ICT Skills

Several of us in CETIS have been to the CEN Workshop Learning Technologies (WS-LT), but as far as I know none yet to a closely related Workshop on ICT Skills. Their main claim to fame is the European e-Competence Framework (e-CF), a simpler alternative to SFIA (developed by the BCS and partners). It was interesting on several counts, and raises some questions we could all give an opinion on.

The meeting was on 2011-12-12 at the CEN meeting rooms in Brussels. I was there on two counts: first as a CETIS and BSI member of CEN WS-LT and TC 353, and second as the team leader of InLOC, which has the e-CF mentioned in its terms of reference. There was a good attendance of 35 people, just a few of whom I had met before. Some members are ICT employers, but more are either self-employed or from various organisations with an interest in ICT skills, and in particular, CEPIS (not to be confused with CETIS!) of which the BCS is a member. A surprising number of Workshop members are Irish, including the chair, Dudley Dolan.

The WS-LT and TC353 think a closer relationship with the WS ICT Skills would be of mutual benefit, and I personally agree. ICT skills are a vital component of just about any HE skills programme, essential as they are for the great majority of graduate jobs. As well as the e-CF, which is to do with competences used in ICT professions, the WS ICT Skills have recently started a project to agree a framework of key skills for ICT users. So for the WS-LT there is an easy starting point for which we can offer to apply various generic approaches to modelling and interoperability. The strengths of the two workshops are complementary: the WS-LT is strong in the breadth of generalities about metadata, theory, interoperability; the WS ICT Skills is strong in depth, about practice in the field of ICT.

The meeting revealed that the two workshops share several concerns. Both need to manage their CWAs, withdrawing outdated ones; both are concerned about the length and occasional opaqueness of the procedure to fund standardisation expert team work. Both are concerned with the availability and findability of their CWAs. AndrĂ© Richier is interested in both Workshops, though more involved in the WS ICT Skills. Both are concerned, in their own different ways, with the move through education and into employment. Both are concerned with creating CWAs and ENs (European “Norm” Standards), though the WS-LT is further ahead on this front, having prompted the formation of CEN TC353 a few years ago, to deal with the EN business. The WS ICT Skills doesn’t have a TC, and it is discussing whether to attempt ENs without a TC, or to start their own TC, or to make use of the existing TC353.

On the other hand, the WS ICT Skills seems to be ahead in terms of membership involvement. They charge money for voting membership, and draw in big business interest, as well as small. Would the WS-LT (counterintuitively perhaps) draw in a larger membership if it charged fees?

I was lucky to have a chance (in a very full agenda) to introduce the WS-LT and the InLOC project. I mentioned some of the points above, and pointed out how relevant InLOC is to ICT skills, with many links including shared experts. While understanding is built up between the two workshops, it was worth stressing that nothing in InLOC is sector-specific; we will not be developing any learning outcome or competence content; and that far from being in any way competitive, we are perfectly set up for collaboration with the WS ICT Skills, and the e-CF.

Work on e-CF version 3 is expected to be approved very soon, and there is a great opportunity there to try to ensure that the InLOC structures are suited to representing the e-CF, and that any useful insights from InLOC are worked into the e-CF. The e-CF work is ably led by Jutta Breyer who runs her own consultancy. Another project of great interest to InLOC is their work on “end user” ICT skills (the e-CF deals with professional competences), led by Neil Farren of the ECDL Foundation. The term “end user” caused some comment and will probably not feature in the final outputs of this project! Their project is a mere month or so ahead of InLOC in time. In particular, they envisage developing some kind of “framework shell”, and to me it is vital that this coordinates well with the InLOC outputs, as a generalisation-specialisation.

Another interesting piece of work is looking at ICT job profiles. The question of how a job profile relates to competence definitions is something that needs clarifying and documenting within the InLOC guidelines, and again, the closer we can coordinate this, the better for both of us.

Finally, should there be an EN for the e-CF? It is a tricky question. Sector Skills Councils in the UK find it hard enough to write National Occupation Standards for the UK – would it be possible to reach agreement across Europe? What would it mean for SFIA? If SFIA saw it as a threat, it would be likely to weigh in strongly against such a move. Instead, would it be possible to persuade SFIA to accept a suitably adapted e-CF as a kind of SFIA “Lite”? Some of us believe that would help, rather than conflict with, SFIA itself. Or could there be an EN, not rigidly standardising the descriptions of “e-Competences”, but rather giving an indication for how such frameworks should be expressed, with guidelines on ICT skills and competences in particular?

Here, above all, there is room for detailed discussion between the Workshops, and between InLOC and the ongoing ICT Skills Workshop teams, to achieve something that is really credible, coherent and useful to interested stakeholders.

4 thoughts on “ICT Skills

  1. Does the Workshop on ICT Skills leave online traces of their conversations? How do you see the possibility to start the conversation through open online exchange of ideas?

    • Hi Tore, good questions. At present, I think there are two good ways forward: first, contact at a personal level, with people attending each other’s meetings; second, more specifically, time spent, perhaps one-to-one, with people in the “other” group, really trying to bottom out a mutual understanding of perspectives.

      I suspect it is often difficult to have an “in-between” conversation, even face-to-face, let alone on line!

  2. Simon – thanks for sharing…

    The question of orientation of ICT skills is, I think, an interesting one. At first inspection, I thought “ICT skills” seemed to be a neat and tidy domain but on reflection, we’ve seen a number of developments over the last couple of years (or so) which deepen, darken and disturb the water:

    1. a reaction against ICT skills in compulsory education (e.g. http://www.computingatschool.org.uk/, although the resolution of this tension is some way off IMO)

    2. an wider view on the concept of “digital literacy” (taken on board in the JISC “dig lit” programme – http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/developingdigitalliteracies.aspx)

    I wonder whether these (and other) ideas relate to the problems SSCs have with National Occupational Standards. Maybe the SFIA is going to be “it” for a while, something that exists while the distinctions within the spectrum of ICT skills, digital literacy, computing/computation skills, etc are clarified. My fear is that an analysis of desirable graduate skills would find them to be largely in the darker, deeper and disturbed (maybe also disputed) water.

    Cheers, Adam

    • Thanks, Adam

      Perhaps we should be worrying less about what counts as inside or outside a particular domain, and more about whether the comprised skills and competences are well-defined and coherent with each other? Personally I see no particular problem with different people defining “ICT Skills” (or any of half-a-dozen different related phrases) differently. Already in the WS ICT Skills the “end user” and “professional” skills/competences are acknowledged as having different extents. What matters, for transferability among other things, is that when they contain similar things, they are defined using the same definitions.

      That is, don’t worry about disputing the water, be it ever so stormy, as long as we have a common categorisation of the fish!

      But maybe there is another take on this?