Skills frameworks, interoperability, portfolios, etc.

Last Thursday (2009-04-16) I went to a very interesting meeting in Leeds, specially arranged, at the Leeds Institute of Medical Education, between various interested parties, about their needs and ideas for interoperability with e-portfolio tools – but also about skills frameworks.

It was interesting particularly because it showed more evidence of a groundswell of willingness to work towards e-portfolio interoperability, and this has two aspects for the people gathered (6 including me). On the one hand, the ALPS CETL is working with MyKnowledgeMap (MKM) – a small commercial learning technology vendor based in York – on a project involving health and social care students in their 5 HEIs around Leeds. They are using the MKM portfolio tool, Multi-Port, but are aware of a need to have records which are portable between their system and others. It looks like being a fairly straightforward case of a vendor with a portfolio tool being drawn in to the LEAP2A fold on the back of the success we have had so far – without the need for extra funding. The outcome should be a classic interoperability win-win: learners will be able to export their records to PebblePad, Mahara, etc., and the MKM tool users will be able to import their records from the LEAP2A-implementing systems to kick-start their portfolio records there with the ALPS CETL or other MKM sites.

MKM tools, as suggested by the MKM name, do cover the representation of skills frameworks, and this forms a bridge between two threads to this meeting: first, the ALPS CETL work, and second, the more challenging area of medical education, where frameworks – of knowledge, skill or competence – abound and are pretty important for medical students and in the professional development of medical practitioners, and health professionals more generally.

In this more challenging side of the meeting, we discussed some of the issues surrounding skills frameworks in medical education – including the transfer of students at undergraduate level; the transfer between a medical school like Leeds and a teaching hospital, where the doctors may well soon be using the NHS Foundation Year e-portfolio tools in conjunction with their further training and development; and then on to professional life.

The development of LEAP2A has probably been helped greatly by not trying to do too much all at once. We haven’t yet fully dealt with how to integrate skills frameworks into e-portfolio information. At one very simple level we have covered it – if each skill definition has a URI, that can be referred to by an “ability” item in the LEAP2A. But at another level it is greatly challenging. Here in medical education we have not one, but several real-life scenarios calling for interoperable skills frameworks for use with portfolio tools. So how are we actually going to advise the people who want to create skills frameworks, about how to do this in a useful way? Their users, using their portfolio tools, want to carry forward the learning (against learning outcomes) and evidence (of competence) to another setting. They want the information to be ready to use, to save them repetition – potentially wasteful to the institution as well as the learner.

The answer necessarily goes beyond portfolio technology, and needs to tackle the issues which several people are currently working on: European projects like TENCompetence and ICOPER, where I have given presentations or written papers; older JISC project work I have been involved with (ioNW2, SPWS); and now the recently set up a CETIS team on competences.

Happily, it seems like we are all pushing at an open door. I am happy to be able to respond in my role as Learning Technology Advisor for e-portfolio technology, and point MKM towards the documentation on – and those with experience of implementing – LEAP2A. And the new competence team has been looking for a good prompt to hold an initial meeting. I imagine we might hold a meeting, perhaps around the beginning of July, focused on frameworks of skills, competence, knowledge, and their use together with curriculum learning outcomes, with assessment criteria, and with portfolio evidence? The Leeds people would be very willing to contribute. Then, perhaps JISC might offer a little extra funding (on the same lines as previous PIOP and XCRI projects) to get together a group of medical educators to implement LEAP2A and related skills frameworks together – in whatever way we all agree is good to take forward the skills framework developments.

One thought on “Skills frameworks, interoperability, portfolios, etc.

  1. I don’t think that the skills framework is a problem for the end-user and is reasonably well managed in LEAP2A. A SF is simply a collection (with a title, description etc.) and it ‘collects’ together a range of abilities (skills, competences) which evidence the overall purpose of the collection. Both the collection and individual abilities can have linked resources, tags etc.

    Where the problem lays (I think) is in having a common method for describing the ‘empty’ standard e.g. this is the role; these are the areas of expertise making up the role; these are the skills making up the areas; this is the rating scale used etc (all before the user adds any evidence or commentary). This is a framework of ‘expectation’ and ought to be able to be described in such a way as to make it usable by end users in different systems. If such a spec was used it would mean, for instance, that all the NOS’s could be written against it and so be instantly available to any user in any compliant system.

    Hope that makes sense

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