Promoting competency based education through trade-off thinking

Teaching creative and critical thinking by contingent evaluation of implicit choices made through technological communication infrastructures


We live in a world of things. Those who make the things define the way we live our lives.  Their decisions impact not only our trivial needs, such as spending a night on Facebook checking the status of our friends.  Technologies that nourish our more fundamental needs, such as those for shelter, food, information, or reproduction are also the product of maker choices. Through these choices the makers shape our lives in a profound way.


The more embedded is a technology in our lives, the less visible it becomes and less likely for people to worry about it. Even less visible is what makes these technologies truly important: the standards that define their functioning. Standards are conventional, that is, are a matter of choice. Yet, choices are rarely the product of chance. Neither are they completely intentional. They are the product of contingent choices.  They are, in a word, compromises. Standard selection rarely benefits from full knowledge and renewable and cheap resources. Choices should often be quick. The choices are not between good and better options, but between available and unavailable  materials, designs, ideas, or money. Finally, the product of our current choices should fit in with our prior choices.


Standards are, thus, the product of compromise and contingent choices. They reflect, in other words,  multiple trade-offs. Some are explicitly understood, while some become obvious in retrospect; yet they are always there. Being so central to the world of making things, to building and managing technologies, and more important to choosing standards, trade-off thinking should be one of the first and most important types of critical thinking processes that makers, technology workers and designers need to understand and work with.


At Purdue University, within the Polytechnic and with prior work in the Transform Stem program, we have developed a seminar that focuses entirely on trade off thinking. The seminar is a transdisciplinary learning experience. Its core objective is to train emerging technology professionals in the science and art of trade-off analysis, that is, of pragmatic compromise thinking. The learning experience is part of a larger competency based education program. Trade off thinking is in this context not only a mere academic exercise, but a framework for training the mind and acquiring the know-how necessary to hone a variety of skills that are immediately usable in professional contexts. The skills span the gamut. They stretch from designing resilient technologies that work well in a variety of contexts and require a small material and intellectual footprint, to creating persuasive messages about technologies that balance the need to convince the audience with bringing the information to a satisfactory level of intelligibility.


The Trade Off seminar is project driven, yet informed by solid theoretical education. Students are taught how to make choices taking into account opportunity costs and utility curves. In the process they learn about indifference curves and marginal value. This happens in the context of proposing new technological solution sto common communication needs via practical prototypes or investment pitches.


Six different projects walk the students from considering the technological costs and benefits of inventing a cheap, reliable long distance communication system in a poor area, to asking a venture capital for investment for a new mobile app. In all projects students work in groups and are expected to deliver oral and written presentations, bolstered by infographics and video clips. All projects are evaluated for ability to demonstrate specific competencies. If the competencies are present, the projects are incorporated in an online student portfolio that can tell future employers what the student can do and how he or she learn to do it. More important, the messages and the products should demonstrate that the students understand and can present their ideas as products of careful consideration of possibilities vs. constraints.


The seminar learning experience is mentored by a team of educators with expertise in communication technologies and social science methodology (Sorin Adam Matei), economics and professional writing (Michael Smith), public speaking and resilient technologies (Abrar Hammoud), and electronic technology design (Davin Houston). Student teams develop specialized aspects of their project with specific mentors. Educational transfer of knowledge and skills is not just-in-case, but just-in-time. Students study theory and practice skills with each mentor when the project demands them to do so. The learning experience relies on analytical discussion of theory, user requirement definition sessions, active presentations, and community of practice question and answer sessions. There are no lectures, all learning being situational and student driven.


We hope that our learning experience will make a significant contribution to competency based education. Its interdisciplinary nature, doubled by theoretical and methodological rigour, represents our vision for educational experiences that stimulates that students to excel as creators and entrepreneurs, as makers and thinkers.

Some of the competencies that can be acquired within the Purdue Polytech Trade-Off Learning Experience


Design Thinking

Design options assessment – developing and emerging

Linking knowledge across domains – emerging and proficient

Unstructured problem solving – emerging and proficient


Systems Thinking

Ability to define technological problems as systems of inter-related parameters, requirements, and constraints


Effective communication

Written communication

Audiovisual communication


Ethical reasoning

Ethical analysis and reflection

Ethical implementation


Innovation and creativity

Embracing contradictions

Integrative thinking



Benefit-Cost Analysis for Program Evaluation. (1980). Beverly Hills, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Brockman, J. (2009). This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future. New York: Harper Perennial.

Cost-Benefit Analysis: Economic, Philosophical, and Legal Perspectives. (2001) (1 edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press Journals.

Dormehl, L. (2014). The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems . . . and Create More. New York, New York: Perigee Books.

Dot-Dash to Dot.Com: How Modern Telecommunications Evolved from the Telegraph to the Internet. (2010) (2011 edition). New York : Chichester, UK: Springer.

Economics: Explore and Apply. (2003) (1st edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ehrlich, P. R., Tobias, M. C., & Harte, J. (2014). Hope on Earth: A Conversation. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Lomborg, B. (2010). Cool IT (Movie Tie-in Edition): The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming (Mti edition). New York: Vintage.

Moody, G. (2002). Rebel Code: Linux And The Open Source Revolution (1st edition). Cambridge, Mass: Basic Books.

Nye, D. E. (1997a). Narratives and spaces: technology and the construction of American culture. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nye, D. E. (1997b). Shaping communication networks: telegraph, telephone, computer. Social Research, 64(3), 1067–1091.

Nye, D. E. (1998). Consuming power: a social history of American energies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Postrel, V. (1999). The FUTURE AND ITS ENEMIES: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress (Edition Unstated edition). New York: Free Press.

Raymond, E. S. (2001). The cathedral and the bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an accidental revolutionary (Rev.). Cambridge, MA: O’Reilly.

Sabin, P. (2014). The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble over Earth’s Future. Yale University Press.

The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century. (2015) (1 edition). New York: Thomas Dunne Books.

The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think. (2012) (Reprint edition). New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books.

Wayner, P. (2000). Free for All: How LINUX and the Free Software Movement Undercut the High-Tech Titans (1st edition). New York: HarperBusiness.

  1. competency based education
  2. compromise
  3. Teaching
  4. teaching in stem
  5. trade-off

Comments on this entry

  1. Finley James

    你的研究有许多你在论文工作中清楚的事情。该 评论 与我们分享您的研究论文,以便人们了解并开展工作。

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Finley James

  2. Annette Ramirez


    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Annette Ramirez

  3. Annette Ramirez


    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Annette Ramirez

  4. David Brad

     There's a lot of people in here telling you there's nothing wrong with trade school and you can make a perfectly decent living being an electrician or plumber and you most definitely can. You can also do the same as an engineer, probably make more over the UK Assignment course of your career, and not get all the wear and tear on your body.

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to David Brad

    1. Ryan Harvey

      What an astounding paper you've got here! It's the same with all of them, just like math, problems are important. so if you ever face one of such problems you should go to that site which will tell you are math problems indicated!

      Reply Report abuse

      Replying to Ryan Harvey

  5. coca coca mary mary

    A lot of information is mentioned in your sharing, I appreciate your work. Let's continue with the more engaging lookup

    vin lookup

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to coca coca mary mary

  6. Vivian Byner

    Oh, great, your article provided me with useful information and a fresh perspective on the subject. Play Soccar with my team!

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Vivian Byner

  7. Brandon Newman

    Thank you very much for this really helpful web post! I have read it with a great pleasure and have found a lot of important informaiton for me there to buy essay!

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Brandon Newman

  8. Stacy Colins

    Hello, I would like to share my appreciation for sharing this useful material. Frankly speaking, this information will help me to do my excel homework task.

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Stacy Colins

  9. Jessica Smith

    The information was useful and cv writing service uk interesting for me. I read on the  about this. Thanks for the info

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Jessica Smith

  10. Сlay Сlay Jensen

    PROMOTING COMPETENCE-BASED EDUCATION THROUGH COMPROMISE THINKING, on a similar topic I had a topic at school, and we were even told to make a video presentation, since I used this video editor from movavi, thanks to which, I made a presentation in literally an hour.

    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to Сlay Сlay Jensen

  11. cookie clicker

    A good article, a good book can change the fate of so many people. Thanks for the valuable sharing, please keep it up to date and I will always follow you.

    cookie clicker


    Reply Report abuse

    Replying to cookie clicker

Post a comment

You must log in to post comments.

Please keep comments relevant to this entry.

Line breaks and paragraphs are automatically converted. URLs (starting with http://) or email addresses will automatically be linked.