Competency Based Education & GEOINT

USGIF Vice President of Professional Development Dr. Darryl Murdock discusses how credentials, including certificates and certifications, demonstrate competence in geospatial intelligence


Dr. Darryl Murdock

Dr. Darryl Murdock is USGIF’s vice president of professional development and pens this monthly column dedicated to GEOINT training, education, certification, and more. Murdock is leading the establishment of USGIF’s Universal GEOINT Certification Program.

Competency Based Education, or CBE, has been gaining traction in education circles. The term competency-based education, as defined by CompetencyWorks, refers to a model in which teaching and learning are designed to ensure students are becoming proficient by advancing on demonstrated mastery and in which schools are organized to provide timely and differentiated support to ensure equity.

We often struggle to understand and define what is the best form of education for our post-high school students—and yes, all students need some form of post-high school training and education. While CBE is applicable to K-12 education, today we focus on its applicability at the collegiate level.

CBE’s roots can be traced to the Middle Ages within the guild system. First, a student became an apprentice, beginning between the ages of six and 10 years old. The student would apprentice for at least seven years. Then, assuming the apprentice demonstrated competence to the satisfaction of the master, was given journeyman papers, a mark, “certified” by the master that the apprentice was competent to perform most standard “tradecraft” within said trade.

Upon further examination, this model reveals strong parallels to emerging CBE and the GEOINT Community. Last month, I wrote about credentials and the value of continuing to develop your career with an eye toward obtaining and maintaining credentials. Recognized credentials, including certificates and certifications, demonstrate competence.

One of my least favorite parts of credentialing is the use of the phrase “minimally qualified candidate.” Because that is exactly what all credentials give us—a person who is able to adequately perform tasks or understand concepts that are part of the assessment necessary to obtain the credential.

A comment I often hear from business owners is “Well, a credential doesn’t tell me who my high achievers are.” True, but your high achievers are much more likely to come from a pool of pre-qualified candidates. Credential holders have taken the time and effort necessary to demonstrate they meet these standards and have at least demonstrated they are “minimally competent.”

For new hires, credential holders also alleviate some of the burden of proof from the interviewer during the hiring process. Because the interviewer can look at the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSAs) required to obtain the credential held by the applicant, much of the hiring process can focus on organizational fit, ability to communicate, complementary skills, and higher-order abilities—which are all competencies we seek in our organizational teammates.

CBE has two important characteristics. First and foremost is the demonstration of competence. This demonstration can take many forms. Tests, called assessments in the educational community, can vary widely and may include written, online, and oral exams as well as hands-on demonstrations or the development of portfolios.

Second is the notion of education and training. CBE draws on both education and training, where education is typically gaining understanding of more abstract concepts that can be applied to many disciplines, and training is learning specific skills. Today’s GEOINT professionals must do both. They must continue to seek opportunities to participate in formal and informal education and look for ongoing training opportunities. Additional education is certainly needed to better understand our complicated and complex world. And training is never-ending. We will always have new software tools to learn, new techniques and technologies to understand and employ in our analysis, and new data sources will emerge.

Degree programs have popped up that are largely based on the ideas of CBE. It is unclear whether a degree program is the appropriate model for CBE. Some argue collegiate certificate programs are where CBE credentials have existed for quite some time and that is where they belong. For-profit higher education alternatives often use a CBE model to give their students the greatest amount of credit for work they are already performing or have performed.

Unlike many countries (it was while living in Chile that I first learned of this process) the U.S. does not have a national test that rank-orders students and allows them to choose their top university based on the national exam performance system. Instead, the U.S. higher education system is quite messy and confusing to the prospective student. However, throughout all of U.S. higher education, the thread of CBE continues to grow. Internships are now required for some degree programs. Capstone projects are de rigor for master’s degree programs.

So, Competency Based Education is really another term for what we are, in large part, already doing. We regularly assess our abilities and, for the most part, continue to learn, explore, and gain new knowledge, skills, and abilities. We will revisit CBE in many of my future posts as relevant GEOINT examples arise.


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