By Megan Walker-Young, Junior Consultant, WGU Labs
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) released its new Essentials in 2019 and took nursing programs in a startling new direction: Competency-based education (CBE) for every member. Switching an entire curriculum to CBE can be challenging, time-consuming, and overwhelming as colleges revamp their five-year plans and reallocate budgets to align their programs.
But where do you even start? As you’re thinking about converting your nursing program to a CBE model, here are some essential questions to ask as you prepare for your CBE transformation journey:
What Programs Need Updating?
Reviewing your programs helps you assess resources, identify gaps, and outline where to start your CBE transformation. Here are some thoughts to get you started:
- How many programs do you need to convert to CBE?
- Which program has the most matriculated students and graduates? Does it make sense to tackle this first?
- Do you have specialties? For example, your institution may have a MS Nursing-Education and a MS Nursing-Informatics. Look at shared courses for programs to make the largest impact quickly, then work on specialized courses.
- Do you want to convert in phases by program or work on all programs simultaneously?
Once you know what your target programs are for change, you can begin working through the details of how to transform to CBE.
What is Your Organizational Capacity?
Do you have a team of faculty, staff, and administrators tasked with implementing and launching this initiative? Take a temperature check!
- Who are your faculty? Do your faculty identify as educators or nurses first?
- If your faculty are nurses first (meaning they are not professional educators), what are their baseline knowledge and skill level for concepts such as backward design, formative assessments, competency mapping, and writing learning objectives?
- If your faculty are educators first, what support or training will they need with backward design, assessments, competency mapping, and writing learning objectives?
- What is their level of comfort with CBE?
- What training will they need to feel supported, prepared, and capable?
- Are they on board with the change to CBE? For instance, are your faculty feeling about CBE transformation? Are they excited, hesitant, or resistant?
- What is the collective familiarity with CBE and the level of readiness to help among these folks?
- How familiar are your administrators with CBE and the new Essentials?
- What support and resources do they need to support faculty, staff, and students?
- Are they aware of how competencies map across your program?
- Do they have access to course-level insights regarding curriculum and assessment in order to map competencies and scaffold learning?
- Does your institution or program have a “CBE champion”?
- Finding or creating CBE champion faculty members gives you an advantage. These champions might create lighthouse course examples, act as mentors for other faculty, and create a contagious positive attitude in the face of resistance or hesitance.
What Changes Might a CBE Transformation Entail?
As a learning model, CBE designs classes from desired outcomes first. Curriculum designers and faculty review curriculum and assessments to ensure that materials and lessons align to teach students and help them master the competencies. Students prove mastery through formative assessments (quizzes and coursework that do not go toward their grade) and summative assessments (such as exams and projects where students officially attempt to prove mastery).
To meet the AACN mandate requirement, you’ll need to transform your programs to a CBE learning model. Transitioning to a CBE learning model requires changes to course-specific areas and also institutional-specific areas.
- For course-specific areas, you may consider:
- How does your current curriculum map onto the new Essentials?
- What process can you use to ensure assessments track competencies in an equitable way?
- Will you develop faculty training on active learning, inclusive instruction, and feedback alignment?
- How will courses be evaluated for alignment with the new Essentials?
- For institution-specific elements, you may consider
- Many schools use a simple conversion where one competency unit equals one credit hour. If you approach this differently, what will be your conversion equation?
- Will you use flat-rate tuition or a cost-by-competency unit?
- Do you need to make FAFSA updates or train bursar staff on changes?
- Do you need updated transfer-credit procedures and policies? What training will this staff need?
- Do you have the technology infrastructure to support a CBE transformation?
What is Your Timeline?
Clocks are ticking and calendar pages are flipping. What days and times will you circle in red?
- What are your timelines vs deadlines?
- Have you picked a target for which program(s) to tackle first?
- Have you set a timeline for your launch to students?
- How are these timelines altered if you build it yourselves or enlist experts to assist?
We know CBE transformation and program innovation can be daunting, but knowing the right questions to ask can help get you on the right path to a strategic plan for transformation. One school’s approach may not fit your institution’s unique needs (what is often called the “Flavor of CBE”). As you start your journey, we’d love to hear from you! What other questions are you asking along the way?