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Principles of CBTE: Quality Framework

March 28, 2021

by Greg Henson, President

Over the past several weeks, we have been looking at the principles and practices of competency-based theological education (CBTE) and how those play out within Kairos. This week, we will begin our look at the practice of using a quality framework. In view today is a brief overview of the concept of a quality framework and how it works. Next week, I will share the framework itself.

Let’s jump in!

Most modern approaches to education tend to assume that quality is controlled through content and discipline-specific rubrics utilized in task-specific and analytic assessments conducted by experts in those particular disciplines. That assumption is often played out in curricular development practices which tend to focus on creating rigid pathways built using standardized content (i.e., syllabi) which is provided through predetermined educational experiences (i.e., courses) facilitated (i.e., taught) by particular types of people (i.e., credentialed content experts). I refer to this as the “Pyramid of Courses.” For many years, the academy (and the church) has tended to assume that if we take a group of students through a predefined course of study, they will achieve particular outcomes. The thinking seems to have been, “If we focus on the inputs, we will get the desired outcome.”

CBTE invites us to challenge that assumption by rethinking how we understand and “control” quality. Because one’s understanding of quality flows from that person’s engagement in a community of practice, the fact is that standards of excellence (i.e., quality, mastery, proficiency, competency, etc.) cannot be universally defined. The principles and practices that give form and shape to the educational philosophy of CBTE, require schools to embrace the fact that all things must be assessed with greater awareness of what ‘mastery’ looks like within a given context. To do this well, a CBTE program must have mechanisms in place that help mentor teams, students, partners, and faculty walk through the process of particularizing definitions of mastery in light of a student’s context.

This opportunity provided by CBTE also creates one of its unique challenges. Through CBTE entire educational programs can be tailored to an individual student’s journey of discipleship. Rather than building a Pyramid of Courses CBTE allows each student to have a customized educational journey. To put that more simply – two students could graduate from the same institution with the same degree and yet engage different content, complete different assignments, and progress at different speeds. Therein lies the challenge. With that level of customization, how do we ensure quality? If quality is no longer determined by consistency of content or assignments, how then is it determined?

Our answer is that while quality must be contextually defined, it can be broadly assured through a commitment to shared language, practices, and commitments. We call this a quality framework – a framework that empowers students to envision a compelling path toward mastery, and mentors to recognize when contextualized mastery has been achieved.

In general, the quality framework is a series of cascading interests that mutually reinforce each other. Those interests fall into three broad categories:

• First, there is a shared understanding of how standards of excellence work.

• Then, there are certain principles and practices that should be present in order for a school to effectively implement and maintain a CBTE program.

• Next, there are shared design principles that must be true for all programs.

• Finally, there are a few aspects that are particularized within each program and/or student journey.

For those who have been following our series on “A New Way of Being” that began in June of last year, you will note that we have covered the first two aspects: Standards of Excellence and Principles/Practices. Together, they form the foundation on which any CBTE program in Kairos must be built. Next week, I will outline the quality framework as a cohesive whole, with references to things we have already shared and expanded explanations related to program design. I will close this post by sharing a bit more about the general concept.

In Kairos, well-developed programs begin with clearly defined and commonly held values and principles. These form the foundation of a high-quality program. They articulate the educational philosophy, give direction to future customization, and determine the way in which the school creates and understands the aspects of particular programs (i.e., performance indicators, inputs, rubrics, and assessment).

When thinking about our quality framework, the key points to remember are that 1) it is rooted in the fact that standards of excellence are contextually defined, 2) a shared set of principles and practices inform and give shape to everything we do, 3) quality is governed through shared processes not shared content, and 4) the power of program development, assessment, and engagement is distributed throughout the learning community rather than held within a small number of internal voices. By approaching quality in this way, we not only create a more inviting and engaging learning experience, but also help students and mentors learn how to define and develop mastery. As a result, we can ensure that students will reach the level of mastery that will help them flourish in their current and future vocational contexts for the sake of the world.

Come back next week to read the framework!

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