Audrey Rogers is constantly asking her students and fellow educators: if you can’t learn to teach by being a student, how can you learn?
She first asked me that very question when I was just a brace-faced 16-year-old in her U.S. History class. Back then, she was one of the only teachers to put her students in the teacher’s seat, giving us agency in our own learning. She taught us the value of collaboration, creativity, and authenticity. And she showed us how powerful and beautiful it is to learn deeply, and foster that in others.
A few years ago, we reconnected at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), where she’s a professor. This time, I was a graduate student, and together, we dug through some of the most pressing challenges facing 21st century education, including research around improving student experiences through durable and authentic learning.
In addition to her experience as an educator in both the K-12 and higher education settings, the work she’s done with others to innovate and disrupt the status quo clearly demonstrate that she doesn’t just talk the talk—she also walks the walk.
At the time, Audrey had also been working with a technology company to develop a student-centered learning platform. That company, of course, was Motivis, and I soon found myself working here, while Audrey began a competency-based pilot program for teacher education using the Learning Relationship Management platform (LRM) developed by Motivis Learning. I recently sat down with her to do a post-pilot reflection and analysis, and the following interview includes some insights from our conversation.
What made you consider competency-based education for your teacher prep program?
The idea came from more than one place, really. I taught high school for a long time, so I know the standards for working in the K-12 environment, and I stayed connected to that when I became a teacher educator. Then, in the mid-2000s, New Hampshire passed legislation ending the practice of awarding credit for seat time—specifically that it should no longer be the end-all-be-all measurement for high school graduation.
At the same time, there was a national movement for competency-based education. Both of these movements really clarified what I had already been thinking, which was that we needed to do something different because what we were doing wasn’t working for all learners. More importantly, we needed to train the next generation of teachers differently so they could do things differently in the classroom.
Competency-based education became more codified in New Hampshire law shortly after that. And here at SNHU, innovation is really valued. It’s where College for America (CfA) was born—an entire program around competency-based education!
All of this really led me to ask, “How can I train teachers differently?”
What makes CBE an effective and powerful choice for higher education?
I think the fact that it’s taken hold across the nation, in K-12 and higher ed, really speaks to the power of CBE.
But, you can see that people were doing it before, like, Western Governor’s University in the 90s. Then SNHU piloted College for America. All these made a difference on a national level, because it resonated with people then and it still does now. That’s why I’m urgently transforming my program—because I almost feel like we should have been doing this 10 years ago.
What makes CBE an effective model for Schools of Education?
Those guiding standards—the things, for example, that define good, effective teachers—are really what have enabled CBE to take hold.
What’s different with CBE is the idea of time limits. CBE leaders (like Fred Bramante, and Rose Colby), always talk about how time is the constant in most schools. For example, at the end of the year, students move on to second grade, or when the bell rings they move on to math class. In traditional models, students aren’t allowed to move when they are ready, they have to follow a contrived, prescribed path that may or may not meet their needs.
That structure keeps a lot of institutions from going to that next level with CBE. It takes something like College For America to make learning the constant instead. In other words—achieve proficiency on these competencies, and then move on. It may take one student four weeks, it may take another eight or ten, but that’s okay.
That’s a lot harder to schedule, plan, and coordinate. But the ultimate the value of CBE for students can be found when you swap time for learning as the constant.
Do you think schools of education are really at the dynamic center point of transforming learning programs?
Yes, absolutely. Schools of education play an essential role in training and developing the next generation of teachers for CBE. Meanwhile, many K-12 institutions are still very much in their traditional structures. You know, school starts at 7:15 and it ends at 2:30.
Last semester I piloted an almost true CBE course for students. This included some of the best practices for setting out competencies and having them progress toward them, even within semester time limits.
My question is: if you can’t experience those teaching models in your training program, when can you? Probably not on the job while you’re also trying to figure out classroom management and content and everything else.
Of course it can be done that way, there are great K-12 educators making key progress and change. But if we want to talk about first order versus second order change, that’s where schools of education can engage in the CBE experience. They are the natural bridge that connects higher education with K-12 and can act as a conduit for transforming education.
New Hampshire is leading the way with Performance Assessment for Competency-based Education (PACE), how are you involved with the work the state is doing to improve education?
For several years, there’s been a rule that you need competencies for graduation credit, so I’ve been working with local high schools to have my students out in the field in a different capacity.
Ten years ago, students would go to a classroom for a few hours, and then come back to report what they saw. We have completely changed that. Now, every week we go into schools as a class, and have the methods class right there.
When we look at practices that bring about the kind of learning we want, we recognize that sending a student out the way we used to did not bring about the results we were looking for. We didn’t know what they were seeing and how they were interpreting it. We could never be sure if they were interpreting it correctly, and we couldn’t guarantee fidelity of experience.
Since we now go out with our emerging educators, we can see that the level of CBE implementation varies naturally among schools.
The NH PACE schools have successfully implemented CBE and have created amazing and authentic learning experiences, which is very exciting. So we’ve purposely and intentionally partnered with them to bring our students to that next level of experience and understanding of how CBE can be done in schools.
How has implementing a learning relationship management (LRM) system helped you facilitate CBE?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, because I’ve piloted several modes of learning management systems. I have at least a decade of experience with several programs, and knowledge of others without direct experience—and it leads me to wonder, what makes an LRM different? When I reflect back on it, it really it all comes down to defining what you want in your CBE program. Do you want students to read about it in a textbook? Or do you them to experience it? What if you can bring them out to a school, have them work with children, and experience classroom management?
It’s kind of the same thing in CBE—success relies heavily on knowing your students, and building a rapport with them. And then having an LRM, compared to a traditional LMS, really puts the focus on learning. It capitalizes on the potential of online resources and learning, and lets the students access those resources at their own pace.
For the student, the LRM provides a sense of freedom, so they’re less focused on grades. As an educator, I can tailor the system to meet individual learning styles and abilities.
I can share resources with students, and ask them to focus on particular areas. And as they submit their assignments, there’s no sense of foreboding, which students talked about previously. You know, when they submitted papers or took a test, it was one and done, and then there was sense of “Oh gosh, what if I didn’t do my best?” For example, if the student had a bad week, or maybe the teacher was looking for something a little different. But, with the LRM approach that focuses on relationships and knowing each student, it’s very different.
In your move to CBE, you’ve essentially gone “gradeless” by using a LRM—was this a success?
Yes, definitely. One student in particular said that when she went into the LRM system, she didn’t experience the anxiety she had with other LMS platforms, where her grade was always front and center. Instead, she got to appreciate the progress she had made.
Of course, a percentage of students do quite well in a traditional learning environment, they live for grades because it’s what they know. But then, when they get to college, they realize they’ve never had to demonstrate learning. They’ve only had to submit the type of work that earns an A, so when they see a low grade, they don’t know how to come back from it.
It impacts the educators, as well. One of my takeaways last semester was that I had the opportunity to meet regularly with students to have face-to-face discussions, and see the applications of learning. Professors can do different things with that opportunity, but I see it as an avenue for more social learning.
The success of CBE lies in the technology to support personalization
Audrey’s philosophy—that educators learn best within the very teaching models they will seek to implement—certainly isn’t unique to her classroom, or even to SNHU. More and more, schools of education across the country are implementing competency-based models for their teacher preparation programs. And, for those schools, using an LRM ensures that they don’t need to give up any aspects of social learning theory, because it supports the conversations, discussions, and analysis that run complementary to CBE. This results in better outcomes for students, and more chances for teachers to get to know those students.