The @MATEC Archives

Volume 1, Number 2 MATEC’s Competency-Based Curriculum
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Tomorrow’s semiconductor manufacturing technicians will have different skills and abilities than many of today’s college graduates.  To meet the demand, educators are pressed to design and implement new curricula seemingly overnight. Students graduating from conventional programs may have a solid knowledge base, but very few work-related competencies.  As a result, industry complains about the "quality of the American college graduate".

Performance, or competency-based curriculum development has been available for many years and is commonly used in industrial training programs.  For example, Julian Serda at SEMATECH, developed an excellent instructional design system, Performance-Based Equipment Training.  This system was adopted as an industry standard, and is being implemented in many training programs throughout the country.  Although considered a reasonable and appropriate tool by industry, competency-based curriculum development has not been well-accepted by some academicians.  Some educators mistakenly feel that it neglects the mission and goals of higher education by "training" skills rather than "teaching" concepts and principles.  Still others have argued that it lowers academic standards and "gives away what is on the test".  If everyone can get an "A", how can we maintain a normative grading system?  These misconceptions can be difficult to overcome.  

Despite these challenges, MATEC has elected to use a competency-based curriculum development model in creating its modules for semiconductor manufacturing courses in the community colleges.  Why? First, it is learner-centered, rather than teacher-centered. Competencies are major skills or abilities needed to perform work-related tasks effectively.  In the curriculum, they describe performance expectations in observable, measurable terms. They tell the learners what they will be able to "do" as a result of a given learning experience.  In a competency-based curriculum, the learner is told in advance, what competency he or she is expected to master.  The learner also knows the criteria and conditions by which performance will be assessed, and the learning activities that will lead to mastery of the competency. Currently, the entering semiconductor manufacturing student in community college is a re-careering adult with work, family and community responsibilities.  These adult learners expect to participate in, and be accountable for the development of their skills and knowledge.  In this rapidly-changing industry, employers insist that continual career development and personal enrichment are part of the job.  Lifelong learners need to know what they are learning and the expected outcomes of the learning experience. 

The second reason MATEC adopted a competency-based curriculum model is that it encourages the learner to become more actively involved in the learning process. In a competency-based curriculum, the learning activities provide underlying knowledge, skills and attitudes which enable mastery of the competency within a work-related context. New knowledge is applied immediately to the work environment, rather than assuming the learner will bridge the school-to-work gap sometime in the future. It is critical to note that while developing competency, the learning activities expand foundational knowledge in science and mathematics, and advance the attitudes and abilities of professional communication and teamwork. Rather than eliminating "education" in favor of "training", competency-based education encourages the development of the rich and highly developed mental model characteristic of subject matter experts.  

Finally, MATEC is developing competency-based courseware because it provides future employers with a model of the skill set that graduates may be expected to bring to the workplace. In 1995, the SEMATECH and SEMI/SEMATECH Technician Training Council outlined a recommended course of study for technical degrees in semiconductor manufacturing technology. The three-tiered course of study includes a conceptual foundation in science and mathematics, practical experience in working and communicating as a productive employee, and a technical core of skills in managing sophisticated manufacturing tools and processes. MATEC has adopted this curriculum and recommends it to its partner schools. A focus on competence allows MATEC to provide educational and industrial partners nationwide with an objective, replicable set of skills which learners should master prior to graduation.

To learn more about the MATEC competency-based curriculum development project, look for our pre-conference workshop at the ATESM Summer Conference or visit our web site ( ).