John O'Brien, EDUCAUSE President and CEO, talks with Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University, about how competency-based education is shifting the measurements of assessment from knowing to doing.
To hear the full conversation, listen to the podcast "Paul LeBlanc on Equity, Access, and Opportunity for Students"
Southern New Hampshire University
President & CEO
John O'Brien: Well, welcome to another Community Conversation. I'm thrilled today to be joined by Paul LeBlanc, the President of Southern New Hampshire University. Someone who is well known across the world, someone who has been active in the EDUCAUSE community. Paul, I remember the series of articles you wrote a few years back for EDUCAUSE Review. It was widely read and very influential, by which I mean, to me. So I'm excited to have you here to talk about your new book, "Students First". So welcome, Paul.
Paul LeBlanc: John, thank you so much for having me. It's really good to see you. I wish it was in person, of course.
O'Brien: So students are in the center of your book, as I say, page to page. The faculty are in your book as well. And I think you're saying that higher education is not going to be able to transform the lives of the students you're talking about without a structural change in how we measure and conceive of learning, broken from the old notion of time. I think there's also an underlying sense that we also need to reconsider pedagogy itself, and andragogy, how we teach and how subjects are taught. Is that true from your perspective?
LeBlanc: Yeah, that's right. And I think so, I'm very careful about, to say that I'm not making an argument for any particular pedagogical approach. I think competency-based education is an architectural question. It is not a pedagogical question. When we talk about CB, which is so central to my argument, it's really asking two things. What are the claims you make for what students can do with what they know? So think about that. It's a performative question. What can they do with what they've learned from you? And then it asks us, there's a second question, which is, how do you know? How do you assess that? So now to go to your question. I think when we shift the focus from what students will know and we will presume or infer what they can do with that, that's kind of historically where we've been, we're shifting the spotlight over and we're saying, no, we actually want to make claims for what students can do and we'll infer or presume what they've had to learn along the way, in order to do that. So it's a bit of a shifting in the weight, if you will. But if you do that, then as a faculty member, and I think about my pedagogy, it's going to steer me to things like project-based learning, hands-on learning, real-world learning. And that's going to, in turn, steer me to assessments that aren't about getting the right answer, because getting the right answer isn't about performance. It's about, do I understand how to do something? Can I demonstrate my ability to do a thing? And that's really the rich ground of assessment. And it's honestly the place where we probably lag furthest behind.