UMUC’s Blueprint for Designing a Culture of Constant Innovation | EdSurge News

  • Specifically, UMUC is about to embark on a 36-month transformation that will see its core learning model shift from memorizing knowledge to one that is experiential and competency-based. At the same time, it is re-imagining the digital experience of its 85,000 online students. Our academic and administrative teams already use project management practices to guide academic institutional development, and we believe applying this approach to a significant organizational transformation will lead to short- and long-term successes. It is our goal to embed project management into our culture, training stakeholders in an integrated model that becomes “who” we are.

    tags: blueprint designing culture constant innovation news umuc learning education

    • Specifically, UMUC is about to embark on a 36-month transformation that will see its core learning model shift from memorizing knowledge to one that is experiential and competency-based. At the same time, it is re-imagining the digital experience of its 85,000 online students. Our academic and administrative teams already use project management practices to guide academic institutional development, and we believe applying this approach to a significant organizational transformation will lead to short- and long-term successes. It is our goal to embed project management into our culture, training stakeholders in an integrated model that becomes “who” we are.
    • I want to discuss some of those errors and then describe how having the right kind of “looped evaluation process” can keep people focused on progress toward the desired “end state” as well as on the daily roll out of innovations that need real-time evaluation and testing. Doing these things seamlessly, as part of the daily routine, will provide a focused, ongoing learning experience about what is working, what is not, and how to continuously improve services and outcomes.

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1/3 Done with #CBE Program Chart

So, in what can be referred to as “the never-ending research” for my dissertation proposal, I’m 1/3 of the way through a chart of the CBE programs at colleges and universities that I can find.  It’s #exhausting, but pretty cool to see it coming together.

Find below the first chunk.  If anyone has corrections, additions, or anything else, please let me know.

The Dissertation Blues

So writing a dissertation is a lonely process.  I’m sure there are folks out there who are thrilled and excited for the entire duration of their research and writing.  There are also folks who tell me that the first three months of a new baby were magical and a stream of unending cute Pampers commercials.

I am not one of those people.

My new challenge lately has been staying awake.  Every time I sat down to write or edit I became inexplicably and profoundly tired to the point where I was working in 15 minute increments, getting up and walking around, doing anything to maintain mental focus.  It’s not exactly a thrilling endorsement when one’s own writing makes you want to fall asleep.

Still, it’s not like dissertations are stand up comedy, or even a clever dramedy.  They’re more like a dark comedy.  Only in this case, without the wry situational humor.  Or great production values.  Or attractive characters.  Or – you know – plot.

But still, there’s a bit of drama in that you MUST get it done.  And you MUST get it done right.  And in the face of this important pressure I apparently get really, really tired.

But today – it broke!  Today I stayed awake!  Today I finished a draft of Chapter 3!

I think it may have been guilt-inspired.  My husband is doing all the real work while I’m here in the thrill of a new job at a new university where I’m geeked out on the work and the people and the place.

All that I have to do is write.

Let’s do this.  Chapters 1 & 2 in revision.

#IncrementalProgress #TheLittleEngineThatCould #IThinkICan #LeanIn #HashtagsUnite #IMadeThatOneUp



New Blog on History of CBE in Evolllution

… by yours truly.  Check it out here:

There has been a lot of buzz around competency-based education for the past couple of years. Many new programs have been developing in higher education, and it seems like CBE is the “MOOC” of the moment—ubiquitously mentioned in colleges and universities—fresh-faced and fancy-free, unburdened from a legacy past. This is not exactly the case. Just as MOOCs didn’t invent free online education, CBE didn’t crop up in the past couple of years. The use of CBE models has been gaining traction since playing out at a series of innovative institutions that embraced the model long before it was the disruptive flavor of the month. – me

Federal Financial Aid and CBE

Hello All!  If you didn’t know, I had a brief break from blogging about my dissertation (I’m sure the entire internet noticed;)

I have joined the team at Southern New Hampshire University as their Assistant VP for Academic Technology and Course Production.  SNHU is an amazing organization focused on quality and innovation in online education, and I am thrilled to be working with an amazing team there.  (I’m using “amazing” quite a bit with regards to SNHU, however I am not planning on toning that down.)  I will definitely miss Tri-C and all the dedicated colleagues I had the good fortune to work with over the years; we did good work together for the students of Cuyahoga County #MissionDriven!

So I needed to buy a house and sell a house and all those many involved things that take up a lot of time, and are (generally speaking) fairly stressful.  We’re embracing them with an air of adventure and confidence that there is an end-point to this transition.  For the time being I’m calling a great Airbnb place as my home, and have set up my Surface Pro on the dining room table where I’m diving back into it.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

I’ve found most of my cultural references are Shakespearean.  I’m definitely the life of the party, that’s for sure!

In any case, check out this latest section on my (revised) understanding of the U.S. DOE’s distinction between “Direct Assessment” and what we’re commonly calling “Credit Conversion” (I’ve also seen “Credit-Based CBE,” so any norming on that language would be helpful.)

All comments and feedback welcome!  There may be elements I haven’t captured, so any help in making it better is greatly appreciated:)  Big shout out to Kathe Kacheroski, who also joined the SNHU team as the Associate VP for CBE/SNHU Accel for her counsel on this – though any errors are decidedly my own.

Federal Financial Aid for CBE Programs

            Federal financial aid has historically only been available to students at institutions who use traditional Carnegie credits.  As noted in the Dear Colleague letter, GEN-13-10, from 2013, the majority of CBE programs currently operating are “offered in credit or clock hours and can be accommodated under the current title IV, student financial aid regulations as non-term programs” (para. 2).  Programs that fall into this “credit conversion” category, whereby Carnegie credits are used to track progress towards degree, but where students gain those credits in a competency-based, often time-variable manner, do not need to do anything additional to make their programs eligible for financial aid.  An example of this type of program is that offered by Western Governors University, which had been operating under this “credit conversion” model since its inception in the latter 1990s.

In 2005, Section 8020 of the Higher Education Reconciliation Act (Pub. L. 109-171) for the first time enabled direct assessment CBE programs to be eligible for title IV funding.  This type of program is indicated by students progressing upon completion of assessments, and progress being tracked solely by those competencies “in lieu of measuring student learning in credit hours or clock hours ” (Dear Colleague Letter, GEN-13-10, 2013, para. 3).   For programs that wish to be considered as Direct Assessment programs, in order to receive federal financial aid (title IV funding,) they must utilize a provision made available in the 2005 HERA, and apply to be approved as an experimental site for CBe.

Experimental Sites

The federal government recently expanded federal financial aid eligibility to institutions that use solely CBE as a select number of experimental sites.  These focus of four specific types of experimentation:  (1) entirely CBE programs, (2) hybrid programs with a blend of CBE and traditional credits, (3) PLA- programs, and (4) work study for near-peer counseling (Competency-Based Education Network, 2014).

In a Dear Colleague letter from 2013, the U.S. Department of Education invited colleges and universities to apply to participate as an experimental site status in order to receive federal funds for programs that utilized CBE instead of credit hours.  In order to apply for this status, however, colleges must, in their application for experimental site status, provide an equivalency for how many credits the competencies represent and how it determined the equivalencies.  The Department then uses these to determine eligibility and award funding.

Before the Department will approve such a program, though, certain other criteria must also be met, including approval of the program by the institution’s accreditor, which must also have reviewed and approved the equivalencies.  Certain types of learning are expressly not eligible for funding through this experiment, including PLA, programs at foreign schools, any coursework prior to the program admittance that would be considered prerequisite, programs related to teaching credentials at the K-12 level, and remedial coursework (Dear Colleague Letter, GEN-13-10, 2013).

As applications followed, Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America program became the first to be formally approved as an experimental site for direct assessment; additional colleges were interested at the time including Capella University, Northern Arizona University and Brandman University (Fain, 2013).  Each of these schools was on the preliminary list of participants for experimental site status as of April 2015 (Preliminary List of Participants, 2015).

For the subsequent 2 years, however, there were few developments from the U.S. Department of Education (Laitinen, 2015).  Though colleges have asked for guidance from the department on how to proceed, and the department had committed to having guidance out by the beginning of June, 2015 (Laitinen, 2015).  Finally, the Competency-Based Education Experiment Guide was published by the U.S. Dep artment of Education in September of 2015 in order to give colleges specific requirements, policies and procedures in order to implement their programs.

Figure X:  Title IV Federal Financial Aid CBE Decision Tree

Federal Financial Aid Decision Tree.PNG

The decision for an institution to proceed either with “credit conversion” or full direct assessment is one that requires analysis, as the requirements for experimental site status enable the institution to gain flexibility around dispursement and direct/indirect cost, but still require the institution to design the program with credit equivalencies.  Those credit equivalencies are used to justify the robust nature of the program to both the accreditor and the U.S. Department of Education  (Dear Colleague Letter, GEN-13-10, 2013).

Another experiment that may have implications for CBE is the Education Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) experiment whereby higher education institutions are invited to submit for approval to be Experimental Sites for partnerships with non-higher education institutions to provide content and learning through third-party providers (U.S. Department of Education, 2015) .  Currently, programs are not eligible for federal financial aid if more than 50% of the degree program is delivered by a third-party provider.  These Experimental Sites will not be subject to that restriction, and it will enable experiments with alternate educational providers that are emerging, particularly in IT fields.  The pilot program would utilize third-party quality assurance entities to ensure the quality of these programs, and is thought to support access to boot camps, MOOCs, and other short-term certificates (Field, 2015).

Thanks for reading!  I’ll post an expanded citation list in the next few weeks.  The literature review feels like one of those old-fashioned sponge toys I’d get as a kid in my Christmas stocking or for my birthday.  Do you know those?  They’re super-small, almost like pills, but they are really these super expanding sponges, and they make a giant sponge character when you soak them in water.  They just keep growing.  That’s where the lit review is at right now.  But I’m going to cut that down to size – we need to get this show on the road!





The Great LMS Review Adventure

Thrilled to have had the opportunity to guest blog for WCET! Check it out!

WCET Frontiers

Who wants the best LMS?  We all do!  How do you pick the best LMS?
*cricket chirp, cricket chirp*

A choice of a Learning Management System (LMS) is a critical one for colleges and universities on so many levels – it is the most important academic technology system in the majority of higher education technical infrastructures and has tentacles into every facet of learning and teaching.  This brief post will share some lessons learned from a 14-month long LMS review process at Cuyahoga Community College.

Picture this – a large community college with approximately 23% of FTE attributed to online courses, and another 8% attributed to blended or hybrid courses.  With an annual student population of 52,000, this Midwestern college has a strong shared governance structure with a well-established faculty union.  Now picture this – the college has used Blackboard since 1997.  It’s a “Wild Wild West” model of online courses…

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2015 Recap of Online Learning: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Check out this post I wrote for Tri-C’s eLearning and Innovation page!

Online Learning and Academic Technology (formerly Office of eLearning & Innovation)

2015 has seen some interesting developments in online learning.  Here is a recap of some key trends, as well as critical components for higher education to consider in innovating online learning to improve student success in online programs and courses.

Some large surveys have revealed important data about student preferences and perceptions, as well as that of faculty and administrators.  There is a strange symmetry in these results. 

What Students Want Online

An important answer for any institution to know is if students would come to an on-campus class if their program wasn’t available online.  Of online learners, 30% said they would probably or definitely would not attend face-to-face.  Also important to note is that online learning is growing at a much higher rate than higher education overall – the IPEDS data release recently for Fall 2014 indicated that overall enrollments in colleges and universities were down 2.2% over…

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Reference List as Promised for #CBE Dissertation OR Serenity: A Tale of a Dissertation Lost in Space

If you’re not a sci-fi fan, that second part won’t make sense, but don’t sweat it.  It’s just me getting my geek on post-Thanksgiving.

As promised, find below the reference list for my dissertation to date.  It is like Audrey Jr. from Little Shop of Horrors – it continues to grow as you feed it (blood, sweat, tears and very late nights in this case.)

If you’re not on Scribd, find below Google doc links for the PDF and Word versions:

PDF of Reference List.

Word Version of Reference List.


#CBE Storybook Tales of a Dissertation: Episode 6 Ongoing Initiatives

More from the Neverending Story of the Literature Review (dating myself?  Anyone?  Anyone?)

Thoughts, feedback, criticisms, it’s all welcome!  If I’m missing any that you think are mission critical, please let me know.

AND, a giant thank you to everyone who has been willing to talk about my research!  I am indebted to Larry Good for the great conversation last week.  And anyone I met at CBExchange or CBE4CC, a gentle reminder that I may be calling on you for some feedback on the concourse when I’m implementing the actual Q study!  (As per usual, please don’t cite this:)  It’s all “draft” format.)

Initiatives in the Field

There are many ongoing initiatives in the field of CBE that have supported and accelerated the development of CBE programs.  Some are government funded, like the U.S. Department of Labor TAACCCT grants, while some are funded by large and influential foundations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation (Johnstone & Soares, 2014; Competency-Based Education Network, 2014).  Several of these large initiatives are highlighted here to provide some context surrounding the important projects that have received both support and attention nationally.  Though there are many ongoing initiatives that could have been included here, such as ACE’s CREDIT initiative, those selected here cover a wide array of concerns related to systemic implementation of CBE outside of more traditional methods of credit transfer or PLA.  Described initiatives include TAACCCT grants, EDUCAUSE’s Breakthrough Models Incubator, Connecting Credentials, the Credential Transparency Initiative, and IMS Global’s Technical Interoperability Pilot.


The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (or TAACCCT grants as they are commonly known), were signed into law by President Barack Obama as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, 2011).  These large grants focused on community colleges and other higher education programs who could train workers in less than two years in order to enter the workforce in “high-wage, high-skill occupations” (para. 2).  The TAACCCT grants announced in September of 2014 included 270 community colleges with a total award amount of $450 million dollars.  The grants were targeted to colleges training in high-demand careers like “information technology, heath care, energy, and advanced manufacturing” (ETA News Release:  Vice President Biden announces recipients of $450M of job-driven training grants, 2014, para. 4).

Many early adopters of CBE in this second wave of popularity utilized TAACCCT funding to design and develop their programs, including Broward College (Myers, 2014).   Other TAACCCT grants included West Virginia Community and Technical College System, Vincennes University Logistics Training and Education Center, Cape Cod Community College, Texas State Technical College, a consortium project made up of Polk State College, Santa Fe College and Seminole State for the “Training for Manufactured Construction or TRAMCON Consortium,

EDUCAUSE Breakthrough Models Incubator

EDUCAUSE’s Breakthrough Models Incubator (BMI) was created to build on the concept of Breakthrough Models in higher education (EDUCAUSE, 2015).  EDUCAUSE, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the League for Innovation in the Community College created the Breakthrough Models Incubator as a way to support the leadership teams of institutions in exploring and launching new learning models using student-centered design, exploiting technology and with an emphasis on sustainability (EDUCAUSE, 2015).  Cohorts 2 and 3 of the initiative (2014 and 2015) are centered on developing CBE programs in colleges and universities (EDUCAUSE, 2015).  Participating colleges in the 2014 and 2015 cohorts include University of Maryland University College, the University of New England, Ivy Tech Community College, Central Arizona College, Rio Salado Community College, Austin Community College, Empire State College and Excelsior College (EDUCAUSE, 2015).  In Appendix A a more comprehensive list of colleges and universities engaged in CBE can be found; institutions from the 2014 and 2015 cohorts are noted there.

Connecting Credentials

Connecting Credentials is an initiative sponsored by 80 organizations including the Lumina Foundation, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, and CLASP (Connecting Credentials, 2015; Connecting Credentials, 2015).   The initiative was designed to create a credentialing system that is more “student-centered and learning-based” (Connecting Credentials, 2015, para. 1).  The impetus for this initiative comes from the fragmented nature of credentials throughout higher education, industry, and professional certificates and licenses.  The wide array of invested parties involved represent the actual producers and users of the credentials; convenings and summits were hosted in order to start the conversation (Connecting Credentials, 2015).

From this initiative, a Beta Credentials Framework was created (Connecting Credentials, 2015).  The Beta Credentials Framework organizes competencies into two domains:  knowledge and skills; the second domain – skills – is then further delineated into three sub-domains of specialized skills, personal skills and social skills (Lumina Foundation, 2015).  In order to describe the level of sophistication of competency, or rather their “relative complexity, breadth and/or depth of learning achievement, rather than subject matter” eight levels are described for these skills (Lumina Foundation, 2015, p. 2).  As of November 2015, next steps in the further refinement of the Beta Framework are categorized into four components: (1) mapping credentials using the framework in order to validate it and/or make improvements, (2) having a technical team review the Framework’s internal structure as compared to international qualification frameworks and other industry and human resource professionals as well as educational psychologists, (3) apply in real-world situations to determine proof-of-concept, and (4) improving the Beta Framework through continual conversations for thorough stakeholder feedback (Lumina Foundation, 2015).

Figure 3 illustrates the complexity of the current credentialing system as described in CLASP’s Call for a National Conversation on Creating a Competency-based Credentialing Ecosystem.

Figure 3:  Credentialing System in the United States
 Credentialing System in the US from CLASP

CLASP. (2014). Call for a national conversation on creating a competency-based credentialing ecosystem, (April), 1–10. Retrieved from p. 4

Credential Transparency Initiative

The Credential Transparency Initiative is another Lumina-funded project, a partnership between George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy, WorkCred, and Southern Illinois University (Credential Transparency Initiative, n.d.).  The outcome of this project will be a national, searchable registry that will allow stakeholders to transparently determine what the bearer of the credential should be able to know and do as a result of having achieved it.  Additionally, the project will include the development of apps and create a common set of terms with which to describe credentials.  The project is designed to accommodate all types of credentials, including anything from formal degrees from institutions of higher education to micro-credentials (Credential Transparency Initiative, n.d.).

IMS Global’s Technical Interoperability Pilot (TIP)

IMS is working on several initiatives related to the integration of learning technology systems, including several related to CBE.  In partnership with C-BEN, IMS is creating an ecosystem around the many technology systems based on their LTI standards.  The focus behind this is in order to support a focus on outcomes from the technical infrastructure that makes up the back-end of a students’ online learning experiences in a CBE program including the Student Information System (SIS), the Learning Management System (LMS), online instructional materials, assessments, financial aid, data, support services, and others (IMS Global Learning Consortium, 2015).

The Technical Interoperability Pilot (TIP) will support colleges and universities in five “solution use cases” including (1) managing competencies, (2) evaluating results, (3) managing program information for use in systems that support institutional needs like financial aid, (4) measuring interaction (through a new data analytics tool Caliper,) and (5) CBE eTranscript publishing (IMS Global Learning Consortium, 2015).  Initial results were shared in Fall 2015.   Figure 4 delineates the complex systems of which IMS is attempting to facilitate integration between through common languages.

Figure 4:  Reference Education Enterprise Architecture with IMS Global Integration Points
 IMS interoperability figure

IMS Global Learning Consortium. (2015). Enabling better digital credentialing. Retrieved from


Does Online Learning Work?

A brief recap of general conclusions about the effectiveness of “traditional” online learning in higher ed.

Online Learning and Academic Technology (formerly Office of eLearning & Innovation)

Though many within the online learning field have considered this question to be a bit of a “been there, done that” moment, some recent studies have indicated new evidence on the impact of online learning for students.  What does online learning “do” to student success?  What does it “do” to graduation rates?

So the short version is that many studies have indicated that in terms of meeting course outcomes, online courses are at least as effective as face-to-face courses.

But many studies at the community college level have indicated a difference in student success rates (generally considered to be A-C) of anywhere from 5% – 10%.  The Community College Research Center’s investigation also revealed this in a 2 state study.

The Paradox

Students who take online courses at community colleges get good grades in lower percentages, but (and this is a big but) they graduate sooner and…

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