A record of lifelong learning

May 31, 2016
  • AACRAO Connect
  • Competency-Based Education
  • Comprehensive Record
  • Comprehensive Learner Record
  • Comprehensive Student Record
Female of asian origin smiling as she leans on a stack of books.

How can student records most accurately reflect student learning?--That’s the question driving the pilot Comprehensive Student Records (CSR) project funded by a grant from Lumina Foundation and spearheaded by AACRAO and NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education.

The project is focused on developing comprehensive student records that document evidence of student learning and achievement beyond traditional course names, credits, and grades. The current project includes twelve  higher education institutions* – two- and four-year, public and private – that are already developing records that display learning outcomes, use competency-based education approaches to education and/or document co-curricular experiences.

AACRAO is publishing a series of institutional profiles about each model record, the campus-wide collaboration required to enact change, and the goals each model is designed to achieve. Each of the institutions involved in the pilot project serves a different student population. The University of Maryland University College, featured below, is a metropolitan-serving institution, with a high percentage of online students.

A traditional transcript conveys that a student spent a certain amount of time on a subject and attained a certain grade—but that information may not be very useful in a professional context, said Joellen Shendy, UMUC Associate Vice-Provost & Registrar.

The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) is an online state university offering more than 90 degrees, certificates and specializations.

“The traditional transcript is not a good proxy for what types of learning occurred,” said Shendy. “Employers can’t decipher from a transcript what a student knows and can do.”

Many UMUC students are professionals looking to advance their careers or military service members and veterans, and they need a record that’s more salient in a professional context. With support from the Comprehensive Student Records (CSR) project, the UMUC is developing a competency-based, visual record of performance; an extended transcript that can be shared with and understood by employers.

A curriculum shift

Unlike some of the other schools involved in the CSR project, the UMUC’s model record is a competency-based academic transcript, not a co-curricular record. The new transcript was developed to reflect UMUC’s innovative curriculum, which will be focused on program-level professional skills and goals, not individual courses. Rather than documenting the class a student took and the grade earned, the record will describe and contextualize a student’s knowledge, giving specific evidence of learning in a particular area.

“It’s not just a grade given after 12 weeks of classes,” Shendy said. “The goal is for it to be reflective of real-world, project-based learning experiences that an employer would find helpful.”

UMUC’s curriculum, conceived using a competency methodology, establishes program-level competencies, which are further broken down into specific skills and abilities. Courses then require projects and simulations where students must demonstrate those competencies, with assessments that aim to replicate what students will experience in the workforce.

“What are the competencies a worker would need on the job? Which skills are single-level and which require scaffolding?” Shendy says. Courses and programs are built around these principles, and competencies are built on over a series of courses. Courses use real-world assessment and rubrics designed to provide actionable feedback to students, more than merely a grade.

The faculty that have been working on the changes for the curriculum shift are part of making sure the curriculum is well-represented in the new record. They’ll decide how deep to show the data, such as whether to show the rubric used for competency evaluation, which faculty member did the assessment or even the feedback the student received.

“In order to make that happen, the way you assess is slightly different,” Shendy said. “In the traditional model, students study, do a project or paper, and get a grade. But that’s not replicable in the real world. There’s no ‘one-and-done;’ our bosses provide resources and feedback if something needs to be reworked.”

In coursework at UMUC, students are similarly responsible for incorporating faculty feedback and resubmitting. The goal is mastery of learning; students cannot pass until they’ve mastered the competencies associated with a project.

Ultimately, these learning artifacts—projects, papers, speeches—will be archived in the student record, though that aspect likely won’t be implemented until fall 2017. “The point is to have university-verified artifacts, in contrast with a portfolio, which is student-curated set of information,” Shendy said.

A unique partnership

To leverage resources, UMUC worked closely with the University of Wisconsin-Extension, another institution involved in the CSR project, to develop access to the the record. Both schools serve similar student populations, have the same learning management system, and will deliver the transcript as a digital webpage from which the viewer can link through to many different portals, rather than a piece of paper.

“It’s a unique collaborative venture,” Shendy said. “We’re talking at high level with thought leaders and at the operations level in terms of what has to happen to implement. Where the data comes from, is stored, and how to pull it together”

Testing the technology

Over the last 18 months, UMUC worked with IMS Global on CBE and digital credentialing and is now working with Learning Objects to create the visual extended transcript with an appropriate learner interface.

The pilot program will roll out this fall, free to students enrolled in programs supporting this new model. Right now, UMUC is figuring out where to position the record for student access, how to build an employer market that wants to consume this record, and how to work with career services to utilize the record. The focus this spring has been on making sure we have everything set up in terms of systems, pathways, and policies. This summer it will turn more to student experience, faculty roles and training faculty.

“We’ll get the model [from Learning Objects] based on the new IMS Global standard, in August, make sure we like how it looks, all the data streams are in place, and the pathways and integrations are working well,” Shendy said. “Then it hopefully will be ready to go when classes start in October.”

In the ensuing year, there will be discussions with employers about utility, interface, and how to communicate the document before the record fully is implemented in fall 2017.

A lifelong, living record

Eventually, the vision is to develop a record that allows a student to carry a complete picture of their lifetime learning.

“We want this to be a really dynamic document, portable and capable of expansion,” Shendy said. “Higher education uses the phrase ‘lifelong learning’ but I’m not sure how much we’ve incorporated that into our practices. The model has been the student is finished when the degree is complete. Then they’re alumni. That’s not going to be the picture of work and learning in 10-15 years. This is the beginning of a model that will let students have all their information—credentialing, badging, certification—anything that speaks to their skills and abilities—in one accessible place. It’s a different type of model that doesn’t treat each accomplishment distinctly but retains a complete picture of the student as a whole.”

The record developed by the UMUC and Learning Objects was nominated for an award at the IMS Global Learning Impact Leadership Institute., where Shendy received a leadership award for her work on the project.  

“That shows me that beyond Registrar-land there’s a lot of recognition for the value of what we do,” Shendy said. “We play a pivotal role the evolution of the student record and are recognized when we’re innovative, thoughtful and oriented toward student success.”

View this video and this example for an idea of what UMUC’s new transcript will look like.


Join Joellen Shendy for an update on the Lumina project, as well as to dig deeper into the technology behind these solutions, register for the 2016 AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference, July 10-12 in Anaheim, California.


* The twelve institutions are as follows:

Borough of Manhattan Community College

Brandman University

Dillard University

Elon University

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis

LaGuardia Community College

Stanford University

University of Central Oklahoma

University of Houston-Downtown

University of Maryland University College

University of South Carolina

University of Wisconsin – Extension and Wisconsin Colleges


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.