At the heart of the Diploma Programme, CAS involves students in a range of activities that are complemented by their academic studies. Due to the flexible and personalized nature of the process, CAS is not formally assessed and is instead evaluated according to its own unique criteria.
Until 2015, CAS requirements were met by completing a certain amount of hours —150 to be exact. Following the establishment of new CAS specifications, though, minimum-hour strictures have been lifted. The fulfillment of CAS is now achieved by providing evidence of achieving the Seven Learning Outcomes. So, why the switch from hours to Learning Outcomes? Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind this decision and how it has the potential to empower CAS participants.
Less stress, more growth
One critique that was frequently leveled against CAS before the change was that the emphasis on completing hours made it stressful and that, as a result, students were not able to fully benefit from the activities they had undertaken. With the number 150 looming in the background, students and parents sometimes perceived the time-consuming nature of CAS as a drawback rather than an incentive to engage in personal growth. By eliminating the emphasis on time spent doing something and focusing instead on the value provided — the shift was meant to ensure that students approach their CAS exercises in a more relaxed and receptive manner.
The unpredictable nature of service
Students often report that one of the most rewarding parts of their CAS experience is the opportunity to participate in Service Learning initiatives. In general, students tend to recognize the complex and sensitive nature of their Service experiences as worthwhile and are willing to invest the time needed to build relationships with the people they are involved with. In order for Service Learning to consistently be realized to its full potential, though, it needs to be malleable and adaptable to changing circumstances. By taking the emphasis off of hours, students are encouraged to follow their instincts, see service projects through to completion, and spend more time reflecting on their experiences.
A flexible and individualized approach
A good CAS program should be both challenging and enjoyable – facilitating a personal journey of self-discovery. For this to happen, CAS needs to be addressed individually, with the ethos that each student has a different starting point, and therefore different goals and needs. Naturally, the achievement of these objectives may not require the same amount of time depending on the person. The Seven Learning Outcomes encourage an inward and nuanced approach to learning. It was envisioned by the authors of the current CAS guide that the way in which students would show that they had reached these outcomes would mainly be through harnessing the power of reflection and self-awareness, rather than documenting hours.
The power of reflection
Ultimately, reflection is what makes CAS a truly unique learning opportunity. Reflection allows young people to recognize their emotional responses, think critically about their experiences and empowers them with the insight to share what they have learned with others. Instead of writing down hours, students are guided by the Learning Outcomes to engage with their experience in a multitude of ways. In addition to written reflections and discussions in TOK class or in conversation with the CAS Coordinator, the door is wide open for students to put their reflections in a creative format that is meaningful to them.