Ray Martinez: The second part of our faculty is what we call the course mentor. The course mentor is typically your subject matter expert. If I’m signed up in the College of Business for WGU Texas and I’m taking an Accounting 101 course, and if I stumble along the way in trying to learn the material to complete one of my courses, what I would do is not call on my student mentor because my student mentor may not know how to explain about doing a particular spreadsheet that I need to learn. I would call my course mentor who would actually be able to help me with that. The course mentor would give one-on-one instruction via email or Skype.
The course mentor also has a cohort of students and may notice that 20 to 30 students are calling about a particular spreadsheet. That course mentor might decide to schedule a webinar and the course mentor will then invite all of his/her cohort of students to sit in on a webinar and learn how to put together a particular spreadsheet. The learning takes place but it takes place again either one-on-one or via webinars, Skype, or telephonic convening.
Sramana Mitra: Where is the subject matter coming from? Is that recorded lecture?
Ray Martinez: It’s not necessarily recorded lectures. As part of their tuition when a student enrolls in one of our colleges, they get the learning materials electronically. We typically contract with third-party vendors or organizations that put together what we consider to be the necessary materials for students to learn a particular course subject matter. A course mentor is there to serve as the subject matter expert but also for guiding the students to ensure that the student can pass what will ultimately be an assessment. You can’t pass a particular course unless you demonstrate your competency.
The student’s job is to learn the material so that when the student is ready – not necessarily after a typical 13 to 14 week semester – they could deem themselves ready to sit for assessment after two or three weeks. The student gets to go at his/her own pace instead of having to sit through a traditional semester where you can’t assess until the end of that semester. With competency-based education, if a student decides, “I know this material already because I come with a lot of experience in putting together spreadsheets in my job.” Such a student can go ahead and sit for an assessment for that course and if they demonstrate their competency, they move on to the next course.
All of this is done through learning materials that are provided to the students, through instruction and guidance, papers and requirements for writing capstones, and doing things that you typically do in a brick-and-mortar institution. Our students are asked to do the same types of things. At the end of the day, they’re going to have to demonstrate their competency before they are allowed to move on to the next course.
The final piece of that faculty role is our evaluators. They are the people who grade when students decide to take the assessments. The evaluators are the folks who will read the capstone projects and determine grades of the capstone, and whether the capstone demonstrates competency. They are credentialed individuals. Their only job is to serve as the evaluators of the various assessments that are taking place.