What does it take to make an innovative school?

[The Hechinger Report examines two recent developments to highlight the role of innovation in schools. The report outlines some of the key findings from a new report looking at Competency-based Learning in New England as well as the nineteen new members of the League of Innovative Schools. The Pittsburgh region is quite rich with innovative schools. Two are included in the latest group – the Fox Chapel Area School District (FCASD) and the Montour School District. I formerly worked as the Coordinator of Educational Technology at FCASD  and I’ve recently consulted with the Montour School District. Both districts offer great examples of innovative programming in order to meet the needs of all students. Both districts are developing their own versions of competency-based learning with great examples of active learning opportunities for students in K-12.]

transformED learning space at Montour HS - Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

transformED learning space at Montour HS – Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

One of the challenges in trying out new learning strategies, including those that embrace technology, is that schools have a tough time finding out which new methods work best – which ones actually help kids learn.

This week brought two useful resources for addressing that problem. One is an expansion of a coalition of schools that share best practices, called the League of Innovative Schools; the other is a comprehensive report on the ways that competency-based learning initiatives have grown in the six New England states

In competency-based learning systems (also sometimes called proficiency-based or mastery-based), the goal is to have students demonstrate their mastery of a subject before being moved on to the next level, rather than move ahead simply by accumulating enough time in class and passing the year-end test.

Even as high school graduation rates have risen, the number of students who need remedial classes once they enter college has also risen. The advocates at CompetencyWorks, a coalition set up to promote this method and assess best practices, argue that this is because students are not mastering what they need to know to prepare them for college or for the workforce.

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A Competency-Based Mobile App Puts Students at the Center of Design

Could a mobile-powered platform be the future for competency-based learning?

There is a competency-based educational shift under way in higher education. The learning method allows students to pursue career-focused topics at a self-directed pace, demonstrating mastery of skills in order to progress to the next stage of education.

The teaching method, also known as direct assessment, has been gathering steam across higher education. The University of Wisconsin has found success through its Flexible Option plan, a competency-based educational curriculum for students who want to pursue a degree, but don’t have time for traditional classes. And Purdue’s Polytechnic Institute rebranded itself as a competency-based school in 2014.

There’s also a convergence of curriculum and mobile learning going on. Flat World Education is now offering a competency-based pilot program at Brandman University, allowing students to pursue a business administration bachelor’s degree purely on a mobile device in less than three years for approximately $13,500, says Flat World CEO Chris Etesse.

Flat World offers digital learning solutions, including digital textbooks, courseware and learning platforms — all with an emphasis on mobile access. The company’s mobile mastery coalesced with Brandman University’s desire to expand its student reach through a new, competency-based educational offering in 2014, and so a partnership was born.

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