Published on 2015/10/23

The EvoLLLution | CBE and the Sage Dynamic: New Roles for Faculty and Administration
As the competency-based model becomes more commonplace across the postsecondary space, both educators and administrators will have to redefine their roles to fit the more “guide on the side” approach to higher education.

Do you remember how excited you were entering those freshmen college classes? The long lecture halls with the tiered seating where you could gaze down and listen attentively to the one who would share their expertise, their knowledge, and be there to evaluate your efforts along with the other 300 or so classmates? Oh my, those were the days indeed! So what’s a teacher to do now with competency-based education (CBE)? Students progress when they demonstrate mastery, tests seem to take place all the time and content, well content is driven by the pace of the student and not at the pace of the lesson plan.

It seems that the role of teacher has shifted from the instructor to the inquisitive learner.

Public education pioneer John Dewey wrote in his book Democracy and Education (1916) that the role of the teacher should be focused on understanding how people learn to think and solve real problems—a design that makes the learner have to truly think their way through things, and thereby believe that they are creators and discoverers.[1] This concept places the responsibility of learning in the hands of the learner and creates the space for a new role of teacher as partner in learning, providing guidance and asking questions subtly pointing the student towards the desired learning outcome. CBE-designed courses follow this model and role for today’s teacher.

Both mainstream education and curriculum design still tend to follow the model of teachers holding all content and delivering massive data downloads to their students. This model desperately needs to change. A recent newspaper article proposed that teachers should not just lecture; they should instead become facilitators of learning, providing students with the information and tools they need to master a subject. At times, teachers act like tutors, working with small groups of students or individual students within the classroom or after class. Teachers also play the role of evaluators, constantly assessing students’ abilities through formal and informal assessments, providing suggestions for improvement and assigning grades.[2]

CBE fosters this changing role where the instructor is engaged with the student as an individual in the classroom as well as online. Competency-based learning shifts the role of the faculty from that of “a sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” Faculty members work with students, guiding learning, answering questions, leading discussions, and helping students synthesize and apply knowledge.[3] Teachers are passionate about their content and CBE is designed to engage students to take ownership of their personal learning path. CBE-designed courses include content that is real, contextual in its real-world application, and has learning activities, including assessments, that engage the student authentically and is integral to the learning process. The role of the teacher in this model is one of personal guide focused on the success of the student.

So what is the role of the administration in this new teacher model?

There are three major areas that need to be addressed. First, the student needs to be monitored more closely. CBE-designed courses actively use assessments as an integral component of the design and it is imperative to monitor individual student progress, or obstacles, as soon as possible. Technology can help with tools that monitor the interactivity of the student with content, with scores, and send messages informing the instructor about the student so the instructor can reach out to a student in a timely manner providing support, remediation and guidance.

Second, CBE-designed courses are deeper in content and include assessments that range from case studies, system-generated tests, and authentic assessments. Enhancing a course to use a stronger assessment strategy, by using the instructor’s expertise as well as pulling from industry partners’ standards, will extend the course development and impact ongoing maintenance too. Resources such as instructional designers, curriculum developers and research analysts to help identify areas of the course where students may be having problems are all key to improving a course and improving student success. The faculty member will need this team of instructional support for development and continued monitoring so creating opportunities to fully understand the roles and responsibilities everyone plays is vital.

Finally, the role of the instructor in this CBE model is a highly personalized one of providing guidance, probing questions, and helping the learner discover the outcome on their own. This is not simply delivering a lecture, and these methods of communication take time and new facilitation skills. Faculty need time to learn how to facilitate in the truest sense of the word. Moving from the sage speaking to the guide communicating, interacting and guiding a learner is not something everyone can do automatically. All three of these areas need professional development opportunities so instructors are proficient in the tools that can help them monitor student progress, understand where designers can help, where analysts provide key actionable data, and how to guide students—especially those at a distance—to the successful completion of the course.

The roles of everyone involved in learning are changing, from student to faculty to the support teams. Teachers no longer see their primary role as being the king or queen of the classroom, a benevolent dictator deciding what’s best for the powerless underlings in their care. They’ve found they accomplish more if they adopt the role of educational guides, facilitators, and co-learners.[4] Today’s teacher is the one who guides the student towards Dewey’s premise of learning to think and to solve real world problems. The role of the teacher is very personalized and will expand with each student. This new faculty role will transform the process each student experiences and will bring to the student learning opportunities they need to build knowledge and apply skills that will demonstrate their mastery, their competence in their course of study.

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[1] Grant Wiggins, “The Changing Role of the Teacher,” Te@chthought, July 19, 2014. Accessed at

[2] Stacy Zeiger, “What is the Role of Teachers in Education?” The Houston Chronicle. Accessed at

[3] Robert Mendenhall, “What Is Competency-Based Education?” The Huffington Post, September 5, 2012. Accessed at

[4] Judith Taack Lanier, “Redefining the Role of the Teacher: It’s a Multifaceted Profession,” Edutopia, July 1, 1997. Accessed at

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Readers Comments

Annie Lewis 2015/10/23 at 10:14 am

The professional development piece is really crucial to the overall shift to CBE. Faculty are on the frontlines of education, dealing with students more than anyone else, and if they’re not prepared to accept and implement this new method (even if they are willing but untrained) administrators can put forward all the new theories and ideas they want and it won’t do the students any good.

Paula Jackson 2015/10/23 at 3:07 pm

I’m on board with CBE and currently involved in working on how to incorporate it more into our programs, but I do feel it’s necessary to keep from completely disregarding the expertise we’ve come to expect of our faculty. We know now that scholarly publication do not a great teacher make, but we do need to respect the level of skill and expertise our teachers bring to share with students.

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