Sorry blog – totally forgot about you

I got the invoice today to re-register ‘’ for another 2 years, and oops, where did those 2 years go? I know where they went – busy on the curriculum project I started in June 2016 for trades harmonization.

Getting out my credit card, I wondered if perhaps I should just shut this down. There’s nothing worse than a blog that has nothing to say – that’s why everyone ends up on Twitter. Man-oh-man do I ever hate Twitter.

Here’s to being long-winded and discursive, messy and expansive. Perpetually inchoate.

Open Ed and ‘The Gift’

In November of 2015 I attended the very excellent 3-day Open Education Conference in Vancouver. Among the many lines of thought I encountered and learned about, I was surprised that there was a rather uniform assumption around reified knowledge as a commodity of exchange.

There was a lot of talk around how to make the development of Open Ed resources scaleable, and sustainable, and to get buy-in from instructors, students, administrators, tenured professors, funders, bookstores, libraries etc…. all the players in the various business models/marketplaces where the exchange of reified knowledge for money occurs. Then there was talk about Creative Commons licensing and how it can be implemented/added to this marketplace. It seems to me that Creative Commons has (elegantly) emerged to pacify the anxieties, but from my perspective, it’s still ‘playing the game’ of the exchange marketplace.

But couldn’t open educational resources be taken out of the marketplace paradigm and be re-interpreted as ‘gifts’. From the critiques I heard of open educational resources as part of the greater open ed movement, I’m wondering if it’s this assumption, that open ed has to work within the market paradigm, that is limiting people, and making some of them grumpy #opened15

From Lewis Hyde’s The Gift:

“A gift that cannot be given away ceases to be a gift. The spirit of a gift is kept alive by its constant donation.”

An open educational resource ceases to be open when it can no longer be accessible. The spirit of the open resources is kept alive by its content availability and accessibility. Remove the barriers or don’t call it open.

“There have been times and places in which a person came into his or her social being through the dispersal of his gifts, the “big man” or “big woman” being that one through whom the most gifts flowed. The mythology of a market society reverses the picture: getting rather than giving is the mark of a substantial person….So long as these assumptions rule, a disquieting sense of triviality, of worthlessness even, will nag the man or woman who labors in the service of a gift and whose products  are not adequately described as commodities, the gifts of the gifted man are powerless to make him substantial.”

For those who create and share open educational resources, your power comes from giving it away.  The more you give, the more powerful you are. Let’s recognize that within our various education models. Giving it away, that’s what makes us successful as teachers when working with students. But package that into a product and suddenly it’s different? Make it a gift. Consider the possibility that your name will be lost in association with the resource, assume that you are made anonymous, that other people might mix it up into something new. Release your knowledge product and let it live its own life.

The same can be applied to Open Education in general: let’s give away the opportunity to learn, which as I type this, realize that is what public education is supposed to be. The private-sector ideological attacks on old-time publically-funded democracy-building public education strike us as an affront because it’s the mixing of paradigms, applying the market ideology to the gift that the state makes of education, doing so for the good of the public, the gift we give ourselves as a people.

Turning Competencies into Learning Outcomes

Here’s what I did with one set of trade instructors to turn competencies into learning outcomes:

  1. Re-translating the program outline

We started with the provincial program outline for their trade (owned by the BC Industry Training Authority, here’s an example for Carpenter). This outline is deceiving: it is originally intended to communicate performance competencies for the workplace, articulated according to levels of  mastery, and as such, the DACUM charts illustrate this. These high level competencies are then further broken down in the Program Content section. However, instead of being titled as sub-competencies, they are titled, ‘objectives’ which are then further broken down into ‘teaching tasks’. But these are not teaching/learning outcomes as written, they are competencies. I’m guessing that the owners of the outline, the ITA, intend to prescribe to contracted training providers the content associated with each competency, and link it via learning objectives and tasks, which makes complete sense. However, they just need to re-write those objectives and tasks to be more appropriate.

2. Move towards holistic curricular themes

Then we decided to make a few more improvements and made our task a little more complex. The trade instructors do not find teaching line-by-line according to the program outline to be authentic or meaningful from a teaching and learning perspective. So we took a look at the entire outline and trade and determined what main curricular themes emerged that each of the competencies could be associated with, so that teaching could be contextualized within in a meaningful practice and/or topic via the curricular theme. Some competencies appear many times in various curricular themes, which might not look an efficient way of teaching from an instrumentalist approach, but certainly made these trade instructors relieved because it made 100% sense from a trade-practice approach. It also allowed for these competencies to be cycled through a number of times, allowing students multiple opportunities to learn and apply in multiple contexts. The point of view is from a teaching & learning perspective, not from an industry/level of achievement perspective, and the difference can be subtle reading the surface-level language but can be far reaching in terms of interpretation, as I have witnessed by the frustrations of training provider instructors.

3. Re-write

Then we re-wrote the objectives/tasks ourselves, cross-referencing with the prescribed content from the program outline to ensure that we were aligned. Instructors = happy. They now have meaningful learning outcomes mapped to associated competencies and written in the language of outcomes has made it much easier for them to plan and design authentic learning activities and assessments.


Competencies vs. Learning Outcomes

There’s buzz growing around competency-based learning and something called “competency-based pedagogy”. Much of it appears muddled, particularly when someone wants to throw in a technology to enable this “competency-based pedagogy”. Perhaps it’s important to make sure we are all speaking the same language.

Fallacy 1:
Competencies are equivalent to learning outcomes

Fallacy 2:
A series of related and linked competencies is equivalent to a curriculum

Fallacy 3:
A curriculum that is mapped to competencies means that the competencies determine the teaching approach.


1. Competencies: describe abilities (cognitive, motor, affective…) of a particular discipline

  • Can be taught, or not: the point is that the teaching/training of an individual is not the purpose of articulating a competency; the goal of a well-conceived competency is to describe a desired ability.
  • Can be articulated to degrees of expertise/accomplishment

2. Curriculum design: the determination of what a learning intervention will be composed of

  • driven by who determines what is required and how it is determined
  • driven by what paradigm the curriculum is based

3. Competency-based curriculum design:

  • Competencies from the discipline inform the design of the curriculum
  • As such, competencies need to be translated into curriculum outcomes, based on the parametres of the specific learning intervention

4. Instructional design/lesson planning within a competency-based curriculum:

  • Lesson planning entails linking lesson outcomes to competency-linked curricular outcomes
  • Lesson outcomes do not equal competencies. Good instructional strategies will embed single and multiple competencies, and parts of competencies, in holistic, authentic learning activities that create contexts for (often partial) competency acquisition.

Some strategies for working with instructors teaching within a competency-based curriculum:

  • Highlight the difference between a competency and developing learning outcomes for a lesson that supports the acquisition of one or more elements of a competency
  • Work with instructors to focus on authentic and student-centred activities to achieve the lesson’s learning outcomes
  • Work with instructors to map their lesson activities to competencies as a secondary activity

Symposium on Scholarly Inquiry into Teaching and Learning Practice

It was a great day Friday at this first symposium on teaching and learning practice put on by bccampus. A great deal of small scale inquiry is going on, and I think that in this field, progress is best measured in increments of the individual practitioner deliberately inquiring into her own practice. I did on occasion wish that presenters/facilitators kept the focus on the inquiry-process aspects rather than describe in detail their courses/topics of inquiry. I guess they were motivated by the questions of the participants who would ask them to describe in further detail their particular course topic or teaching approach, so it is probably more of a reflection on the participants, and perhaps their ‘maturity’ with an emphasis on scholarly inquiry rather than, say, a showcase (and I include myself here). In the end, it was motivating for me to take action rather than just keep thinking about it, and what I learned from the symposium is that it doesn’t have to complicated.