many large, gen-ed courses. It’s probably not the right solution for every institution, but there are certainly some for which it works quite well.

mavery August 9, 2013 at 1:36 pm

These aren’t dissimilar from the narrative evaluations my undergraduate school gave en lieu of grades. From each class, you’d end up with a letter than basically stated what the class covered and how well you handled the different topics covered. It made it tough to apply for jobs directly out of school, but it wasn’t a hindrance to getting into grad school. (Though I found it beneficial to send along a letter from the provost’s office describing why my “official transcript” was just a list of classes I’d taken.)

A Gen Y Worker August 9, 2013 at 1:45 pm

A new transcript would identify mastery in areas where our Overlords have deemed us deficient. This accomplishes exactly that: it identifes and encourages developments in areas where our College Professor Overlords deem us deficient, mainly being nice to t3h gayz and t3h minorteez.

It has nothing to do with areas where our Business Overlords deem us deficient. Why should it?! The Business Overlords rule us Gen Y Minions in our post collegiate lives, and the Business Overlords and College Professor Overlords do not appear to have a lot of overlapping interests.

This peasant, who has an opinion that is apparently useless as none of the Overlords have ever deigned to ask for it, would humbly submit that many of the other in the peasant class have adopted an arrogant, lazy attitude, and are easily bored. They believe they know far more than what they do, and are not anywhere near as technically skilled, organizationally skilled, or insighftul, as they believe.

This appears to be the result of the Teacher’s Guild and College Professor Overlords being far too lenient on the peasant class and simply pushing them along with higher-than-average marks. Based on this peasant’s recent viewing of the TED Overlords, there also appears to be some talk of “testing” not being good enough, which sounds like the Overlord castes are planning on easing requirements even further.

Your great peasants of the near future will not be created by committee, but iron and blood!

ohwilleke August 9, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Gut reaction – Yuck! Worse than elementary school report cards. Doesn’t make me take the applicant seriously. Not professional.

Paul August 9, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Unclear that this really resolves any serious information asymmetry problems between employer and potential employee. This system will be gamed as much as grades are. If i want to hire someone, a thumbs up from a trusted source is ten times more valuable than any kind of standardized transcript, and still probably the main way jobs are allocated.

Myron August 10, 2013 at 3:58 am

I agree with David, Qwapy, and albatross.

Execution is really bad here, so this is not the best example. Keep in mind the school. So how seriously do you view the normal transcript issued by Northern Arizona University.

The concept is good, and a better way to execute would be a second, longer transcript, more like a booklet, with a table showing the courses on one side, then a list of the skills needed to complete the courses, and the grade at the end. And yes in this instance they can be hard skills involving numbers, even social sciences involve some knowledge of statistics (and in all non-STEM courses you have to be able to write reports, something I’ve had to do repeatedly in my career but which is always overlooked on these blogs).

David makes an excellent point that if what we really care about is certification, there is no reason at all for the certifying institution to be the same as the institution that gives people the knowledge they are tested on for certification. In fact, it would be much better on conflicts of interest grounds alone if this weren’t the case.

John August 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Rather ironic that when I attempted to open the link Firefox popped up a security warning: their certificate is out of date. Does that reflect a strong competency for an online program?

Warren Murdoch August 11, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I think competency certificates should be issued by an independent body. For example, someone graduating with a BS in Physics from NAU may have a certificate from the American Physics Association stating that the holder has also met their requirements.

An independent certification would also allow all those taking online courses an opportunity to demonstrate their competency.

Transcribe an audio file August 12, 2013 at 6:23 am

What the special in this report??? All the report is looking traditional and ordinary.

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