What tools do you quickly have at hand to make a good impact on your learners? What can we learn from reflecting on our competency levels?

Did you know that there is a historical town in Switzerland (Swiss Family Fun 2015) where you can learn about the history of the iconic Victorinox company, and build your own Swiss Army Knife?

I had the opportunity to visit Brunnen, Switzerland, when my husband and I lived in Zurich several years ago. Since that visit, I’ve adopted the Swiss Army Knife as a symbol for all things teaching, particularly since the COVID pandemic. 

During the pandemic, faculty were forced to rethink instruction. For some, it was a simple sharpening of skills in online teaching and learning. Others had to build from scratch. My hope is that all of that hard work and dedication continues in some way post-pandemic. Once you add a tool or accessory to your Swiss Army Knife it should always remain – in case of emergency! 

Swiss Army knife unfolded with the Ball State University Logo

The Competence Continuum

Living through the COVID-pandemic with Ball State faculty reminded me of the research of Dr. Therese Huston, cognitive scientist at Seattle University. She wrote a book called Teaching What You Don’t Know (Huston 2012), where she dives deeply into how we, as humans and learners, function within varying competency levels. She describes a continuum that ranges from unconscious competence (being able to do something well without thinking about it) to unconscious incompetence (not knowing what you don’t know).  

So, what does this have to do with Swiss Army Knives? It’s important that we understand and constantly assess what knowledge, skills, and tools we currently have in our pocket and which ones may be missing from our repertoire. It also reminds us that we don’t know what we don’t know, and to be ready with the energy and humility to learn no matter where we are in our professional journey. 

What are Your Competency Levels?

Consider, what specialized knowledge have you harnessed? What instructional approaches are you comfortable using in the classroom and which ones would you like to practice further? Where do you need to grow? What do you need to learn next for the sake of your learners? 

Following is a graphic which lays out the different competency levels. Consider your competencies as they pertain to your content area, skills, and tools/supports available to you at Ball State. 

Graphic laying out different competency levels

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Let’s Break it Down Further

  • At the top of the pyramid, we have unconscious competence. This includes skills and knowledge that come so naturally that you don’t need to put much effort into planning or preparation.  
  • Then there is conscious competence. This includes content and skills for which you are relatively proficient and confident with, but may require a little bit of extra consideration when preparing a lesson or task for students.  
  • Next is conscious incompetence. Subjects, materials, and processes with which you have little experience and/or confidence can be categorized here.  
  • Finally, you have unconscious incompetence. This is the hardest of the categories to identify because you are so far removed from the subject, material, or process you literally don’t know what you don’t know. 

Here are some faculty comments/questions posed to our team during pandemic teaching which illustrate each of the competency levels: 

Unconscious Competence  Conscious Competence  Conscious Incompetence  Unconscious Incompetence  
“I am an expert in this field. I can speak honestly and passionately with my students, no matter the modality.” 


“I am new to Ball State University. We used a different learning management software at my previous institution. I don’t know all of the logistics of Canvas yet, but I have a relatively good idea of how to build what I need.” 


“I would like to start working towards building asynchronous course elements for my students. I have no idea where to begin when it comes to recording, editing, or sharing my short video lectures. Where do I begin?” 


“I’m not sure what other tools or strategies are available to me for addressing all learning modalities. After watching the recent webinar about accessibility, I realize that some of my students would really benefit from some external content and supports, but I don’t know where to begin.” 


“I am practitioner in the field, so I bring real-world experience and examples to my students regularly.” 


“I’ve reviewed the Quality Matters standards and am moving in the right direction during my course re-design. I need to break down my course-level learning objectives down into module-level objectives. Can you help me think through my alignment?” 


“I’ve just been assigned to teach a new course next term. It’s a bit beyond my content-level expertise. I need some time to build up my collection of resources and reference material. After I do some of my own research can I circle back and talk about course design with you? 


“After wearing my student cap in this faculty learning community, I see now how important it is to embrace and practice inclusive teaching strategies. Can you help me learn more, and also identify someone from my field who may help me put these ideas into practice? 



Why is Reflection Important?

Digging into your competencies can help you set meaningful learning targets and improve your teaching practice at-large. It can also set you up for success if and when another pandemic comes through. We invite your reflection in the call to action below. Humanize with us as you compare and contrast your competencies with others in the chat. 

Here to Help

Don’t forget. We are here to help! Set up a 1:1 with a member of the Teaching Innovation Team to discuss your competencies, and how those translate into your classroom. We will come to the conversation ready and equipped with strategies, supports, and resources to help you achieve your goals, and build your Ball State Swiss Army Knife!  

What are your competencies? 


Huston, Therese. 2012. Teaching What You Don’t Know. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 

Swiss Family Fun. 2015. “Make Your Own Swiss Army Knife.” https://swissfamilyfun.com/make-your-own-swiss-army-knife 

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  • Sarah Ackermann

    Dr. Sarah Ackermann’s background is in educational technology, instructional design, teacher leadership, and art education. She has experience teaching and leading in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. Her most recent research is in the area of teacher response and professional development during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, she has written and illustrated a children’s book which encourages young learners to identify their personal strengths.

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