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Western Interstate Commission for Higher Ed Partners with Taskstream on Passport Initiative Pilot

An accrediting agency and an education technology company are working with six institutions to test out a mapping process that will handle block transfer of learning outcomes and proficiency criteria. The initiative, which brings together the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) and Taskstream, is intended to support a national framework put forth in WICHE's Interstate Passport Initiative. Taskstream is a company that works with colleges and universities on setting up assessment management and eportfolio systems.

The goal of the project is to streamline the student transfer process and eliminate the need for students to repeat courses they've already taken. Rather than having to sort out alignment of credits and courses between schools, the Passport framework takes the approach of using nine content knowledge and skill areas with agreed-upon learning outcomes and proficiency criteria. An outcome is what a student should know and be able to do; a proficiency criterion is what's used by an instructor to determine whether the student achieved the outcome.

When a student uses a passport to transfer from one school to another, the learning is recognized as a "block." He or she won't be required to repeat a class or take additional classes simply to meet lower-division general education requirements already covered by the passport's nine areas. Those encompass oral communication, written communication, quantitative literacy, natural sciences, human cultures, creative expression, human society and the individual, critical thinking and teamwork and value systems.

The academic areas of the Passport were derived from "Essential Learning Outcomes," developed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and adopted by institutions across the country.

Cross-institutional teams of faculty with expertise in specific areas in 16 states have reviewed, compared and contrasted sets of learning outcomes submitted by each state and then hammered out agreed-upon sets of outcomes, which in turn became the Passport outcomes. Those outcomes were tested out during several pilot phases.

Then last year WICHE received a four-year, $3 million grant from the United States Department of Education "First in the World" competition to build out and enhance the Passport program.

As part of this work, WICHE will bring in faculty from pairs of institutions in three states — both two-year and four-year schools — to examine the evidence used to determine lower-division general ed competencies. The goal of that phase is to build out faculty understanding and choices of assignments in designated courses and to percolate ideas among the faculty in how to perform competency assessment.

The three sets of pairs include:

The goal of this latest pilot will be to obtain an external evaluation of the validity of the framework's processes, provide recommendations on future improvements and develop ideas for expanding the process to additional institutions or improving the performance of schools already involved in the Passport program.

Their work is being aided by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), a non-profit that works with states, university systems and accrediting bodies on policy development. Specifically, the center is developing two new sets of rubrics to score the assignments and student work samples.

"By engaging faculty in a closer look at how and what types of assignments are being used to determine proficiency with the Passport Learning Outcomes within and across institutions, our goals are to share ideas in proficiency assessment among participating institutions and to expand faculty understanding and choices of assignments in courses they include in their institution's passport block," said Pat Shea, director of academic leadership initiatives at WICHE and project director for the Interstate Passport.

Taskstream's role is to work with WICHE and NCHEMS on fine-tuning the pilot and supporting the technology needs of the participants. For example, faculty will use Taskstream's learning outcomes management system, Aqua, to score assignments in relevant courses at their home institutions. Those same student samples will then be cross-scored by instructors at the other institutions as well as an NCHEMS assessment expert.

Beginning in July, all regionally accredited, public and private, non-profit schools will be able to start the process of applying for their own Passport status.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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