Creating the Building Blocks for Nontraditional Academic Programs

In this three-part series, Raymond Todd Blackwood, Campus Management’s Vice President of Product Management, explores the demand for new ways of assessing and awarding credit in higher education.

In this final installment in this series of articles, we look at a few building blocks for creating nontraditional programs such as competency-based education, micro-credential programs (digital badging) and skills bootcamps, including minimum expectations for delivering these programs through your institution’s platform.

Developing the Curriculum
The first step toward building alternative programs will be letting go of the fixed term structure and converting curricula into an assessment-based form. That means taking what happens over a traditional semester with the faculty member and a student and translating it into activities and lessons that can then be assessed against a rubric consistent across all students. It’s taking what you used to deliver in a lecture and lab environment and converting it into self-paced teaching material that can be used to provide students and faculty a framework for marking progress in the program.

Disaggregating Faculty
Many institutions are using a ‘disaggregated’ or unbundled faculty model for skills-based programs. For Rasmussen College’s CBE program, they divide faculty roles into instructional faculty, assessment faculty, and curricula/course SMEs. They have one set of instructors who directly engage with students, a separate group focused on the meaningful, measurable assessment of student work, and a third group of faculty building curricula and course material. They feel this unbundling of faculty roles increases assessment objectivity. Since the assessment faculty member is only interacting with the work and not the student, there is less potential for the relationship to taint or bias the results of the assessment. This also enables instructors to focus exclusively on supporting students as they move through a potentially unpredictable, non-linear program.

Measuring Learning
The administrative systems you have in place must be able to optimize student engagement and track learning activities, as well as the operational efficiency of your business processes beyond the traditional framework. Accreditors will be looking for this data, so it needs to be aggregated from across systems and acted on quickly. Measuring and refining new programs as you roll them out requires modern analytic tools and capabilities from the get-go. We know how to measure GPA, time and credits based on the traditional 15-week term. Now we’re needing to account for each student progressing at a different rate and identifying at-risk behavior at the same time. Accreditation and regulatory compliance as well as student retention and success will require highly responsive engagement and robust reporting capabilities.

Operating to Scale
Your platform infrastructure must also be able to scale. Sure, you can deliver a bootcamp or micro-credential program for 30 students, but can you deliver it for 30,000 students? Leveraging modern technology, tools, and processes is critical to supporting nontraditional academics. And how will you deliver these programs? Online? A combination of classroom and online? And how do you assess these programs and grow them over time?

This will take data-driven insight to keep programs and students on track, as well as a student information system that can handle nontraditional terms and financial aid packaging.

Instead of unplugging aging legacy systems though, some institutions consider implementing a “school within a school,” essentially leveraging a modern, cloud-based platform exclusively for nontraditional programs. A cloud-based platform can also make aggregating data from across systems and campuses a lot easier, as well as provide a secure foundation for leveraging blockchain to make digital certifications and degrees easily portable throughout a student’s life and career.

For well over a century now, we have measured academic progress as ratios of time. It has served us well, but for students to succeed in the real world today, we will need to move beyond the clock and the calendar as the framework for measuring their progress. Ensuring that students are prepared for the job market and graduating without debilitating student loan debt are the new standards of measurement for their success.

Read Part 1  Read Part 2

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