Competency-based Evaluation - A How To Guide
My courses utilize a competency-based evaluation system. Throughout the semester you will perform self-evaluations of your learning and overall course performance based on provided course competencies. You then discuss your evaluation with me and get feedback based on my evaluation of you. The overall evaluation process is not grade-based. Learning is not quantified by the accumulation of points on assignments. A final course grade is determined based on the competency-based on your self-evaluations with instructor feedback.
This document explains the course competencies and how to use them as the basis for a critical self-evaluation. Determining grades from self-evaluations is briefly discussed in the course syllabus and will be further discussed during class and as part of the self-evaluation process.
Competency = Task + Knowledge + Skill + Disposition
Along with the syllabus, you were given a competencies document for my course. The document begins with a few (usually 3-5) numbered competencies. Each of these competencies is built from four parts:
- A Task - Something you’re learning to do in this course.
- Knowledge Areas - The technical and professional Knowledge needed to perform the task.
- Skill-Levels - How adept you need to be at utilizing the required knowledge in order to successfully complete the task.
- Dispositions - The attitudes and mannerisms you need to embody while performing the task.
As the above descriptions imply, there is a clear hierarchy at play here. You want to learn to complete a task with competence, but to do that you must possess certain knowledge, be able to apply that knowledge with a certain level of skill, and all this while displaying desirable dispositions. By encapsulating knowledge, skill, and disposition within a task, we’re acknowledging that while knowledge and skill might let us achieve a successful result, going about that work with sufficient maturity, responsibility, and professionalism is just as important. Before we move on to the details of a competency based self-evaluation, let’s look just a bit closer at each of the four parts of our competencies.
Tasks are relatively straight forward to understand. Each competency begins with a brief summary of the task in parenthesis then continues with a more nuanced description of the task and the environment in which it will be carried out. For example, here’s a competency from COMP151:
(Understanding and Evaluating Programs) Alone or as part of a team, be able to evaluate a given (multi-function, Python) program to determine its overall purpose, if unknown, and evaluate its overall correctness The overall task is about evaluating code when it’s given to you. The competency goes on to say that you must be able to do this on your own or as part of a team and that your primary concerns are determining program purpose and correctness. In general, we look to tasks to describe what we’re doing, who we’re doing it with, and why we’re doing it.
Knowledge areas are the obvious content of the course. Directly under each course competency you’ll find a table listing knowledge areas required for that task. Later in the competencies document you’ll find a more detailed list of course knowledge areas. You can also expect to get a table mapping technical knowledge to textbook chapters as part of the course.
Knowledge areas come in two flavors: technical knowledge and professional knowledge. Professional knowledge is not often covered in our texts but comes into play when you account for the environment in which you’re performing the task. For example, if you’re working in a group then you need some relationship management knowledge. If you’re giving a written presentation, then you need oral communication knowledge. So, where technical knowledge is the meat and potatoes of the course, professional knowledge is the seasoning. Without the seasoning, the end product will lack flavor. It won’t be as good.
We use skill-levels to assess the depth of your understanding and ability to make use of of each knowledge area. Our skill-levels are based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Each level of skill includes and builds upon the level below it. There are six levels of skill:
- Remembering - Recognizing, recalling
- Understanding - Interpreting, Exemplifying, Classifying, Summarizing, Inferring, Comparing, Explaining
- Applying - Executing, Implementing
- Analyzing - Differentiating, Organizing, Attributing
- Evaluating - Checking, Critiquing
- Creating - Generating, Planning, Producing These six skill levels can be found in the course competency document with alternate descriptions.
To help you interpret these skill-levels in a more computing centric environment, let’s look at them in terms of a classic programming task:
- Remembering - You recognize a for loop when you see it, but don’t fully understand it and can’t really write one on your own.
- Understanding - You recognize a for loop and could explain some basic examples when you see them in code, but to write one you’d need to adapt and modify an example loop to complete your code. Without a given loop to adapt, you might not be able to complete your code at all.
- Applying - Not only can you read and understand written for loops, but you can write and debug a for loop with little to no examples to work off.
- Analyzing - You can write a working for loop and can talk about how it executes given different data. So, not only do you have it working but you understand the nuance of how it will work and perform under specific conditions.
- Evaluating - You’ve got your for loop on lock but also see some ways to optimize loop performance by either modifying the loop control or the code in the body of the loop.
- Creating - You can see ways to use while loops or maybe even recursion to create repetition in the code by another means and still produce the same result.
Early stages of our self-evaluation process will focus on getting you comfortable assessing skill-levels in the context of our course and course competencies.
Dispositions for each competency are listed in a table under the knowledge area and skill-level table. They describe the attitudes and mannerisms you should bring to the table while carrying out the task. Again, building these into the competencies reinforces the idea that it’s not just about what you accomplish but how you accomplish it. You should be practicing responsible, professional behavior now so that it’s second-nature when you’re on the job. In general, you should think of dispositions as covering things like in-class participation, attendance, meeting deadlines, contributing to groups, and generally taking a active role in the course and your learning.
How to do a Competency-Based Evaluation
Our evaluations have two parts. The first is what we’ll call the report card. This is an assignment by assignment accounting and evaluation of your work. The second part is a deeper reflection on your progress and a closer look at key entries from your report card. The reflection lets you add context and background information to the report card.
Self-Evaluation Part 1: The Report Card
You’ll be given a report card starter. It’s just an outline. The top-level items are the course competencies. You will fill out the report card by listing under the competencies course assignments, activities, and anything you do in service of the course that falls within that task and then assessing knowledge areas, skill-level, and dispositions you displayed while completing that activity. Assignments and exams are the obvious things to put on the report card. Activities can include interactions in class (asking and answering questions), in lab (collaborating with a partner or another group, asking answering questions of the professor), with a tutor, or extra practice work you do beyond official assignments. You don’t have to list everything you do but need to include major assessments like exams and projects along with the the majority of other assignments. The idea is to use the report card to develop a body of evidence that you are meeting or exceeding all the class competencies.
For each assignment or activity on the report card, you need to list key knowledge areas used on that item. You do not need to list everything. The sum total of all of our work should cover the competencies. Individual assignments will typically only cover some areas. Furthermore, you can choose to highlight only key or previously uncovered areas on an activity by activity basis. Your goal is to highlight at least the most important knowledge areas required for that activity.
For each knowledge area you list on an assignment, you must assess the skill level you displayed when carrying out that assignment as well as the skill level required by the assignment. It’s important to remember that we are trying to reach the skill-levels listed on the course competencies by the end of the semester. You will not necessarily need or reach those skill-levels on each assignment. Be honest with yourself about the skill level you displayed. Your reflections and our post-reflection meetings will often look closely at your evaluation of skill-level needed, skill-level displayed, and any difference between the two.
Finally, in addition to identifying and listing and assessing knowledge areas for each activity, you need to list the dispositions you displayed while completing the activity and how you displayed them. By how I mean, what, exactly, did you do to display that disposition. Once again, it’s unlikely that a single assignment requires all the dispositions listed on the course competencies. Focus on key dispositions and previously uncovered dispositions.
Self-Evaluation Part 2: The Reflection
Throughout the semester you’ll be given a series of prompts to guide reflective self-evaluations of your current report card. These will result in a one to two page “letter” that you submit to me. Each reflection builds on the previous reflections and will allow you to contextualize your report card, identify things that are going well, areas for improvement, and evaluate your overall success. Early reflections will ask you to focus on smaller parts of the report card in order for you to hone and develop your self-evaluation skills. The later reflections will ask you to take a more holistic view at the report card and begin the grading process by self-assigning a grade. After submitting each reflection, you’ll have a one-on-one meeting with me in which we discuss your report card and your reflection.
The key thing to remember is that reflections are your opportunity to tell me the story, as you see it, behind your report card and engage in a larger dialogue with me about your progress in this course.