SmartScript: A model competency-based transcript

November 23, 2016
  • Comprehensive Record
  • Comprehensive Learner Record
  • Comprehensive Student Record
Photograph of a generic transcript.

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 (listed below)* – 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. This article discusses the work of the University of Wisconsin Colleges (freshman/sophomore two-year institutions) and the University of Wisconsin--Extension through the UW Flexible Option degree program, which helps working adults earn degrees through a self-paced, competency-based format.


The UW Flexible Option degree program is a unique partnership between the University of Wisconsin Colleges (freshman/sophomore colleges) and the University of Wisconsin--Extension. The option is designed specifically to give working adults a self-paced, competency-based option to complete their degrees.


Through this option, students can earn the following degrees:

  • Associate of Arts and Science (UW Colleges)

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing, RN to BSN completion (UW-Milwaukee)

  • Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences Diagnostic Imaging degree completion (UW-Milwaukee)

  • Bachelor of Science in Information Science and Technology degree completion (UW-Milwaukee)

  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree (UW-Extension)


The Flexible Option program was implemented in 2014, and since then, school officials have been exploring how to translate the skills students develop through the competency-based program into a more robust record than the traditional transcript. Thanks in part to the grant from Lumina Foundation, those conversations have grown into a pilot competency record called the “SmartScript.”


Demonstrating mastery

“On a traditional transcript, you’d just see course title and number, credits, and letter grade,” said Dan Kellogg, UW-Extension Registrar. “With the SmartScript, we’re also providing a record of the competencies built into the degree.”  


Each course may have up to ten associated competencies, as defined by the department. On the transcript (see example below), these competencies will be noted as either “Mastered” or “In progress.”


“The competencies that are addressed are required of all students who enroll,” said Kim Kostka, Flex Coordinator and Chemistry Professor at UW Colleges. “For instance, if student enrolls in Heredity, they have to master all of the competencies for that competency set. Students can’t average out a poor performance; they have to master every single competency in the set.” In addition, some programs have degree-level competencies, which will also be represented on the record.


Roll out 2016-2019

SmartScript will be available for students in the Flexible Option Associate of Arts and Sciences program (enrolling about 1,000 students to date) in January 2019. One-third of the Flexible Option curriculum is reviewed each year, and coding competencies for the record takes place at that time, which means the entire process will take three years to complete. UW-Extension B.S. in Business Administration students will have access to the portal beginning at the degree program’s launch in December 2016.


“Eventually, we would like to see the SmartScript as part of each academic program of study within the UW Flexible Option,” Kellogg said.


The record was developed in cooperation with University of Maryland University College. Each institution contributed some of their grant money to partner with vendors (IMS Global and Learning Objects) to create the artifact and populate the digital credential. (Read about UMUC’s competency record pilot here.)  


“Displaying these competencies will add value to the student record by helping students communicate with employers and graduate schools,” Kostka said.


“Ultimately, this record will allow users to customize a display and  drill down, and verify the credentials and the learning outcomes,” Kellogg agreed. “Beyond just listing course titles and delivering terse information in a chronological format, they’ll help the student tell the story of their education.”

* 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


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