# 389: BOOK OF THE WEEK — “Competencies for Competence Based Education”

Margolin, Cathryn Grammer (2017). Competencies for Competence Based Education: A Delphi Study.

Story behind the Book Choice

Today I am writing about a dissertation which I actively looked for. Quite often in my Sunday book section, I write about books that “found me” somehow. This is not the case today. When it comes to research — it is usually the case that you look for something more actively based on a specific topic or question you have in mind. It can still happen that you end up finding something that you did not expect to find, so a particular article or book finds you. I guess, this is somehow how I came to find this dissertation on the web today.

My original idea was to find a book on competence-based RESEARCH. I am putting this into capital letters because it already reveals part of the story which I will tell in different texts these upcoming days or weeks. I am thinking a lot about this word “competence-based…” something. It came up while I was working on a grant proposal a few weeks ago. Someone pointed out this buzzword to me. I was partly happy, partly annoyed. The happiness came because everything I was thinking and writing about in the proposal had to deal with competence-development. The sad and even annoying part was that I had not explicitly mentioned this term. This was not because I do not know about it. It was because I obviously always think about developing competencies when it comes to teaching.

What else could we get out of education?


Is knowledge not just one element of competence?

No, I will not go into my own definitions now. I will touch upon definitions below in relation to the passages. And I will also go into more detail when I write about this topic in other pieces. The motivation behind this is very clear. Obviously, I did not find anything about competence-based research today, even though this was meant to be my focus. Still, I found this every interesting study which still gives me an important basis to write more about the role of competencies. For the start, this study helps because it highlights something that I have been seeing and arguing for for a long time but I have never run my own study on it. This something is writing as one of the key competencies of business graduates. As you know, I strongly share this assumption that writing is one of the core skills which businesses rely on. The only slight difference is: I do not just want business students to learn this — I want to support those who can already write on an excellent level to go to business.

  1. Defining Competencies
Margolin 10

I am starting with these central definitions here because they are not only important for any work of research but especially for any kind of discourse on this fuzzy concept of “competencies.” I personally also use the word skills more or less synonymously which, according to this definition, is just fine. The only problem I see with the rest of the definition is that it focuses so much on measurement. Again, this is a tricky problem. The tricky part comes in if you remember that CBE is an innovation that actually focuses more on what the learners get out of the learning process and not so much on the learning itself, the credit hours invested, etc. This is great, it is a revolution, if you compare it to the paradigm that has been ruling (higher) education for the last two decades or so. But we have to be honest and admit that the results have always counted. When I take a math test, for example, the test probes my ability to solve the problem, right, not som abstract knowledge?

The difficult thing is, however, that this measurement aspect will make people think that, if they achieve a certain skill level, they have achieved mastery. Even worse, they might think that there is a maximum skill level and that is it. That would exactly be the wrong conclusion and the wrong incentive. Again, this topic needs more attention but I have to indicate it here already because the definitions, which are really clear and nice at this stage of the dissertation, also emphasize that masuring competencies is not just some side issue — it is a major part of the evidence needed to fill this concept with life. I love the concept and the idea but I do not like the fact that it is selling old wine in new skins with a competitive drive connected. This immediately brings me to the second passage.

2. CBE and the Middle Ages

Margolin 22

It is no secret that I am a defendant of the Liberal Arts (German: “Studium Generale”). Although, the two concepts are not the same, let us, by means of simplification, just claim that they are. And what you read above simply tells you that the turn to CBE is nothing but a return to the Middle Ages. This is the most wonderful thing that can happen in order to start wiping out some of the negative consequences of the Bologna Reform in Europe and other harmful reforms in the U.S. The problem is that it has taken people so long to figure out what we have lost. And, this is even sadder, they are now trying to reinvent the wheel by coming up with all sorts of competence-based education modules. This costs a lot of money and students might still see no importance in going there, i.e., taking something outside their usual departmental curriculum structure. As I argue, we need to integrate the training of these skills into every study program again. And 3. shows why…

3. Writing Skills

Margolin 59–60

This was a bummer when I read this. Yes, this was not a super huge study but the results speak thr own language: The skills which are needed most, from the perspective of the HR experts interviewed in this study, are writing and oral communication. This is really clear and it emphasizes how much the people who can do this better than most other people on campus can contribute to the business world. It confirms why I am so obsessed with storytelling (creative writing) in the humanities. If there is one thing that is at risk right now, it is that the humanities even lose their ability to teach people how to write well — to write at all! If that happens, it will also indicate that we have lost our ability to think. As we all know: Writing only works, at least on an advanced level, if you can think.

And I guess, that is also the problem why so many business students have trouble writing.

They were trained to not think anymore.

Let us hope that some fields will be left which pursue this goal of educating thinking and writing individuals for the business world.

And for the world in general.

A world in the constant state of war.

Reflection Questions

1) What are the top three skills which you expect graduates to have when they enter the work world?

2) How do you define the Liberal Arts? Did you study them?

3) Where are writing skills needed in your job environment?