Yesterday, as I listened to a webinar about the personalized and competency-based learning models explored at places like NAU and SNHU, I appreciated the chance to further consider the affordances and limitations of such models. Later that night, I had an experience that gave me new experiential understanding of the subject. As a professor and researcher in the area of digital learning environments, I am continually applying, registering, and taking online courses at different Universities. I have now studied at over twenty Universities. It is a wonderful, albeit a bit expensive, way to learn about different models for distance learning while gaining new knowledge in other disciplines (interdisciplinary problem solving is a passion of mine).
Toward that end, I am taking a couple of courses right now, one at a large Christian University and another at a very large for-profit. In one of the classes, I received the grade on my first paper. Prior to submission, the instructor noted that we should be careful to review the rubric as he is bound by the University to grade specifically and only by the criteria laid out in it. This rubric was a generic rubric for a graduate-level paper. It did not have anything in it about the specific instructions for this paper. When I received the grade, I was humbled to discover that I jut received the lowest grade in my last twenty years of graduate study (two masters, a doctorate, and those other 17+ schools). It was not as if it was a failing grade, but it was humbling. It was also completely fair, based entirely upon where my paper fell short with regard to the rubric. However, the rubric had nothing to say about my grasp of the concepts that were the required focus of the paper. There was no mentoring or feedback that would help me grow in my understanding of the discipline. While I do not think that it is essential for a University to move to an entirely personalized or competency-based model in order to address this limitation, it does speak to a persistent and prevalent limitation in the current state of affairs with some courses and campuses. The focus in many places remains upon grades and rubrics rich with points about form over substance. At minimum, traditional schools can benefit from taking a few tips from places like NAU, SNHU, Western Governor’s, etc. Such a personal experience left me longing for a bit more competency-based learning.