UTRGV Biomedical Sciences students attend orientation.

Crawl, Walk, Run — Reflecting on a Successful Competency-Based Program Launch

Oct 1, 2015 · 3 min read

By Joann Kozyrev, Director of Competency-Based Program Design

The days and weeks following a successful program launch are a time to celebrate, to reflect, but mostly to iterate!

The competency-based Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences launched this fall at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The inaugural students are taking classes in Brownsville, TX with faculty from the departments of Biomedical Sciences, Composition, and Chemistry.

Those of us at the Institute for Transformational Learning have been privileged to work with these remarkable faculty and to facilitate the design of the curriculum, student experience, and program operations and perhaps most of all the technology supporting this program.

The students’ trajectory through these courses, and the many more courses to come, is guided and monitored through our newly launched platform, TEx: Total Educational Experience. This platform and the curriculum and student experience it delivers is the result of an intensive design process described in an earlier post.

The Moment of Truth

At this moment, however, I find myself asking: does the program closely resemble the heady plans that we made in the early days of the process? My answer, of course, is “no.”

Or more accurately: “Not yet.”

The truth about transformational design is that if you wait until you have all of the stars aligned to launch something perfect, you almost certainly will never launch at all. There is too much that must be learned from real learners experiencing the program. Yet, this is education. These are real lives and futures, which are going through the experience. It can be paralyzing when you inevitably ask yourself “will it be good enough?”

The Wisdom of the Process

We have found that the best way to face that question is to rely on the wisdom of the design process. The design and launch of a competency-based program can benefit from the same design principles that you apply to the program itself.

  • Start where you are.
  • Design backwards from where you need to be to set competencies and requirements.
  • Determine the appropriate developmental levels through which the program must grow.
  • Establish the minimum viable level for entry.
  • Be prepared to problem-solve like mad when unanticipated complexity and ambiguity inevitably emerges.

For the first launch of the program, sometimes you must remember that first we crawl, next we walk, and only then can we run. As we went through our process, we pursued solutions that were elegant, persistent and implementable, but sometimes we had to settle for two out of three. But just for version one.

Find your Fixed Spot

The process is a little bit like dancing. When dancers must spin or twirl with great speed, they use a technique called spotting: look at a fixed spot as your body turns, and whip your head around more quickly than your body then focus on the spot again until your body catches up and passes your head. Then repeat. The goal is to keep the orientation of your head and eyes constant so that you maintain control and don’t get dizzy.

It works in the early stages of program implementation, too. The fixed spot is the mission or the vision for the student. For the giant team of educators, technologists, designers, administrators, managers, writers, programmers, content specialists, directors, planners and producers who touched this program, this content, and this platform over the past months, that focal point was first the students and their right to a tangible, beautiful and functional learning experience.

If you have to look away from the mission or the vision while solving a problem, turn back to it as quickly as possible and fixate on it again. It is the only way to stay steady, prevent dizziness, and ultimately end up where you are supposed to be.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn.


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Driving student success and access through the innovative use of technology. Part of the UT System's Institute for Transformational Learning.

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