MyPath CBE

Ep. 5 – Dr. Laurie Dodge explains how competency-based education (CBE) changes everything

August 13, 2015

Laurie DodgeDr. Laurie Dodge, vice chancellor of Institutional Assessment and Planning at Brandman University and vice provost of the university, has been a key figure in the development of the MyPath competency-based education (CBE) program. The university has been testing the beta versions of the program and is planning a full launch this fall. In this podcast, Dodge talks about how Brandman went about creating its version of competency-based education, what students should expect and how it will change higher education. For a video from a student’s point of view see Pursuing the American Dream at Brandman. An introduction to the program can be found at


Cindy O’Dell: Welcome to Brandman Speaks. I’m Cindy O’Dell, a member of the Communications Department at Brandman University. Today I’ll be talking with Dr. Laurie Dodge, vice chancellor of institutional assessment and planning, and vice provost of the university. Dr. Dodge is a driving force behind the creation of Brandman’s new competency-based program, a program known around the university as CBE.

Dr. Dodge, I would like to hear your “elevator speech” explanation of competency-based education.

Dr. Laurie Dodge: Thank you, Cindy. So competency-based education is really when the learning is fixed and time is variable. So in our credit-hour program, which is what we’re used to, time is fixed and the learning varies. The other thing I would say in my elevator speech is that the focus is on mastery of the competencies so students must demonstrate that they can do certain things before they can progress further. The other piece that I would add for competency-based education is the quality of the program and the relevance to what workforce needs are asking for.

How did you and others at Brandman go about creating this version of CBE?

So this was the fun part, Cindy. The faculty established the competency-based program based on what I call a framework origin. And the framework origin looked at AAC&U essential learning outcomes, the degree qualification profile, the Department of Labor ONET data and certification.

So let’s back up just a little bit.  Maybe put that in more layman’s terms.

Ok. So the competency-based program really looked at what students need when they graduate, what are the things they must be able to know, understand and do to be successful in the workplace. So we used these frameworks to see what are the knowledge, skills and abilities that students need to then build the program.

Can you give me a quick example of what one of those competencies would look like and how you went about adding up to get to the competency part of it?

So, one of the areas is look at general education. So an example of that might be oral communication. So in oral communication your competency might be able to speak to a specific audience on a certain topic and then in a specific amount of time. So students have to be able to perform and then their speech is evaluated.

Tell me who at Brandman was involved with comping up with the competencies and the ideas for the program.

So the program really started looking at two white papers that Brandman University developed. The first one was looking at degree programs in competency-based education, so the good things about those programs and then the things we knew we wanted to differently. And then we also had a faculty member, instructional designer, who developed a white paper on the pedagogy or teaching strategies for competency-based education. Hadassah Yang in institutional research worked on the models and then Dr. Sara Zaker developed the white paper on the pedagogy.

How is it different from other competency-based programs at other universities?

I think our program is different from the very beginning because of the design. Because we looked at this framework origins. A lot of competency-based programs at universities look at an existing degree program and they break it up into smaller puzzle pieces and then they recreate from those pieces what this program looks like. So it’s what we call a deconstruction reconstruction. Whereas Brandman University looked at the needs in the field and what are the 21st century skills that we need in business. So the faculty, they were cross-disciplinary faculty, so we had Arts & Science and Business all talking about the program and developing the competencies.

You talk about what business needed. Did you go out and talk to business people? I know that a lot of Brandman faculty, at least adjunct faculty, tend to have dual roles in business as well as teaching. But did you survey businesses?

So we actually did it in two ways. One was using the Department of Labor ONET data, which are the knowledge, skills and ability workforce, so that was the first framework. And then once the faculty developed the competencies, we tested that, so to speak, by asking folks in the field, like business leaders, “So if a student had all these competencies, would you hire them? What are we missing? What are the good things?” So they gave us feedback on our degree program.

How long did it take to develop the CBE program?

So writing the competencies, I would say about eight months, 10 months to develop the competency statements but then there was a lot of filling in, developing assessment tools, coming up with the educational journey, building everything online and that took a longer amount of time.

Brandman is known for innovation in education, including the way it approaches online learning. What’s the difference between CBE and Brandman’s online classes?

So, part of it is the design of it. The competency-based programs are built on what we call backward design. So you first think about the competency statement and then you develop the assessment so how do you know if student has this and then you build the educational journey. So it’s very intentional that the things you learn, build toward that. Our traditional way of building programs, is kind of like how I used to teach. So you start teaching the class, the online, and you’re like “Oops, I have to test the student to make sure they know it” and then you do the assessment after. So the design is really what changes the difference between the online and the competency-based program.

What are the most important things for students to keep in mind as they begin the program?

I think the most important thing is to think of your schedule and when are you going to engage in the competency-base and then to think about your prior experiences and think about, you know, this isn’t that hard “I’ve been an accountant for a while. I know I can do this. I want to move forward.” The assessments are authentic so it’s actually mirrors real life, what they’re doing in the field, so I think that’s the motivation for students.

Where do you hope the program will go from here?

Well, I hope that the program will reflect a couple of things. 1) It’s good engagement for students and they’re very involved in the program. 2) When they graduate, that employers are saying “I want a Brandman University student that has this degree program, competency-based education because I know they’re ready and they’ll be a great employee.”

Is there a particular student you have in mind? Do you have a mental picture of a student who would be best for a CBE program?

So, in the competency-based world, we’re really focused and Brandman is focused on adult students, so those that have some experience in the workforce. I think it’s maybe a little bit easier if you have that experience because you link this learning in a little bit more efficient way and it has meaning. But that’s not to say that others that may have some work experience but not in that field can’t do equally well.

They might just have to study a little harder or take a little bit longer path or?

Yes, I think the time might be a little bit longer or that some competencies might be easier than others.

So the general education requirements might be a little less challenging for someone who is fresh out of another program or not that far from having graduated from high school whereas somebody who has been out of school for a long time might be a little more challenged by those?

That’s exactly right. So that’s probably a little more apparent in an area like written communication. If you’ve just spent the last four years writing a lot of papers as opposed to writing just short excerpts for work and now you have to write a long paper.

What else would you like people to know about CBE?

Competency-based education changes everything. It really is a disruptive innovator in higher education. CBE is affordable. It’s accessible. It’s mobile, online, and it’s quality. I think these are the things that students are taking away in a competency-based education program.

When you use the term disruptive – because I’ve seen that being referred to before and I think we think, ooh disruptive, that’s not a good thing but you smile when you say that.

So disruptive is positive change. It’s not destructive. It’s something where people might feel a little uncomfortable but enough to be a force to move toward something better.

Great. Well, I wish you every success with the program. It sounds very exciting and I hope you’ll be able to expand it to other areas as well.

Absolutely. This is a big piece of who we are and we already have a national reputation in competency-based education, of which we’re very proud.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

More information about CBE can be found at Brandman Speaks is a production of the Communications Department. Previous podcasts can be found on iTunes or the website.

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